The UniForum Professional Services Benchmarking Programme is a well-tested services activity data collection exercise and survey that helps us to make our professional services as efficient and effective as possible and which enables us to benchmark against a number of Russell Group universities.
We first participated in the programme in 2015 and collected on a biannual basis (2015, 20017 and 2019). We were due to collect in 2021 but due to Covid-19, deferred until this year.
The programme is led by Cubane Consulting and was originally developed in Australia and New Zealand, where it has been running for 13 years. The UK programme began in 2015 and there’s also a programme now running in Canada.
At Leeds, the project is sponsored by Stewart Ross, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, on behalf of the University Executive Group and is managed by the Strategy and Planning team.
Why is UniForum so important?
The University’s Strategy 2020-2030 emphasises how our intellectual, operational, digital and physical assets will be organised to help us deliver our academic ambition, and to underpin our sustainable societal impact. Maximising the resources that are dedicated to supporting delivery, particularly within the University’s enabling strategy, is critical.
The data collected through the programme helps us to do that by providing insight into our professional services activities. This includes:
- how we resource various professional services activities that underpin our teaching and research work
- how our approach benchmarks against other peer institutions, in particular other Russell group universities; and
- identifying where there might be a case for new investment in order to make the most of future opportunities.
It also gives us the opportunity to collaborate with some of our peer universities, so we can learn and share best practice in these areas.
What has previous data been used for?
UniForum provides one of a number of data sets that has helped inform an evidence-based approach to the planning of professional services that support academic activities at Leeds. Data from the previous collections has been used in a variety of ways, including the development of business cases for investments to improve services, such as the Corporate Processes and Systems Programme and the Student Lifecycle Programme.
Individual heads of professional services have also used the data in different ways, including providing evidence of where headroom could be created within a service, by operating more efficiently, and thereby allowing the service to respond to new demands within its existing budget. It has also been used more generally in preparation of Integrated Planning Exercise (IPE) submissions, through which faculties and services set out their priorities and financial plans for the forthcoming five years.
Although we expect UniForum to help us improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our professional services, the process is not being driven primarily by a need to make savings.
How does UniForum work?
There are two parts to the UniForum Professional Services Benchmarking Programme – the Activity Data Collection (Staff and Supplier Collections) and the Service Effectiveness Survey.
The Activity Data Collection was undertaken between Wednesday 3 August and Friday 2 September 2022, and identified how much time is spent supporting different administration and support activities by colleagues at Leeds and contracted-in resources.
The second part of the programme, the Service Effectiveness Survey, delivers insights into the perceived effectiveness of a range of services at Leeds, as experienced by colleagues. A number of colleagues will be directly invited to participate in the survey.
The survey will launch on Wednesday 26 October 2022 and will close on Wednesday 16 November 2022 and seeks feedback regarding some of the key support services at Leeds, including finance, purchasing, human resources, information technology, marketing and student recruitment, research support, student and teaching support and facilities management.
The survey isn’t designed to give specific feedback on individuals, but rather focuses on the overall service delivered in terms of processes, systems and staff interactions. It’s also worth noting that in order to benchmark across a range of universities with a range of structures, the labels and descriptions of the services covered in the survey are thematic and relate to activities delivered, sometimes by a combination of our professional services; they do not necessarily map directly to a single professional service, as organised at Leeds.
This activity provides one data set that should be considered in conjunction with other qualitative information available.
Together, the Activity Data Collection and the Service Effectiveness Survey marry resourcing and effectiveness, helping provide an understanding of professional services at Leeds and a comparison against a group of our peers.
Updates on the programme’s progress will be available via the dedicated For Staff In depth page and from heads of professional services, faculty operations directors and managers and the UniForum Programme Team at Leeds.
You can also access a useful FAQ sheet, updated in October 2022.