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17 June 2009

Human resources management in HE has been transformed in recent years

There have been widespread improvements in human resources (HR) management in higher education (HE) since 2001, according to an independent study. HEFCE funding has supported a concerted effort by universities and colleges together with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.

The study found that £888 million of HEFCE funding has helped higher education institutions (HEIs) to modernise and transform their HR functions. The funding was provided via HEFCE's Rewarding and Developing Staff in Higher Education initiative. Oakleigh Consulting undertook the study for HEFCE.

These improvements have increased the capacity and resilience of the sector to manage HR strategically and operationally, according to the report. Because HEIs spend more than half their income on staff costs, effective HR management and staff development is crucial when facing potential changes in income caused by the global economic downturn.

Steve Egan, Deputy Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'This study has identified the impact our initiative has had on HR management within universities and colleges. They can take full credit for responding very positively and making HR an integral part of their strategies by developing effective and modern practices. The pace of these changes across the sector would not have been possible without this initiative.'

David Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education, said:

'The report shows that the significant investment in our higher education institutions has meant they are better placed to meet the demands of the future. Flexible, adaptable and strategic human resource arrangements will be vital in enabling institutions to tackle emerging challenges head-on.'

Developments in HR

Major developments in the HE sector since 2001 include:

  • increasingly effective approaches to performance management for individuals, teams and organisations
  • recognition of how critical HR management is, resulting in it becoming a key component of institutional planning
  • significantly enhanced institutional HR strategies that are now much more closely aligned with and integral to the overall institutional strategy
  • sustained investment in the development of leaders and leadership teams
  • establishment of more transparent pay and reward mechanisms
  • an increase in the capacity and capability of HR professionals within institutions to effectively support and contribute to the performance and development of their organisation.

Workforce development

In addition to funding, HEFCE has supported HEIs by publishing a comprehensive workforce development framework, including two good practice guides, which provided advice on developing and implementing effective HR management strategies. Institutions say in the Oakleigh study that the HEFCE-developed framework was a catalyst for the transformation of their HR management functions.

The study shows that the funding has enabled the sector to address many underlying issues, allowing HEIs to focus on current challenges. These include extending leadership training to middle managers and developing coherent career progression routes for all parts of the workforce, including contract researchers and 'blue collar' staff.

This kind of investment is even more important during tough economic times, as Professor Paul Curran, Chair of HEFCE’s HE Workforce Steering Group, explained:

'Universities and colleges spend an average of 56 per cent of their income on staff costs. It is therefore vital for them to ensure that staffing is effective and efficient as possible – even more so when money is tight. That calls for high-quality HR management.'

HEFCE will produce a new workforce framework towards the end of the year, directed by the HE Workforce Steering Group.