UniForum programme | University of Oxford

UniForum programme

This webpage provides information about UniForum, the programme which benchmarks administrative and support services across research-intensive universities.

The UniForum programme, which has been developed by Cubane Consulting, will enable us to understand how we resource the administrative services that support the teaching and research activities of the University, and to benchmark our activities against those of our Russell Group peers.

Oxford piloted the programme from October 2015 to April 2016. Informed by the pilot, a full collection programme is running from May to November 2016.

All member institutions follow the same methodology when participating in the programme. Nine universities from the Russell Group launched the programme in 2015, and five more joined in 2016 (including Oxford).

Q&As

Which Russell Group universities are members of UniForum?

The following institutions took part in UniForum in 2015: Leeds, Glasgow, Newcastle, King’s College London, UCL, Manchester, Birmingham, Durham and Liverpool.

Cambridge, Cardiff, Oxford, Queen Mary and Southampton will also participate in the full programme in 2016.

Why is Oxford participating?

Participating in UniForum will enable us to understand how we resource activities and services that support our teaching and research. It will help us understand which staff are providing support services, what they are providing and how they are providing them, as well as give new insights into how the University can continue to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its administrative services.

The programme will enable us to benchmark our activities so that we can understand whether our approach to resourcing and delivering support services is the same, similar to, or different from other Russell Group universities. It will also help us develop best practice from experiences across the participating institutions.

The UniForum programme will not be the only source of data considered in the future planning of support services - it is just one step in informing the approach we will take to identify opportunities for improvement. Other sources of qualitative and quantitative data will also be considered. More effective evaluation of services, including increased use of benchmarking, is a significant commitment in the University's Strategic Plan 2013-18.

What does the UniForum programme include?

The primary data collected through the UniForum programme covers all University administration and support staff. It will identify how much time these staff spend supporting different administrative and support activities, as well as how much external resource is contracted in to provide support services.

The primary data covers:
•    All non-academic staff who are on the University payroll whatever their role or employment arrangements (full-time, part-time or casual)
•    Contracted services and contractors, where the service provider is supporting day-to-day operations that could be provided by inhouse staff
•    Selected academic staff whose roles are almost exclusively administrative.

What input is required from departments?

The project team will work with Divisional Secretaries and Service Directors in the first instance to identify primary contacts in each department or organisational area. Primary contacts will be briefed and given training on the contributions they will be asked to provide.

In May and June, primary contacts will be invited to work with the project team to:
•    review staff lists from CORE and ensure the contract data are accurate
•   follow Cubane’s guidelines to arrange staff data into a workable organisational structure
•   identify colleagues from within the staff lists who could perform the role of ‘respondents’, and each code activities of about 12 staff

In August and September, primary contacts and respondents will be asked to allocate the time of their staff to 142 activities over the preceding 12 months, using Cubane’s ‘staff collection’ web-based tool to record the data (the smallest allocation is 10%).

A separate ‘contractor collection’ will be used for contracted services, which follows a similar process to allocate the services provided to 142 activities.

What are the 142 activity codes?

UniForum standardises the way in which university support services are categorised to allow for effective benchmark comparisons. The 142 activities are categorised under 13 functions: governance; finance; human resources; information technology; facilities management; student support and services; external engagement; teaching support; research administration; research facilities and support; library; general administration; and other activities.

Heads of administration will review the data input by their nominated managers and approve their data collection before submission. The review process is estimated to take each administrative lead up to three hours.

What will we learn from participating in the UniForum programme?

Data on our administrative services will be benchmarked against other participating universities - this will be achieved by indexing each university’s results based on factors related to its size.

We will be provided with the following: i) data that shows how our spend on a given activity compares with that of participating universities; ii) data that benchmarks, for each major administrative activity, the proportion of our resourcing that is within the central administrative function and the proportion that is distributed across academic divisions/departments and other administrative functions; and iii) how our spend on staff versus external suppliers compares with other universities.

Put together, this data will enable us to identify areas of lower- and higher-than-average spend and to understand the levels of that spending. We will then have the option of investigating whether a given activity is delivering good value for money and whether any changes are needed to our service delivery.

How long will the full programme take?

UniForum is a four-year programme, with institutions committed to undertaking the survey in alternate years as a minimum. Oxford is joining the full programme in year 2, from May 2016, based on activity from 1 August 2015 to 31 July 2016. The dataset preparation will take place from May to July 2016, and the data input period will run from August to September 2016. Top-level results will be available from Cubane in November 2016.

Are there any other tools/strategies for the validation of data to ensure that information is correct?

We are employing a number of strategies to ensure that the data collection is as accurate and representative as possible. We will provide progress reports at appropriate intervals so that heads of department can review the data and follow up anything that may need double-checking. We are also actively encouraging those staff members responsible for completing the data input to consult with colleagues if they are unsure about what activity allocations should be submitted.

How has the UniForum programme led to administrative efficiencies within other universities?

The programme was first run in the UK in 2015. However, it has been running for some years in Australia and New Zealand, where universities use the resulting information in different ways depending on their individual circumstances and objectives. Some recent outcomes have included programmes for the continuous improvement of service delivery; business case support for investment in systems; and upgrading the skills of service delivery teams. 

Will other universities see Oxford’s data?

Each participating university has signed a privacy policy, which means our unique data will not be shared. The benchmarking of results against participating universities will be anonymised.

Who is on the project steering group?

The University’s participation in this programme is sponsored by the Registrar, who chairs the project steering group:   

 •   Professor Ewan McKendrick (Registrar) - sponsor
•    Helen Watson (Director of the Planning and Resource Allocation Section) – co-sponsor
•    Loren Griffith (Director of International Strategy)
•    Professor Alison Etheridge (member of the Department of Statistics and the Mathematical Institute)
•    Dr Stuart Lee (Deputy Chief Information Officer)
•    Julian Duxfield‎ (Director of HR)
•    Jo Hovard (Business Manager, NDM)
•    Mary Ann Robertson (Social Sciences Divisional Secretary)
•    Lynne Hirsch (Divisional Secretary and Head of Administration, Humanities Division)
•    Professor Richard Hobbs (Head of Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences)
•    Stephen Purbrick (Head of Financial Planning and Analysis, Finance Division)
•    Susannah Wintersgill (Deputy Head, Public Affairs Directorate)

Where can I find more detailed information about participating in the programme?

You can find further details about the programme, including information for Primary Contacts, Respondents and Functional Reviewers, on the UniForum WebLearn page (access is via single sign-on).

Whom can I contact about the UniForum programme?

For further information, please email the UniForum programme manager, Mary Fridlington (PRAS), at uniforum@admin.ox.ac.uk.