UCL News


Transforming our Professional Services (TOPS): Enhancing our service effectiveness

19 May 2016

A message from Rex Knight, Vice-Provost (Operations), about the performance of our Professional Services in comparison to other organisations.

Quad summer

We know that UCL is one of the world's leading universities,and I am proud of the contribution that colleagues in professional services across faculties, departments and central teams make to the delivery of our excellent teaching, learning, research, enterprise and engagement.

While there are many ways in which we can compare our overall performance against our peers, for example through REF, NSS, citation indices and QAA reports, we have not had any specific comparative information in relation to Professional Services. However, comparator information would help UCL to make informed choices on areas such as:

  • how much should we invest in delivering high quality services?
  • how should we balance between investment in systems and staff?
  • what is the best way to design jobs and career paths so that we can provide satisfying roles, and opportunities for progression and manage workloads effectively?
  • how do we design structures to enable services to be delivered appropriately?

In order to address this, the majority of members of the Russell Group have joined a "benchmarking club" run by Cubane, an Australian company that has been undertaking benchmarking exercises for universities in Australia and New Zealand for some time.

The UK members are:

  • Birmingham
  • Cambridge
  • Durham
  • Glasgow
  • King's
  • Leeds
  • Liverpool
  • LSE
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle
  • Oxford
  • QMUL
  • Southampton

You may recall that I wrote about UCL's involvement with the 'Uniforum' project, run by Cubane, last year , outlining the data collection process . Along with the results from the subsequent Staff Satisfaction Survey, which ran in Autumn last year, we have collected a large amount of information, which can now be used to provide comparisons with other universities.

Not all of the members of the benchmarking club are at the same stage in the process, so the comparative information we have now will be enriched over time, but we have cost and organisational information for nine universities, including UCL, and staff satisfaction information for seven.

What information was collected by Cubane?

The cost and structural information has been compiled by asking line managers of staff in professional services across UCL to complete an online survey for each of their reports, analysing their activity across 140 categories identified by Cubane. This gives us a good level of granularity and captures information across professional services activity, not just the central Professional Services divisions, enabling us to identify, for example, finance work undertaken by colleagues whose job title might not identify that part of their activity. It also enables us to make comparisons between institutions on a common basis.

The Service Effectiveness Survey was completed by just under 2,100 staff at UCL from academic and professional services backgrounds, across all faculties and the central professional Services divisions. It uses the same categories of activity as the quantitative survey, so it allows us to look at costs, structures, role design and levels of staff satisfaction for our services.

I would like to thank all colleagues who have given their time to engage with the process by providing feedback and contributing to the cost and structural analysis. Your efforts will be a huge help to us in improving the quality of the services that we offer and the career structures for staff delivering those services.

Preliminary results

A summary of the preliminary results has been presented to the Senior Management Team (SMT), the Leadership Forum, and the Professional Services Leadership Forum. At this stage it is too early to draw conclusions, but the preliminary findings are that UCL has unusually complex structures, with a high degree of fragmentation of roles and responsibilities and relatively low levels of satisfaction with services. The picture varies activity by activity, but we also appear to spend a little less on professional services, adjusting for size and range of activity, than our peers.

SMT has established a working group with representation from each school to report back to SMT, with recommendations on how we should respond to the results. The process has now been named Transforming Our Professional Services (TOPS). It is anticipated that the group will report in July. While we expect that there will be some quick wins, experience from Australia suggests that sustainable change takes time to plan, implement and embed, and that will be reflected in our thinking. The evidence also suggests that a well thought through change programme can deliver better levels of user satisfaction, higher rates of satisfaction for staff delivering services, and cost efficiencies, through a balance of investment in systems and processes and improvements in structures and role design.

There will be a further update on progress over the summer. In the meantime please do get in touch with me if you have any comments or questions. We will be repeating both surveys in 2017 when we have had an opportunity to digest the results and put some "quick win" actions in place, and while some other members of the club undertake their first surveys.

Rex Knight, Vice-Provost (Operations)