Universities could slash total costs by almost a third by sharing services and outsourcing to the private sector, a report has claimed.
Think-tank Policy Exchange said huge savings could be made through measures including merging finance, HR and student records departments and offloading responsibility for maintenance and accommodation.
In all it estimates that £2.7 billion could be saved across the entire higher education sector. It would mean universities could reduce potential student debt or protect teaching and research standards, the report claims.
Higher Education in the Age of Austerity argues that universities need to be more imaginative about the way they are run in order to cut costs.
It points towards the success of schemes such as Manchester Student Homes – a joint venture under which information and support services for students at Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan universities are pooled.
The report’s author, Alex Massey, also urges higher education administrators to be more imaginative.
For example, he calls on others to follow the lead of UCL, which has saved £250,000 a year by using Microsoft’s free email service.
Mr Massey said: “Too many universities operate in an outdated way. They’ve failed to recognise the savings and service improvements that could be obtained through engagement with commercial partners and the use of shared services.”
He added: “With students facing higher levels of debt, it really is time for universities to start taking efficiency and value-for-money seriously.
“Outsourcing and shared service arrangements would be a very good way to reduce costs and improve service quality.”