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25 March 2021

Universities must focus on online assets to ensure financial sustainability

Bath, March 25, 2021 – New report shares how universities can upscale revenue diversification by 2030.

Financial sustainability is the biggest existential threat facing higher education (HE) today. The number of UK universities in deficit has almost quintupled in the last five years, from 24 in 2015/16 to 119 in 2018/19. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this challenge, with London Economics predicting that universities will be hit by a £2.6bn shortfall this academic year.

In this latest article in Jisc and Emerge Education, along with technical partner HackerU, have released a report charting how universities can enhance revenue diversification by 2030 by using technology to its best potential. The report shares technology-enabled revenue diversification strategies, and what organisations need to do to make them work.

Keith Zimmerman, chief operating officer at the University of Bath writes: “The pandemic has exposed the fundamental financial pressures in UK higher education. Most providers run at tight margins and operate in highly regulated spaces. Revenue streams outside of on-campus degrees and research still make up less than 20% of the income generated in HE. This financial pressure undoubtedly poses a challenge – but there are also opportunities. From online teaching to remote assessment, from research partnerships to student mental health, universities responded to the global crisis with speed, agility and creativity.

So far, these shifts have mostly been undertaken as a kind of revenue protection, seeking new ways of reaching the same students. Now, we need to be bolder. There are urgent demands for our expertise for the upskilling and reskilling of working professionals.” Global examples of innovation in the report show that the future of revenue diversification should now focus on online offerings, instead of the historical emphasis on physical assets. For example, the University of Bath now shares its world-leading teaching with hundreds more learners worldwide, by partnering with Wiley to provide online postgraduate degrees.

Some institutions, such as Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Arizona State University and Groupo Tirandentes in Brazil, are investing in early stage edtech companies to combine their pedagogical expertise with entrepreneurial insights to support the most impactful innovations in teaching and learning. Meanwhile, the Open University’s partnership with FutureLearn to offer microcredentials has helped to diversify its learners.

The future of revenue diversification in higher education states for revenue diversification to evolve by 2030, it must be: 1. Aligned to the university’s core mission, focused on increasing the reach and impact of high-quality education delivery. 2. Sustainable and long-term, capable of meeting the size of the challenge ahead. 3. Highly scalable, harnessing the power of technology.

Sue Attewell, head of edtech at Jisc says: “Sharing leading examples from innovators in the UK and around the world, the report provides both inspiration and practical advice for senior leaders in higher education. The sector is facing very real challenges, but by embracing the power of technology, and by supporting and upskilling the people behind it, universities stand to triumph in the face of adversity.” Nic Newman, Emerge Education partner says: “Universities have now proven they can respond to crises and implement technology-enhanced changes at rapid speed. There has never been a more critical time to review the sources of revenue diversification in UK HE. This report shows that by using technology in the right way, there’s a real opportunity for the sector to diversify its income stream while continuing to provide students to continue receiving the world-class education they deserve.”

Zimmerman concludes: “Translating our excellent work into formats that can benefit different, more diverse audiences – and make it pay – is the next step. It’s time for higher education to make innovation and experimentation a core part of our operations.”

Find out more. Read the full report: The future of revenue diversification in higher education.