Kiley, K. (2011) Where universities can be cut Inside Higher Education, September 16

A comprehensive article on efforts made by three large US research universities (Univerity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California-Berkeley, and Cornell), and a system wide two year college system (Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College) to reduce their administrative costs. The article provides direct links to the reports from both UC-Berkeley and UNC-Chapel Hill.


  • kudos to all these institutions for making the effort. Even more kudos for publishing their reports and making them freely available online.
  • these are reports in the middle of the process, so more results can be expected.
  • savings already made seem substantial: e.g. $85 million at Cornell, $20 million each at UC-Berkeley and Ivy Tech; nevertheless they are still a relatively small proportion of institutional operating budgets (less than 5%), since the main costs are still associated with teaching and research.
  • nevertheless given the Delta Project’s research showing that administrative costs have been increasing as a proportion in recent years, these are moves in the right direction
  • some of the significant areas of savings have been in areas such as purchasing and HR, so do not immediately have knock-on effects in terms of reducing the quality of service to students
  • other areas I would look at, besides administration, are other categories often considered as overheads, e.g. buildings, grounds maintenance, and of course, IT. Non-teaching/research costs when all added together can constitute nearly 50% of the operating budget in a large research university. These are all items with very large annual costs, and with a greater move to online learning on the one hand, and cloud computing on the other, there are possibilities of further cost savings in overheads, but not without considerable institutional disruption and change.
  • however, this shouldn’t stop institutions looking at ways to make teaching more cost-effective. One way is course redesign, as demonstrated by the NCAT.
  • and heretically for my readers, wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper in the long run to properly train instructors to teach with technology before they get tenure, than to build increasingly large Teaching and Learning Support Units to hold their hands?
  • lastly, I’m not arguing for cost cutting to justify reduced investment in higher education. I just want to see the investment get the best returns, in terms of better graduates, at the least cost to students – and the taxpayer. However, there is no easy route to cost savings in most institutions. It requires constant monitoring and hard work. But we owe it to students. Continually loading all the cost on to students is unsustainable in the long run.


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