Westminster Higher Education Forum

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Next steps for reducing bureaucratic burden in Higher Education and research - options, scope, and potential impact

May 2021


Price: £95 PLUS VAT
Format: DOWNLOADABLE PDF


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference focuses on priorities, practicalities and next steps for policy on reducing bureaucratic burdens on higher education - particularly with regard to research and development activities.


The conference takes place against a backdrop of significant developments, including:


  • the Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education policy paper from BEIS and the DfE
  • the OfS, UKRI and the National Institute for Health Research examining their procedures
  • the issues having emerged as a priority in the context of the response to the coronavirus pandemic 
  • the recently-published Independent Review of TEF recommending that subject-level assessments and ratings should not proceed, citing disproportionate cost and administrative burden

Areas for discussion include:


  • options for reform  - and the impact of bureaucracy on research and innovation
  • the response to COVID-19 - what can be learned for the future from streamlining and collaboration in health research that has taken place in response to the pandemic
  • scope, priority areas and unforeseen consequences - with discussion expected on funding application processes, rigour and measuring outcomes, and implications for research culture and wellbeing
  • the National Student Survey - and the use of metrics and data in higher education and research
  • practicalities of implementation - and realising potential improvements in driving up standards, efficiency and productivity, HE governance, and the sector’s role in local and national recovery

The discussion is bringing together stakeholders with key policy officials who are due to attend from the DfE; BEIS; the DHSC; the DIT; the Government Office for Science; the IPO; the Department for the Economy, NI; The Scottish Government; the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; and the Welsh Government.


The agenda:


  • The impact of bureaucracy on research and innovation - and latest thinking on how it can be reduced
  • Reducing administrative burdens on research and innovation - funding application processes, rigour and measuring outcomes, and implications for research culture and wellbeing
  • Learning from streamlining and collaboration in health research during the pandemic - opportunities for the future
  • Priorities for the National Student Survey
  • Next steps for the use of metrics and data in the higher education and research:
    • What responsible use of research metrics looks like and how it can be fostered
    • Outnumbered: making the most of metrics
  • Regulation and bureaucracy in HE - options for radical reform of the system
  • Reform and the contribution to driving up standards, the vitality of the HE sector and wider national policy aims - the way forward for efficiency and productivity, HE governance, and the sector’s role in local and national recovery

Key areas for discussion:


Reducing bureaucracy in research and innovation:


  • the response to COVID-19 - what can be learned from the extensive international streamlining of research and the sharing of data as part of the global collaborative research effort to find a vaccine, and to respond to the social and economic impact of COVID-19
  • policy developments - examining recent measures for improving the efficiency of research and innovation, and remaining priorities for reducing bureaucracy in research and innovation
  • UKRI’s plans and priorities - assessing measures introduced by UKRI for reducing bureaucracy in research during the rapid response to the pandemic, and plans going forward:
    • research funding - simplifying the selection process, including a move to a streamlined, two-stage application process for standard grant rounds
    • outcome monitoring - reviewing the approach to ensure it is minimally demanding and to reduce the number of questions for mandatory reporting
    • tackling duplication - integrating existing datasets and stopping requests for data already available elsewhere
    • effectiveness and scope - how stakeholders can work together, as well as with UKRI, to produce plans that:
      • lead to tangible, system-wide de-bureaucratisation
      • do not hinder the gathering of data for promoting diversity, equality and inclusivity across research and innovation
  • health research - priorities for the NIHR in formulating plans to reduce bureaucratic burden in health and social care
  • open access - its role in the wider drive to reduce bureaucracy in research, with the Government’s recommendation for the sector to embrace the potential of open research practices, and with UKRI currently reviewing and developing its open access policy

The use of metrics and data in HE:


  • key frameworks - the KEF, TEF, REF, and the NSS:
    • present position and next steps - assessing the development and application of metrics in higher education, and ways that bureaucracy may be reduced through their implementation
    • implications - what different options for changes to the use of data and metrics in the higher education sector would mean for key frameworks
    • data use - reducing bureaucratic impacts of less readily measured metrics in research and teaching excellence, student satisfaction and quality of knowledge exchange on the wider sector
  • departmental initiatives - looking at development and implementation of bureaucracy reduction through the DfE and BEIS, including OfS monitoring and the Data Futures and TRAC(T) reviews
  • the NSS - the impact of the recent report, and policy priorities for reform that avoid creating excessive administrative activity or undue influence on outcomes in the areas of:
    • accurate measurements of quality in higher education institutions
    • encouraging the delivery of rigorous and intellectually challenging courses that prepare students for the modern workplace
  • TEF - the recent review, consequences for administration, and the impact on staff and academic quality
  • further options for change - possible implications of the recent drive towards reducing bureaucracy on longer-term strategies around data in the sector, with the OfS Data Strategy seeking to shape ways ahead for the organisation extending beyond 2021

The link with economic recovery and wider policy:


  • efficiency and productivity - initiatives such as the UK Productivity Institute at the University of Manchester, and the contribution of reducing bureaucracy to the sector’s financial recovery
  • the higher education restructuring regime - potential impact of its focus on reduced bureaucracy on supporting a strong and sustainable higher education sector, through encouraging providers to re-consider the costs of internal administrative activities and funding decisions, including:
    • encouraging student unions - to serve the student population’s widest needs and reassess priorities, with measures through funding and other means
    • reviewing levels of senior executive pay
    • broader options for managing spending on university administration
  • universities in their communities - the future role of the higher education sector in the wider educational landscape and in local and regional economies, and its contribution to national recovery
  • governance - thinking on new approaches and ways to foster resilience and agility in the sector to address potential future challenges

A scan of relevant developments:


  • Reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education - government plans including:
    • the immediate reduction of reporting requirements in some areas
    • asking OfS, UKRI and NIHR to review their reporting and administrative processes in the coming months
  • Review launched to reduce red tape for UK researchers - Professor Adam Tickell’s  independent review commissioned by BEIS and UKRI of administrative demands in UK research, with the aim of recommending practical solutions to simplify and streamline bureaucracy in research by early 2022
  • NSS review:
    • designed to clarify the purpose of the NSS and find ways to reduce the bureaucratic burden placed on providers
    • with the recently published Phase one report recommending a review of the core survey questions and urging improvements to the guidance on use of the results 
  • Independent Review of TEF - the recently published review recommending: 
    • subject level assessments and ratings should not proceed, in part due to their disproportionate cost and administrative burden
    • assessment across the teaching and learning environment, student satisfaction, educational gains and graduate outcomes, along with a new four-category rating system 
  • Universities Governance: A Risk of Imminent Collapse - the recently published report from Henley Business School finding that up to 20% of UK Universities are at risk of collapse, as a result of ineffective governance, with over-powerful Vice-Chancellors and outdated and cumbersome University Councils
  • departmental and other initiatives for reducing bureaucracy, including:
    • Consultation on regulating quality and standards in higher education - by the OfS, including looking at managing the burden on providers while still conducting effective regulatory monitoring
    • Data Futures - a review of the programme led by HESA and JISC, including the timing intervals for gathering data from providers
    • TRAC for Teaching - a review seeking to reduce its burden on providers and improve its effectiveness
    • Review of TRAC for Costing - the recent announcement that the planned review will focus on understanding the burdens of the TRAC system, identify improvement, and encourage efficiency and value for money
    • Busting bureaucracy - recent DHSC consultation on excess bureaucracy, finding that duplicative data requests, complex regulation and managing patient data across multiple inadequate systems are key burden areas
    • Advanced Research & Innovation Agency - the new high-risk research funding body, designed to have the freedom and flexibility to deliver funding while avoiding excessive bureaucracy

Policy officials attending:


Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from BEIS; the Department for Education; the Department for International Trade; the Department of Health and Social Care; the Government Office for Science; the Intellectual Property Office; the Department for the Economy, NI; The Scottish Government; the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; and the Welsh Government.


Overall, we expect further speakers and other delegates to be an informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials officials from DfE, DHSC, BEIS and other Government departments and agencies, together with senior representatives from universities and industry; academics and other higher education professionals; businesses and their advisors; research charities, councils and funders; publishers; local authorities; think tanks and research institutes, along with commentators and reporters from the national and trade media.


This is a full-scale conference taking place online***


  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference



This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles