Value for money (VfM) continues to feature prominently in the UK HE landscape.  With universities facing a potential value for money review and a narrative that equates value for money to cost optimisation, it's time to look more broadly at our definition of 'value'. Here, SUMS CEO Bernarde Hyde explores other factors to consider when talking 'value' and emerging themes from the sector.


Value for money (VfM) continues to feature prominently in the UK HE landscape.  We are told, for example, universities in England are to face a “value for money” review of how £1.3bn per year of funding might give more support to “priority” subjects.

Comments posted this week on Twitter from students impacted by the current strike action, which sees 74 universities have 14 days of strike action, illustrate how narrow some students’ view of ‘value for money for students’ is. Strike action is seen as limiting contact time and thereby reducing the value to a student.

The Office for Students’ (OfS) Value for Money Strategy 2019 to 2021 and UUK’s A Guide to Presenting Institutional Financial Information to Students present interesting views on value for students. Both are positive in encouraging transparency and engagement with students but fundamentally focus more on costs and cost optimisation and less on wider benefits.

The OfS says “the primary measure of VfM will be based on the perceptions of students and graduates”.  Students receive VfM when they experience the full benefits of higher education – both during their studies and afterwards – in exchange for the effort, time and money they invest.

How value is perceived will depend on many factors.  For example, where on the timeline of the student journey they are: prospective student, during their studies and afterwards. One person may have different perceptions of value at different times.  From the perspective of a graduate, the value that is most important to them is probably how successful they have been in their chosen career path as a result of their university course.  From the perspective of many prospective students – already engaged in Extinction Rebellion – the value that most interests and excites them at the moment are ethical values, among other motivational factors. What is the ethos of the university?  Has it declared a climate emergency? Has it signed up to GM Plastic Free Pledge? Along with, does it offer the course I want to take?

Motivational Factors
Many in the sector recognise that all would benefit from widening and growing a student’s perception of VfM.  To improve the dialogue with students and to help recruitment – critical in a market where there is such standardisation of UK home fees – universities are trying to understand better and then leverage students’ motivational factors.

When defining and discussing VfM for students universities need to look at themselves in the round; how strategies and operational plans connect to VFM students.

A university’s value system will be a key differentiator for some students.  Not forgetting that values must be lived and motivational factors addressed.

Hygiene Factors
There are two key building blocks – embedded within practice – needed to deliver value:

  • Cost optimisation and equity
  • Commitment to sustainability (social, environmental and economic).


SUMS Round Table Exploring ‘Value for Money: Students’
SUMS recently held round table to explore ‘Value for Money: Students’ at City, University of London.  During a dynamic discussion, we explored the following themes:

  • Connecting VFM: Students to university strategies with the university leading and shaping the agenda and making it real
  • Ownership of the VFM: Students agenda – where does it rest and how is reported on?
  • Understanding student personae and segments, recognising how the value perceived will differ depending on life stage and experiences
  • Creating a ‘value proposition’ with  a compelling narrative, avoiding a transactional view
  • Telling stories to engage students, stories are more effective than pie charts
  • Students’ tendency to focus on the here and now; for example, cost of living
  • The need to manage expectations and how transparency and good communications (and detailed cost breakdowns) will help
  • How justifying surpluses and addressing research and cross subsidisation is necessary.


Examples of Good Practice
We shared diverse examples of good practice, including:

  • The University of Manchester responding to students’ concerns:
  1. Demonstrating the embedding sustainable procurement practices in day-to-day activities
  2. Embedding wider corporate and social value alongside traditional cost-driven concepts of value within procurement contracts
    • ‘Campus Masterplan Framework’ includes better open spaces and tangible benefits to local communities
    • Funding a Masters student from the surplus from a supplier exhibition.

If you would like to see the outputs from our VfM: Students Roundtable, please get in touch. We are planning another event on this topic – so stay tuned!

As all universities work towards delivering more VfM for students, SUMS can help you with student journey mapping and the development of student personae and the delivery of efficiencies.  To learn more, get in touch.

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