Ulster University

Based in Northern Ireland, Ulster University has a national and international reputation for excellence, innovation and regional engagement.  The renowned institution aims to make a major contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of Ireland and as a university always looking for improvements, their goal is to widen access to education, research and innovation and technology. 

As part of achieving their goals, Ulster University looked to Tribal to help provide clarity and detailed analysis of their financial profile, in the form of a financial benchmarking review. 

Finding the gaps in efficiencies and effectiveness 

Having experienced a period of significant funding cuts since 2010 together with the development of a new ambitious strategic plan “Five & Fifty” Ulster wanted to benchmark its professional services operations against a group of sector institutions to determine how resources could be best allocated to deliver the vision as set out in their strategic plan. 

They needed to find a solution that would provide evidence of where efficiencies and effectiveness might be improved. This is where Tribal’s independent benchmarking exercise offered the ideal solution. 

Informing growth, resource allocation and targets 

Financial Benchmarking provides reliable, objective and independently validated comparative data helps managers see the financial performance of other universities; informing financial and strategic decision-making. 

Our benchmarking service helps our customers allocate resources effectively, while enhancing the student experience and improving student outcomes. 

On average, our benchmarking customers identify potential savings or opportunities for reinvestment equivalent to 3% of university income. Many of our customers save £$millions. 

The methodology adopted in the benchmarking exercise with Ulster University was two-fold and adapted to the university’s needs. Firstly, it showed the level of differential investment against sectoral comparators and secondly, it also provided a benchmarking adjusted to Ulster’s funding differences, specifically where they were under and over investing given the systemic underfunding of higher education in Northern Ireland. 

Speaking on behalf of Tribal, Nick Pidgeon Managing Consultant of Tribal’s financial benchmarking team, said:

“Our financial benchmarking exercise is geared up to help senior managers understand their university’s finances in an unrivalled level of detail.” 

Speaking about financial benchmarking, Peter Hope, Chief Financial Officer at Ulster University, said: 

“I found that the process and methodology adopted was very robust and the findings clearly communicated at both summary and at a detailed level. The team were at all times professional and knowledgeable on all aspects of the key findings.” 

Tribal’s benchmarking exercise is central in delivering the strategic plan and provided a comprehensive review of professional services which is being undertaken at the university. Where gaps have been identified the benchmarking information is being used to prioritise resource allocation. To grow international income financial benchmarking has identified the level of staff resource required to support this which has been prioritised through professional services review and the income targets set that this investment should deliver.  

Peter Hope continued,

“Having worked at Ulster for a long period of time, many of the findings were not a surprise but it was nevertheless helpful to have Tribal evidence. In addition, there were still findings that I had not anticipated. True value will be derived from a subsequent review by Tribal post reorganisation.”  

Looking to the Future 

It is now clear through the independent validation of Tribal that Ulster faces a significant challenge in delivering its vision in an environment where the university is significantly underfunded compared to the rest of the HE sector in the UK. 

Following completion of the professional services review it Ulster’s intention to undertake a further Tribal Benchmarking review to confirm that the university continues to operate in line with the sector comparators. 

Peter Hope, Chief Financial Officer at Ulster University speaking about the Tribal Team: 

“The team were very professional and provided clear and concise insight into the results and the key challenges that were needed to be addressed.” 

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