Consultants for Value for Money project offer findings and recommendations at forum

Michael Gibb

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Two experts from a leading consultancy group specializing in the educ

ation industry shared their findings and recommendations at a forum at City University of Hong Kong on 18 November on the process of planning and resource allocation in academic and administration departments.

 

The forum was part of the ongoing Value for Money ((VFM) project which the University has initiated in order to promote better VFM and ensure public accountability.

 

Phase 1 of the project has focused on reviewing mechanisms, policies and procedures in academic and administration departments for achieving VFM and introducing department heads to VFM concepts and culture.

 

At the forum, which was attended by more than 50 academic and administrative staff and students, Ms Deborah Lampard and Mr Peter Wade, consultants from PhillipsKPA, said that CityU was in a strong position to adopt a VFM culture.

 

“Many of the fundamentals in terms of, for example, strategic planning, budget allocation, continuous improvement and quality assurance, are already in place, although they might not yet be referred to explicitly as VFM,” said Ms Lampard, the former Director of Planning at Monash University.

 

In the first part of the discussion, Mr Wade, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Monash, defined VFM as a way organizations obtain maximum benefit from the goods and services it acquires and provides within the resources available.

 

Putting this concept into context, Mr Wade said CityU had demonstrated an “outstanding” performance over recent years in resources management.

 

He pointed out that CityU had managed to turn a HK$15m deficit in 2001-02 into a healthy surplus in 2004-05, and at the same time jump 20 places in the rankings of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions to 178 in the world, according to The Times Higher Education Supplement, despite recent budget cuts and the challenges posed by a sharp increase in student numbers.

 

“CityU has also demonstrated it has many of the key elements of successful VFM in place,” Mr Wade added.

 

In her talk, Ms Lampard elaborated by identifying seven elements of success which are needed to enhance VFM. They are:

 

  • Top-level commitment
  • Strategic and operational planning.
  • Budget allocation models
  • Performance review
  • Service delivery
  • Continuous improvement
  • Communication strategy

 

Ms Lampard said the University already had a top-level commitment to VFM, meaning senior management were keen to explore VFM concepts and applicability, and that there was sufficient University-wide strategic and operational planning to provide a framework for planning at the organizational level.

 

She added that CityU also had an effective, flexible budget allocation model that had helped the University achieve its resource management targets of recent years, and that the University carried out a number of important organizational, process and activity reviews to benchmark performance.

 

This level of review was vital because it reinforced the quality of academic output, offered stakeholders key information, and provided the basis for regular and systematic evaluation, which is critical to the adoption of a VFM culture.

 

The consultants also found that CityU operated within a framework of Continuous Improvement, i.e. there was a culture of rigorous self analysis and systematic feedback on performance.

 

In terms of recommendations, Ms Lampard said there was a need in some areas for a more systematic and consistent approach to the development of strategic and operational plans; the Annual Report should include greater focus on, among others, future strategies, action plans; and targets, and best practices once identified should be promulgated.

 

The consultants suggested that the judgmental component of the annual planning and budget process could contribute more to an improved correlation between departmental plans and the University’s Strategic Plan; and all areas of the University should develop more detailed knowledge of their own cost structure.

 

The final part of the talk touched upon how service level agreements could enhance service delivery and how CityU could adopt more formally a continuous assessment framework as part of its quality assurance processes.

 

Dr Neale O’Connor, Associate Professor in the Department of Accountancy and a co-opted member of the VFM Steering Committee, said senior management at CityU had responded positively to the recommendations, and a website would soon be launched that would provide a channel for informing the University community about VFM and a forum for further debate about VFM issues.

 

He added that the aim of the VFM project was to make everyone’s job easier and to reduce the burden of extra work on staff.

 

Phase 1 of the project will culminate in a written report, due in December, submitted by the two consultants to the University. Announcements concerning Phase 2 of the project and subsequent actions will be made soon.

 

The VFM Steering Committee was established by the Management Board after the Council endorsed in April 2005 the recommendation from the Audit Committee of CityU on VFM matters. Mr James Ng, the Executive Director of CityU Extension, is the convenor, and members include Chair Professor Eden Yu, Head of the Department of Economics and Finance, and Dr Ellen Ko, Director of Human Resources. Ms Libby Chow, Head of Internal Audit, is the Resource Person.  Dr Neale O’Connor and Mr Gabriel Chan, Director of Finance, are co-opted members.

 

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