By Published On: February 10th, 2021

Universities the world over are facing some of the biggest and most challenging decisions they ever have about the best future shape and configuration of professional support services. The seismic events of 2020 have simultaneously upped the ante in terms of the need to ‘look again’ at how services are delivered, and significantly increased the pressure in terms of the finances to fund them, not to mention the fact that staff at many institutions are exhausted.

Happily, help is at hand. Cubane’s Service Effectiveness global evidence base and survey tool are uniquely well-placed to help universities chart the right course. The experience of institutions who use the evidence and survey to define their service improvement priorities is that they can measure and track progress in such a way that helps to accelerate it, target investment confidently, and clearly demonstrate a commitment to user-centred design.

Even with vaccines now available it’s too soon to say that universities are ‘out of the woods’ in terms of the coronavirus crisis. Even so, many are looking beyond the events of 2020 and early 2021 to a world where COVID-19 has brought new expectations and even opportunities to the fore in terms of delivering services differently, just as the pandemic has made the financial conditions facing universities that much tougher.

Service effectiveness after a challenging year

In this context Cubane’s clients – including some of the most ambitious and successful research-intensive universities in the world – have been using data about Service Effectiveness to innovate and design new operating models for services ranging from the back office to the frontline of teaching administration, student and researcher support and everything inbetween.

Tracking progress helps to accelerate it

Many of the universities who’ve used the Cubane service effectiveness survey to track the progress of their improvement efforts have seen rapid and sustained increases in satisfaction levels. This can partly be explained by the simple fact that seeing this trajectory builds confidence that improvement really is possible: a welcome morale boost.

And what’s remarkable in the current context is that the universities who’ve conducted surveys in the past 12 months have seen this improvement continue, and have been able to use the results to celebrate the achievement of staff who have ‘pulled out all the stops’ to innovate during the crisis.

Measuring progress also helps to identify those services that are going furthest, fastest, so that good practice principles can be spread and learned from internally. The reliability of this is enabled by the fact that the Cubane approach allows universities to compare like-for-like, so that an assessment and exams service at one institution is being compared with the same service elsewhere. A high satisfaction score really does mean best-in-class.

Targeting investment with confidence

Universities in Cubane’s global UniForum benchmarking programme have, like institutions everywhere, had to make difficult decisions in 2020: whether to put major projects on hold, pare back to mission critical endeavours, or restructure. The prevailing perspective is that now is just not the time to invest at anywhere close to usual levels in service improvement, but that doesn’t have to mean progress is stopped.

One of the distinctive features of the Cubane service effectiveness results is that they reveal ‘what matters most’ to service users: the specific blend of process, system and staff capability ‘attributes’, unique to each and every service, that users care most about and which have the biggest impact on overall satisfaction. Understanding this has deeply practical implications: for example it allows a cash-strapped university to focus its improvement capacity on those services where processes, rather than expensive system upgrades, will matter most, and avoid spending big where investment is unlikely to reap rewards.

The service effectiveness results also help to pinpoint opportunities for quicker wins: services where Cubane’s data shows that one of the biggest changes can have nothing to do with the fundamentals of the services itself, but straightforward effort to improve users’ awareness of what service levels to expect. You can read more about how this data can be used to target improvement effort in this earlier article.

Putting service users at the centre

Achieving sustained service improvement is never just about the efforts of a central transformation team: the academics and administrative staff throughout an institution who use the service day-in and day-out will often have the best insights into what could be better, and how. The Cubane service effectiveness survey is very much a bottom-up exercise, allowing thousands of staff to influence the future direction of service design.

The results from a university’s survey, which are available a matter of weeks after the exercise has finished, can be broken down to the level of individual administrative departments and academic faculties, allowing differing levels of satisfaction to be understood (without ever disclosing the identities of individuals). This allows qualitative follow-up research to get under the skin of the issues facing particular parts of the university, something that is further aided by rich free text comments that give a vivid picture of the success stories and avoidable frustrations encountered. It can be these vignettes, as much as anything, that can trigger real change.

To find out more about what Cubane’s service effectiveness data and insights can help your university to achieve, get in touch with us by email at [email protected] 


About the Author: James Catts

James is the Managing Director of Cubane in ANZ and an accomplished benchmarking and business transformation specialist in the university sector, having worked in leading management consulting firms. He is recognised for his ability to lead large complex projects across the end-to-end cycle of business transformation engagements with proven business performance uplift. His benchmarking and business transformation experience has enabled him to work extensively with C-level executives and senior management to shape and deliver high impact service delivery, technology and business change programs. By leveraging robust performance benchmarks, he has enjoyed setting the vision and developing a fact based approach to business transformation. To contact James please email [email protected]