Higher education is a tough and competitive market with a rapidly changing political landscape, and the fight for both students and academic talent is fierce. Based in Sydney, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has AU$2.1 billion (US$1.55 billion) in annual revenue, more than 56,000 students and 6,000 faculty and staff. It is part of the elite ‘group of eight’ Australian universities and is 85th in the 2018 Times Higher Education world rankings.
Three years ago, the university launched its bold 2025 Strategic Plan to invest AU$3 billion (US$2.22 billion) over a ten-year period to become Australia’s global university. The strategy is built around ten key pillars, including excellence in research and exemplary education, and an increased contribution to society both locally and globally. It calls for a review of all elements of the university, including: introducing a new academic calendar, restructuring support services, improving academic recruitment and retention and creating state-of-the art digital student experiences to meet growing global expectations. To keep pace with the competition, the university is planning to upgrade its research facilities and revamp its digital infrastructure to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
All this must be achieved in an environment unaccustomed to change and at a time when funding for research has become more competitive and students, both at home and from abroad, have ever greater choice. Clearly, not all institutions will make the grade and survive.
PwC was selected by UNSW as the strategic transformation adviser because of our experience in institutional change management and our ability to provide support across the portfolio of initiatives — from strategy development through execution. PwC is an embedded team member working closely with UNSW’s leadership team and university staff. This involves testing concepts with stakeholders and creating business cases for each investment to identify opportunities for growth and efficiency.
The team used robotics to analyse millions of possibilities and then restructure subject, course and programme options in order to make the academic course calendar more efficient. The university changed from a two semester system to a trimester system, a complex transformation enabled by the systems and processes developed with PwC specialists. The team also created metrics and analytics tools to accurately assess the quality of research and teaching activities versus the quantity and to define expectations of what it means to be an academic at a ‘group of eight’ university.
To drive and sustain the transformation, teams devoted considerable energy to creating the right culture and assembling a high-performance staff that worked with the university’s leadership to build a capabilities roadmap for the future.
Though early in the journey, the transformation process is well underway and has progressed without disruption to existing operations. Signs of success are already apparent. The new calendar will provide students with more choice and the ability to enroll in internships and exchanges, while at the same time boosting facility utilisation by 25%. This will allow for significant growth in the number of students the university can accommodate without new infrastructure.
The university is increasing its research capabilities, hiring world class academics who will help improve research performance. It has created a first-of-its-kind in Australia career path for education-focused academics to underpin the new emphasis on teaching and learning excellence. This attention to instruction has been well-received by staff. All professional functions have also been revamped to provide improved customer experiences across the institution, for students and academics as well as the university’s administrative staff.
"It is rare for a university to develop such a transformative vision and strategy as UNSW has done. Over the course of ten years, the university is looking to transform all aspects of the organisation, including the academic career model, course and program structures, the student value proposition, the provision of campus services and the academic calendar. It has been an honour working with the university and sharing in the journey together."
"PwC has been a very strong business partner over the past two years. They have provided a factual data set for us to benchmark and compare the services that we have now to what we could have in the future. The human aspect is that they have been a strong business partner guiding us, supporting us along this journey from start to finish."