Operations Excellence Institute at Cranfield University

In this blog post, the first in a series, we look at the findings of Deloitte’s research and talk about the benefits and impacts of this type of funding in higher education.

Sharing the risk in innovative higher education projects

The Catalyst Fund is a HEFCE programme which supports innovative strategic projects across a range of higher education activity, co-investing with universities and colleges. The Fund has been running since August 2012 and developed from a predecessor, the Strategic Development Fund (SDF).

HEFCE has used SDF and Catalyst funding to co-invest in innovative and strategic projects which need extra early-stage investment to increase their chances of long-term success, sharing risk with the universities and colleges involved.

This type of funding can be more flexible and responsive than our regular formula grants for teaching, research and knowledge exchange, allowing us to invest in innovative projects and respond quickly to new priorities.

We expect all our investments to deliver clear and tangible benefits for students and external partners, as well as for the universities and colleges themselves. We also aim for this funding to provide additionality, complementing rather than duplicating the priorities of other investment sources and funding agencies.

From safeguarding to STEM

Catalyst is supporting over 200 projects, with an investment of over £230 million in revenue and capital funding. The projects are hugely varied, and include:

  • Innovations in learning and teaching; 67 projects were announced in November 2016. HEFCE funding is £2.8 million, with matched funding from each project
  • Addressing barriers to student success; 17 projects announced in January this year. Funding is £7.4 million, with co-investment from universities, colleges and other partners
  • Supporting student safeguarding on campus; 63 projects announced in March this year. Funding amounted to £2.4 million, with matched funding from each project. We are also about to announce new projects tackling hate crime and online harassment, following our call for bids in the summer
  • New ways of delivering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) provision for students and with employers
  • Flexible learning programmes including degree apprenticeships
  • Supporting higher education (HE) to deliver local economic growth, in partnership with employers and other agencies.

Tracking impact

Universities and colleges have long told us of the importance of this type of funding to support innovative projects, but as always with public funding, it is important to get an informed and impartial view of how well it delivers. We also wanted to understand better the breadth and depth of the activities it is enabling, beyond the information we get through regular monitoring reports.

This is why in September 2016 we commissioned Deloitte to analyse the impact and return on investment that this funding is delivering. Deloitte reviewed specific case study projects from both SDF and Catalyst funding, and analysed a range of data from other projects.

We are extremely pleased with the findings. The report has shown that:

  • This type of funding has the potential to deliver significant returns on investment in both the short and particularly the longer term – £12 for every £1 invested.
  • Catalyst is providing one of the few sources of additional support for learning and teaching activity (as opposed to the range of funding available for research and knowledge exchange).
  • The HEFCE funding has a direct impact on promoting collaboration between academia and industry, facilitates greater industry involvement in HE, and can help increase productivity.
  • Catalyst funding plays an important role in supporting regional development through the distribution of grants across the country.
  • Individual projects themselves can be agents for change and drive innovation – in universities and colleges, more widely in the HE sector, and in partner organisations.

The report also emphasises how important it is to continue monitoring and measuring our investments in different ways, to ensure maximum value from public funding and to secure high quality benefits for all involved – students, HE providers, employers, private and public sector partners, and of course the public.

Read the Catalyst Fund economic impact study

Browse all blog posts on Catalyst Fund project case studies

Photograph provided by Cranfield University, showing their Operations Excellence Institute – a Catalyst Fund project.

Project blog posts

From 16 October we will be publishing blog posts from some of the Catalyst projects featured in the Deloitte report, so that you can understand first-hand their outcomes and the experiences of the work we are helping to support.