Transparent teaching

Dafydd Llewellyn, Managing Director SMB UK & France at SAP Concur, demands greater transparency of university spend for its students

With the first semester of the year over, millions of new students will have settled into their new universities. Given that fees alone are now upwards of £9,000 a year and further costs are incurred through rent and purchasing books and equipment, this generation of students is understandably approaching university with a renewed interest in where their money is going.

There has been a growing appetite from students and student bodies to understand exactly how and where their money is being spent by universities. In the light of the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary earlier this year and reports that the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University has spent £24,000 in two years on private drivers, this focus has been on expenses and fees for lecturers and other staff.

Of course, the majority of claims are legitimate, and university employees are entitled to claim for anything that is deemed work-related, given it is in accordance with HMRC guidelines. Expense claim processes can be complicated and drawn out, and universities now have the opportunity to streamline expense management, bring it in line with modern business practice and work towards greater transparency for their students.

Expense policies can vary greatly and, indeed, some universities may not have a formal policy at all. Some will trust their employees to treat their business expenses as they would their own money, while others will keep a watchful eye. However, this may not always be the case. The technology is available to finance teams to set and build their own policies, from how much staff can spend on meals to when they can travel business class and what they can’t claim back for. Having a clear policy in place, which is visible to students, will go a long way to show exactly where and how money is being spent.

Dafydd Llewellyn

Increasing visibility

Automating this process is key. Universities’ use of manual records, including paper receipts and invoices, are the main sources of inefficiency and, sometimes, error. And, often, suspect expenses are simply a case of these errors. A single, online system that manages all expenses will speed up and increase visibility of past, present and future spend, while simultaneously reducing the number of errors by a large extent.

Implementing an automated system will also benefit finance teams as a whole, putting hours back into everyone’s day, making them more efficient and reducing costs. It will also help control cash-flow by accurately capturing data and allowing an accurate view of all expenses in one place.

Universities need to deploy the tech that can analyse and forecast trends that can appear across expense claims, helping them plan for future budgeting. There are, of course, times where last-minute travel and meetings will crop up, but having a cloud-based solution that can track against all outgoings will save time and money in the long-term by allowing a move to more agile reporting methods.

Once the systems are in place, the potential to provide greater visibility to students will be evident. Not only this, a fit-for-purpose solution will be able to compile all this information automatically and into one system, allowing finance teams to work smarter and eliminating the need to comb through multiple spreadsheets.

Universities arguably operate like a big business and they now have the chance to bring their expense management processes in line with modern life and best business practice. Not only will this alleviate the manual process of submitting expenses, but also go a long way to building trust in current, and prospective, students.

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