Universities and further education colleges are a central part of the UK economy – and not just because they develop the skills needed to sustain and grow our economy. They are themselves big businesses. UK universities have an annual income of more than £30bn. The FE college sector is smaller, but still very large: its annual income in England is £7.5bn.
The private sector is increasingly challenging universities and colleges, which are also under pressure from government to become more commercial in outlook. As a result they are in greater need for the acumen provided by strong finance directors.
“In the midst of all this change and disruption, universities offer finance professionals a variety of exciting and interesting challenges, but finance directors have had to consider what skills they need in their teams,” explains Karel Thomas, executive director of the British Universities Finance Directors Group. “Many are recruiting and developing finance business partners – accountants with insight and interpersonal skills to work with academic colleagues and other professional services.
“This new breed of accountant is not replacing the technical financial accountant, the treasury manager, or colleagues whose main role is compliance – those professionally-qualified staff all still have their place in the team. But one thing is sure, finance directors of the future are likely to have been finance business partners at some stage. The challenge for finance directors now is finding and developing those people, recognising that they might not retain them in their own institution, but hoping that they will stay in the higher education sector.”
 Universities UK
 Association of Colleges