Course Analysis – Cut, Consolidate or Continue?

July 13, 2017

Universities are constantly jugging resources – research often brings the rankings and brand while teaching brings the bulk of the predictable revenue.  Things will get tougher in Australia under a proposed new CGS funding regime that includes a 2.5% efficiency dividend (which will erode the base funding going forward) and the potential for 7.5% of contestable, performance based funding.

Universities provide a range of services to students, both inside and outside of the lecture theatre, to entice, retain, assist and support them throughout their university life.  This often includes providing a range of options regarding when, where and how a course (subject) is offered.

Having a cost model that provides you with the margin associated with a course name, whilst being suitable for many things, won’t help you make decisions regarding the when, where and how.  As shown below, CSI4364 is making a healthy margin….but it’s not telling you the whole story.

To do this, each course needs to be broken down by the three components making up the when, where and how:

  • When:  teaching period / semester / term
  • Where:  campus / location
  • How:  face to face / online / blended / external

It is not until you can pull apart the cost of delivering a course to this extent that the range of decision options become visible.

As can be seen above, whilst the course overall is doing well, it is being taught over three separate instances.  In this case, they are all in Sydney, all face to face, but being taught in three different sessions – semester 1, semester 2 and summer.  The two primary sessions have around 20 students enrolled in each instance and are showing a positive margin.  However the course instance being taught over the summer period only has one student (0.125 EFTSL) enrolled in it with the result being that the summer version of this course is making a loss.

So now the cost model is providing you with additional information that can assist in more complex decision making.

Is there a specific reason why the course needs to be taught in summer school?

If there is, is there a way to increase enrolments in that instance of the course?  Note that cannibalising students from the primary semester sessions isn’t the answer here…no costs will be saved by sharing the same EFTSL load over three sessions.  But increasing overall enrolments with specific attention paid to the summer session could be an option.

But if there is no specific reason, then the next phase of the analysis should be looked at.  By using your cost model to look at the fixed and variable costs associated with each course instance (broken down by school direct, faculty support and university overhead), you can estimate the savings if:

  • the course instance was cancelled and the EFTSL moved to another teaching period (student income retained, redistribution of fixed overheads, some if not all direct teaching costs saved);
  • the course instance was cancelled and the EFTSL moved to another course entirely (student income retained, redistribution of fixed overheads, some if not all direct teaching costs saved); or
  • the course instance was cancelled and the EFTSL lost to the university (student income lost, redistribution of fixed overheads, some if not all direct teaching costs saved).

Performing this type of analysis on just one course isn’t going to solve the university’s financial issues, however performing it on a regular rolling basis across numerous courses, such as reviewing all courses taught by one faculty (or two if you are a large universities) per year, would assist with ensuring that, in part, the most efficient delivery of teaching is occurring within your institution.


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