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Costings project: CNL 1: Executive Summary


The text below is taken directly from the Executive Summary of the CNL Report. Some clarifications have been added in [ ]


The main aim of this Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded project was to identify the unrecorded or “hidden” costs involved in Networked Learning and to produce a Planning Document and Financial Schema using which a complete picture of the actual costs of Networked Learning can be reached.


This Final Report comprises 12 chapters plus a small number of Appendices. It details the activities of the Study Team during the six-month study [in 1999]. These activities ranged from a Sectoral Survey to gain an overview of the extent of Networked Learning in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), a collection of in-depth studies based on interviews at seven Institutions, a literature review of over 100 sources and analysis of a survey which focused on the student perceived costs of Networked Learning.


0.1 Conclusions

  1. The literature search established that the past literature is confinable, with a slow rate of accretion. The literature from the training field is relevant.
  2. Earlier UK work on costing innovative learning systems in HE was of little use. More general costing work, such as the KPMG Costings Guidelines (1997), has been helpful. The Flashlight (Delinger et al., 1999) work on costing is likely to be of great relevance.
  3. The Sectoral Survey established that the costs of Networked Learning are little considered at this stage, with problems of scope and inconsistent information.
  4. The site visits confirmed that Networked Learning is prevalent in all types of HEI, but that cost analysis of Networked Learning is not currently on the agenda (although HEIs are aware that it is firmly on the Funding Councils’ agenda).
  5. The site visits also proved that student concerns and behaviour are neither well understood nor seen as being strategic.
  6. Both the survey and the site visits confirmed that there are organisational barriers to accurate costing. The “cost of costing” issue was raised.
  7. Institutions did identify a useful set of Hidden Costs to complement those uncovered in the literature.
  8. Institutions felt that more compelling pedagogical evidence of the benefits of Networked Learning was needed. Organisational, quality and software issues were also considered as barriers.
  9. The study has uncovered costs being absorbed by academic staff which were previously hidden. Staff overtime was highlighted as an issue.
  10. The student survey showed that there is a disjunct between student beliefs - in essence, students believe that Networked Learning increases costs to them - and student behaviour - time has an opportunity cost to them.

0.2 Planning Document and Financial Schema

We propose a Planning Document and Financial Schema with the following features:

  1. It can operate at the level of a whole Institution; a department or faculty; a course; or a unit (module) within a course.
  2. It takes account of the costs incurred (or saved) by the additional stakeholders in the learning process other than the Institution. The most important of these additional stakeholders are Students and Staff (own time and resources).
  3. It takes account of the division of academic time into Research, Teaching and Other (including administration).
  4. It takes account of the activities within the course development process and proposes a three-phase model for these if there is no existing relevant model.
  5. It is flexible in terms of the methods of allocation of overheads.


Though it is possible to propose the nucleus of a Planning Document and Financial Schema in six months, more development and testing is needed to prove its value.

0.3 Recommendations

  1. We support the centrally initiated drive towards coherence in university accounting procedures. [The Transparency Review.]
  2. Conventional teaching and learning must be costed via the same methodology. [See the CNL 2 study.]
  3. There is a need to locate and evaluate finance software suitable for the “new era” of Activity Based Costing in HEIs. [See CNL 2.]
  4. A co-ordinated “mega-survey” approach is needed, including recognised procedures by which figures are collated.

0.4 Recommendations for further work

  1. The study should be extended to include the Further Education (FE) sector. The FE report should also include issues relevant to the University for Industry. [This was never done.]
  2. Collaboration with Australia may be profitable, especially in the light of the current CVCP/HEFCE research project “The Business of Borderless Education”. [The Australians have now, in 2006, taken up costing quite seriously.]
  3. Evidence suggests that the next area ripe for treatment, in terms of costing education, is the UK schools sector. [Becta has done some work on TCO – Total Cost of Ownership.]
  4. The Study Team is happy to work with the HE and FE Funding Councils to look at specific issues relevant to the constituent countries of the UK. [Never done. HEFCE has commissioned more work on costs, from JM Consulting.]
  5. We recommend a study into the benefits, overt and hidden, for all stakeholders, of Networked Learning. Without such a study, the cost issues are seen in isolation. [This was done via the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning.]


The full CNL 1 report


This is a Word file over 3M in size – available here.