The University spent over £10.1m on its most used consultancy firms between 2016 and 2021, according to data seen by Palatinate.
The firms include consultants in technology, university admissions, and management. Cubane Consulting received £128,000 in 2020-21, rising to £405,188 over the last five years. Cubane Consulting specialises in university admissions, “helping university admissions make informed decisions and continually access results”.
This year’s admissions cycle saw thousands offered to students to defer, and many freshers a half hour walk away from their college. Some students were given 24 hours to decide whether to take a year out or switch colleges, despite previously having their first choice college confirmed.
Durham has also been criticised over admissions figures that favour wealthier students. Over the last five years, eight times as many students were admitted to Durham from the wealthiest areas of the country than from the most deprived (see p.6).
£60,975 was paid to Inside Out Communications Consulting during the last academic year, who specialise in communication about technology. On their website the company states: “We help you talk to your people about your new technology and why it matters to them. People find change hard. They find it even harder when they are in the dark.”
The University operated fully online during the Covid-19 pandemic, using Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for lectures and seminars. Staff had to rapidly adapt to online teaching. Durham’s Digital Strategy was launched in December 2020.
Symatix, which operates the UniversAnother company, Symatix, received £200,179.23 for services in 2020-21. Symatix specialises in Oracle, the system which Durham uses to run Consent Matters, the mandatory training programme on sexual consent, healthy relationships and positive bystander intervention. Oracle is also used for staff time cards and absences.
Durham’s expenditure on consultancy matches Cardiff University and Queen Mary, which both spent just over £11 million on their top ten consultancy firms in the last five years, but is drastically exceeded by Oxford, which spent almost £40 million.
The University of Liverpool spent £16 million on all consultancy over the last five years, while Bristol spent £26 million.
In 2011, the consultancy firm KPMG and Durham University launched a school leavers’ programme, in which the firm would pay the full fees for Accounting students while training them for graduate positions at the firm. In 2018, KPMG also ran an accounting summer school at Queen’s Campus.
In the last five years, KPMG received commissions worth at least £3.7 million from Durham University.
This makes KPMG the highest paid consultancy firm in the last five years, with no other firm receiving more than £2 million. The second highest paid was PA Consulting Services, who received at least £1.6 million.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson