HR Benchmarking

HR Benchmarking

The Universities’ HR Benchmarking Program was initiated by QUT and commenced in early 2004. QUT’s main objective in the provision of this service to universities was to establish a highly relevant, low cost and flexible HR benchmarking program with a high level of university participation.

Participating universities in the program are committed to working together to better manage human resources in the higher education sector.


The Program

What is Benchmarking?

Benchmarking essentially involves learning, sharing information and adopting best practices to bring about changes in performance. To simplify this, it can be stated as: ‘Improving ourselves by learning from others’

In practice, benchmarking usually encompasses:

  • regularly comparing aspects of performance (functions or processes) with best practitioners;
  • identifying gaps in performance;
  • seeking fresh approaches to bring about improvements in performance;
  • following through with implementing improvements; and
  • following up by monitoring progress and reviewing the benefits.

Alan Flower (1997) lists 5 main stages in effective benchmarking:

  1. Selecting aspects of performance that can be improved and defining them in a way that enables relevant comparative data to be obtained – in effect, producing performance indicators that will make sense to other organisations;
  2. Choosing relevant organisations from which to obtain raw or headline data;
  3. Studying the data to identify possible opportunities for improvement;
  4. Examining the procedures of the best-performing organisations to pick up ideas that can be adopted or adapted to achieve performance improvements; and
  5. Implementing new processes.

Organisations usually benchmark performance indicators (eg profit margins, return on investment (ROI), cycle times, percentage defects, sales per employee, cost per unit) or business processes (eg how it develops a product or service, how it meets customer orders or responds to enquiries, how it produces a product or service). For human resources, three types of benchmarks are particularly appropriate (Matters, 1993).

  • Broad measures of performance which take an organisation-level view of HR management, using broad productivity measures like sales per employee, profit per employee, volume per employee, number of employees per HR specialists, and other relevant “output-over-input” ratios;
  • HR practices focusing on how effectively HR programs and practices are implemented, and making comparisons with other organisations; and
  • HR competencies tracking the knowledge, skills and abilities of HR specialists over time.

Flower, Alan. 1997. How to: benchmarking? Personnel Management 12 June

Matters, M. 1993. Benchmarking HR: The nuts and bolds of benchmarking . Melbourne : Alpha Publications.


Why Join The HR Benchmarking Program?
  • Designed for universities, run by universities;
  • Join a network of universities who are focussed on strategic workforce improvements;
  • Low cost program, leading to higher participation;
  • Minimal effort required for data submission;
  • Fast turnaround; and
  • Data confidentiality is assured by reporting on percentiles only, allowing participants to compare themselves to others, but not actually identify the results of a particular university.

Participants receive an easy to read yet comprehensive report with results for a variety of HR performance measures. The report clearly outlines each measure’s definition and purpose and provides tips for interpretation. Results are presented in both tabular and graphical format.

University Specific

The university-sector workforce is unique. The intricacies of attracting and managing an academic workforce have many implications for the university HR department. Comparing your workforce to that of a large public department or private firm gives you an idea of how you are performing, but these organisations’ workforces do not face the same challenges as a university.

‘The key benefit of the university sector benchmarking program is that it provides the perfect basis for strategic discussions between university HR departments’

In a nutshell, Human Resource Benchmarking enables you to:

  • Identify staffing trends and significant issues within your University and the university sector as a whole.
  • Setting appropriate staffing goals – What is your target and are you hitting it?
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of HR initiatives.
  • Identify key areas of improvement.
  • Guide the strategic planning of your HR department and allow for greater HR input to the University’s strategic planning


Measures & Sample Reports


The Universities’ HR Benchmarking Program examines 9 main measures that relate to the Higher Education Sector.

These include:

1. Staffing

  • FTE Excluding Casuals
  • FTE Including Casuals
  • Headcount
  • Functional Staffing Ratios
  • Human Resources FTE
  • Information Technology FTE
  • Student Administration FTE
  • Student Services FTE

2. Turnover

  • Total Turnover
  • Voluntary Employee Initiated Separations (VEI)
  • Voluntary University Initiated Separations (VUI)
  • Involuntary University Initiated Separations (IUI)
  • Fixed Term Contract Expiration Separations (FTC)

3. Recruitment (Efficiency and Effectiveness)

  • Number of Applications
  • Number of Advertised Vacancies
  • Recruitment time to advertise
  • Recruitment time to offer
  • Recruitment time to appoint
  • Recruitment time to start
  • Total Recruits
  • Internal Recruits
  • External Recruits

4. Academic

  • Doctoral Qualifications
  • Successful Promotions
  • Number of Applications (Academic Promotions)
  • Honorary Academics

5. Age

  • Age Profile
  • Median Age of Recruits
  • Median Age of Separations

6. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS)

  • Lost Time Occurrences
  • Days Lost to OHS Incidents

7. Employment Costs

  • Employment Costs
  • Cost per employee
  • Total Income

8. Length of Service (LOS)

  • Length of Service Profile (FTE)
  • Median Length of Service of Current Staff
  • Median Length of Service of Separations

9. Absence

  • Unscheduled Absence

The measures on the Universities’ HR Benchmarking program are reviewed annually and revised based on participants’ interest levels.


Universities HR Standards Project

National Advisory Standards for the Professional Practice of HR in Australian Universities

QUT received DEEWR funding in November 2007 under the Workplace Productivity Programme (WPP) to form a project in conjunction with Talent2 and Bond University that was charged with the development and delivery of national HR practice standards. This project has now been successfully completed.
The objective of this project was to develop a consistent set of National Advisory Standards for the Professional Practice of Human Resources (HR) in Australian universities. The Standards will also be used for international comparative benchmarking purposes. Standards set the basis for quality assessment, performance examination and for demonstrating to stakeholders that value for money is being achieved.

At the time that these standards were developed, there were no national standards for the professional practice of human resource activities in Australian universities. Thus each university independently established the standards that it ‘expected to see’. The Universities HR Benchmarking Group identified a number of HR measures and metrics relevant to the university sector and these were used to inform the research base in establishing standards. For example, the ratio of academic to non academic staff had a wide range of results across the sector but benchmarking could identify the mean, median and shape of the results. From this we estimated “what we would expect to see” and, importantly, variances could be justified on the basis of institutional diversity.

Similarly, the standards established “what we expect to see” in relation to individual universities by reference to the national advisory standards but also treat each university separately by understanding the reasons for adopting different standards. To have each university independently establish human resource standards would be manifestly inefficient (priority differences, time frame differences, format differences and common language would present obvious issues).

The intent of this project was to develop a consistent set of standards to address these issues.


In Scope areas

The five In Scope areas that were identified for progressing with the development of the HR Standards were:

  • Learning and Development
  • Remuneration, Benefits and Recognition
  • Workforce Planning
  • Attraction and Selection
  • Performance Management

These Standards were finalised in January 2011 and endorsed by the Project Sponsor in March 2011.

The five Standards were developed by subject matter experts from the participating Australian Universities.


University HR Activity Framework

The QUT/Talent2 Workplace Productivity Programme (WPP) project on ‘HR Standards in Australian Universities’ built a collection of HR Standards for five university HR activity areas.

One element missing from the initial analysis of HR activities was the overall framework within which university human resources operate.  It was recognised that this is not an easy task but it potentially establishes the context in which university HR operates.

There is a growing recognition of the need for a HR framework.  There are models available from other sources, including overseas.

The HR Framework, developed in conjunction with several Australian Universities and reliant on a selective literature review, sets out a potential format and content for a HR framework for the Australian Higher Education sector.


HR Benchmarking Measures mapped against the WPP University HR Advisory Standards

The final piece of the project was to align the Universities HR Benchmarking Program measures to the HR Advisory Standards, identifying whether the measures are (measures of) Inputs, Processes, Outputs or Outcomes, and whether they are measures of economy, efficiency or effectiveness.



Learning and Development
Remuneration, Benefits and Recognition
Workforce Planning
Attraction and Selection
Performance Management
Mapping of Benchmarking Measures

Online Portal

The HR Benchmarking program undertakes data collection on an annual basis commencing 1 March through to 31 March.

Member universities can input their data via the Online Portal which is available here.

Want further information?

Henry Wong
HR Benchmarking and Events Manager
03 8611 0515