We need to talk about risk

Chris Taylor, senior consultant, Uniac shares insight into the increasing presence of risk in higher education and invites providers to take part in their benchmarking exercise on risk management. 

What does risk management look like in your institution? Be honest. Do eyes roll and gazes shift when the annual review of the risk register rolls around? Are the risks on the page the risks you are really dealing with every day? Is risk management the preserve of one individual, buried away in central admin and dusted off only to meet the ever predictable demands of the committee cycle? Do you only do it because Hefce says so in the Memorandum of Assurance?

Chances are, if we are honest, that ‘Yes’ will be the answer to at least one of these questions some of the time.

But we are clearly entering an era when the previously ‘high impact/low likelihood’ risk event seems to be a more present danger; from terrorism and fire to the challenges of Brexit and changing immigration requirements. At the very least we have been reminded of the need to ensure we effectively mitigate key risks across all areas. In that context, are we in the higher education sector really doing enough to ensure highly effective risk management processes that genuinely add value and protect the interests of everyone in higher education? We’d like your help to find out.

In all institutions that we interact with the main risk management tool that is used is a risk register; however, even the form of a corporate risk register can vary widely. Different institutions have significantly varying risk frameworks, with some requiring risk registers for all functional units to a fairly low level within the institution, or others where the only requirement is for there to be a corporate register. Additional elements such as risk appetite are implicit in some institutions, whereas others have built up complex matrices to assess the appetite for a particular type of risk.

Now, there is no right or wrong answer to how risk is managed – it is about ensuring that the process supports the institution in delivering its strategic aims and adds the value that Hefce and others, like the Financial Reporting Council, wish to see. Clearly, it must also be in keeping with the institutional culture and fit with other management practices. So, the purpose of our benchmarking exercise is to understand how and where institutions gain most value from risk management, and to set this alongside a review of the frameworks, processes and templates that are used.

The exercise will be based on discussions with interested parties, including non-executives on university boards, the chairs of audit committees, senior managers within institutions, and those who have operational responsibility for risk management. There will also be some desk-based work looking at different institutions’ risk policies and practices. We will also be looking outside of the higher education sector to draw in practices that could add value.

The work will result in a comprehensive report which will provide an overview of the findings of the work and will be of value to institutions in assessing their current practices and providing food for thought with respect to ways in which they can optimise the value gained from risk management within their organisation.

We are keen to involve as many providers as possible. We know how diverse the sector is and that the strength of such an exercise will be enhanced the more participants we have and the better able we are to reflect and account for that diversity.

Jean Brown (jbrown@uniac.co.uk 0161 247 2851) and Richard Young (ryoung@uniac.co.uk) from Uniac will be leading on the benchmarking exercise. Please do get in touch with them if you would like to take part.

Join us at the Leadership Foundation’s first national conference for governors of HEIs and members of the professional support teams who work with governors on Thursday 30 November 2017, Central London. To find out more, click here

Uniac is a shared internal audit and assurance service for universities – some of whom own Uniac and some who are clients. To find out more please visit their website: www.uniac.co.uk

Talent management – for the many or just the few?

Dr Wendy Hirsh, co-author of Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, the Leadership Foundation’s latest research publication, challenges higher education to consider the development of staff in the same way they would the learning growth of students.

Working on talent management with many organisations, their managers and staff, I often encounter unease and even hostility to the possibility that some development opportunities might be offered to some people but not others. So is talent management for the many or the few or can it be both?

If we unpick this issue from the business perspective first, we see that the ideas of business needs and business risk are very central to what organisations in a range of sectors mean by the term talent management. Talent management is absolutely not about giving employees all the development they would like, but about prioritising business investment in development where it will make the most difference to business effectiveness – and decrease business risk. Therefore it must be central to an organisation’s strategy.

However, often in universities, the human resources and talent management strategy (if it exists) sits alongside the core priorities and can become disconnected. This blog draws from new case study research commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to learn about talent management as practiced in other sectors. A key issue for universities like other organisations is whether to focus development resource on the many or the few.  For example, does a university need to invest in senior leadership, mid-career academics and professionals or helping younger researchers gain the skills and exposure to get their feet on the funding ladder? The answer to this question will always be a mix, but it is unavoidable that the decision will be informed by budgets and capacity if nothing else.

The public sector in the UK has traditionally been very good at investing in those just starting out on their careers and those near the top. This can leave the “middle” neglected. The more successful businesses, for example leading technology and professional services firms recognise the importance of prioritising and developing the capacity of the “middle” by redesigning roles, changing work and skill mix and business practices. The message here is this kind of development is not just about courses but about giving well established staff access to new experiences, extending and expanding roles, such as being involved directly in leading change, albeit supported by  informal coaching, mentoring or perhaps learning sets to practice new approaches. We suggest universities might usefully re-examine the capability of their experienced teachers, researchers and professionals, assess the skills gap and unfulfilled potential and use institutional wide talent management strategies as an enabler for success in an increasingly competitive environment.

We also see some talent management priorities arising from labour market shortages in what companies often call ‘operationally critical’ jobs or workforce groups. For example, some universities find it difficult to fill technician roles when long-serving staff retire or find clinical-academics in areas like medicine when higher salaries can be earned outside the academy. These are national, not institutional problems. Pharmaceutical companies adjusted their training pipelines for technician roles many years ago to accommodate both graduate and vocational routes and to raise skill levels to respond to increasingly complex lab techniques and equipment. Such issues could be addressed by universities sectorally or regionally as well as individually.

The second set of business decisions about priorities is trickier. Will we develop everyone in a particular workforce group to the same skill level or will we sometimes select individuals for more stretching development activities? The trend here in other sectors is clearly to aim for a both/and answer to this question. For example, companies are re-investing in first line manager training for all such managers, because good management is so central to the performance, engagement, development and retention of the people they manage. However, on top of this universal development, a talent management approach may also be trying to spot first line managers who want to progress their careers and have the ability to do a bigger or more complex management job. Depending on the context, a university may be wanting to invest in people already thinking about becoming a Head of Department, or looking a bit earlier for individuals who simply want to grow and are interested in exploring their leadership potential. Such individuals may be offered more stretching developmental opportunities to help them progress their careers and also to test their career preferences. The Leadership Foundation’s Aurora programmes and Athena SWAN does something of this kind for women in academia. So taking a business view, different kinds of development investment may address both the many and the few.

Of course, if organisations try and spot potential for career progression, they need to be very careful to avoid managers just developing their favourites or perpetuating inequalities of gender, race and so on. This is why talent management does have to be inclusive and include relevant definitions of potential for different kinds of jobs or levels in the organisation, test and challenge the views of individual managers and integrate talent management with real time tracking of diversity and inclusion data.

Moving from the organisational to the individual perspective, the idea of a Personal Development Plan is long established. However, other sectors are trying to move this away from being just about courses and to make it individually tailored and genuinely personal – that is related to the strengths and needs of each person and their situation. So we would not expect PDPs to give the same development to everyone doing the same job. PDPs are also being modified to include career-related development as well as development to improve performance in the current job. Talent management explicitly includes talking to individuals about their career aspirations and interests. There is little point developing someone towards being a Head of Department if this is simply not something they want to do or if they show no sign of the people skills required to do it successfully.

In essence talent management brings together these two perspectives and has to be “everyone’s business” and not just human resources “baby”. It needs to focus development where it is needed by the business and where it matches the aspirations and abilities of individuals. When it works well it’s a win-win for the “many” in the organisation and also for the “few” at the level of the individual. But to go down this route, we have to get used to the idea that not everyone needs to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. The best universities aspire to attend to the individual needs and interests of their students – supporting those who needs extra help and challenging those who can go further. Why would they wish to do less for their staff?

Dr Wendy Hirsh is an employment researcher and consultant specialising in career development, talent management, succession planning and workforce planning. Talent Management: Learning Across Sectors, was co-written with Elaine Tyler, Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies.

Download the report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/hirsh5.8

Academic freedom: autonomy in higher education


Astana, capital city of Kazakhstan

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Leadership Foundation reflects on the successful Kazakhstan Leadership Development Programme and the importance of autonomy in higher education. 

February 14 2017 was a momentous day for higher education in the Republic of Kazakhstan. For the first time, 12 of the county’s higher education institutions were given some degree of autonomy. The government approved new regulations that allowed those high-performing universities to manage their own affairs in a number of crucial ways, from admissions policies and developing degree programmes, content and assessment to defining academic job roles, qualifications and salaries.

Autonomy in higher education is usually understood to mean “academic freedom”, with universities enjoying freedom of discovery, inquiry and the teaching and learning of their students. Higher education leaders in the UK, which is renowned for its institutional autonomy, would no doubt be horrified at the very notion that any of the functions newly acquired by their Kazakh counterparts might be controlled by government.  In the UK, qualifications have long been managed from within the sector itself and research funding policy follows the Haldane Principle which separates government (and potentially politically) driven research agendas from funds distributed by the UK research councils for “general research”.

Its autonomy is something the UK higher education sector protects fiercely. The Higher Education and Research Bill – which became an Act in April 2017 – was firmly challenged for encroaching too far into the autonomy of the sector. There was particular concern that the new Office for Students, under the direction of the secretary of state, would assume responsibility for quality and standards from current sector-led arrangements, and even (in early drafts) allowing the secretary of state to direct courses of study. This power was removed in subsequent amendments to the bill in order to protect institutions’ freedom to teach whatever courses of study they wish.

But, while it is clear why institutions themselves will want to promote autonomy, is it really the best approach for the education system as a whole? The evidence suggests it is. A key message in a 2010 report for the European Commission was that basic autonomy and flexibility with regard to staffing policy, financial autonomy and selecting their “academic community” is a hallmark of the most efficient education systems. The report also highlights adequate levels of public and private resourcing, the capacity to meet supply and demand, and attract and retain qualified staff as the enablers or the “right conditions”. This combination of “basic autonomy” and “right conditions” helps tertiary education sectors contribute to the educational attainment and research productivity of their countries. In the UK, universities generate more than £73bn a year for the British economy, contribute nearly 3% of UK GDP, and support more than 750,000 jobs. Relative to the country’s size it has the most efficient research system in the G8 and is second overall only to the United States in terms of research publications.

For the past three years the Leadership Foundation has worked with the Kazakhstan education ministries and higher education institutions in their quest for university autonomy. The Kazakh approach was to provide the leadership development and capability building upfront and then to enact autonomy legislation when capacity had been demonstrably built to operate in this different way.

Our programme focused on the leadership of higher education research, learning and teaching, and entrepreneurial and adaptive universities – helping to enable universities to function more effectively as autonomous entities and within sound governance frameworks, building the capacity for accountability through developing appropriate relationships with the Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science and various stakeholders.

The desire of countries to shift to greater autonomy in their higher education systems is a common strand in the leadership development work we have undertaken in more than 30 countries in recent years.  However, a key challenge for a number of countries is that, while they aspire to modernise their higher education sectors, existing regulatory and legal frameworks are not set up to support growth and innovation. It is a challenge to ensure that any ambition for change is aligned with national structures and legal systems because if they don’t develop hand-in-hand, this tension can stop development in its tracks.

In the UK, a combination of competition and autonomy, as well as priority research and development agendas with funding pots, has driven growth and excellence. These in turn have been supported by robust in-sector regulatory checks and balances: quality assurance, the Research Excellence Framework, financial health reports.

At the heart of this is both sector and institutional autonomy – and as universities operate in an increasingly globalised market place, levels and types of autonomy, and how these contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of tertiary education systems, have never been more important.

Since 2007 the European University Association has been undertaking a Europe-wide Autonomy Survey and developed an Autonomy Scorecard in 2011. The Scorecard focuses on four broad dimensions to benchmark the autonomy of European countries’ systems: organisational, financial, staffing and academic. Organisational autonomy relates to the selection criteria and procedures for institution heads, oversight of the appointment of external governors, and the capacity for an institution to decide on its own academic/organisational structures. Staffing covers recruitment procedures; salaries; dismissal and promotion processes. Financial autonomy looks at the types of public funding; ownership over estates; borrowing money and holding surpluses; and the mechanisms for tuition fee and student funding. And, finally, academic autonomy relates to quality assurance, student numbers, design and delivery of degree programmes and admissions procedures.

From these measures alone – even before adding in each country’s unique internal and geopolitical environments and “starting point” in their higher education development journey – it’s clear how complex and varied sectors can be in their range of autonomy across the dimensions.

We’ve seen how Kazakhstan has taken steps to align legal frameworks with institutional capacity building. We hope and trust its reforms will be a success and that, over time, Kazakhstan’s objective of autonomy can be extended to a wider pool of universities.

About the Kazakhstan Leadership Development Programme
Click here to read our international case study on the programme supporting the ongoing education reform in Kazakhstan

About the Leadership Foundation’s International work
We provide a range of programmes, interventions, relationship building and networking activities to the global market. We are uniquely placed as the only higher education specific leadership, governance and management development provider in the world. To get a small snapshot of our wide-reaching services, click here

Mindfulness: right here, right now – the leader’s dilemma

In advance of the Leadership Foundation’s events on the Art of Being Brilliant at Work, and Mindfulness in Higher Education, programme director, Doug Parkin shares his thoughts on mindfulness as the leader’s dilemma. 

Right here, right now is in a very real sense the only moment that really matters.  If we can’t be happy in this moment, then what reason have we to expect that we might be happy in any other?  The past is gone and the future is yet to happen.  The past is a complex web of interactions and events, always open to interpretation that we may cherish, value or regret.  The future is nothing more than a tableau of personal, social and cultural expectations, some fixed firmly through either certainty or routine, others more loosely cast as speculation, anxious uncertainty or, perhaps, the stuff of dreams. The present, though, is now.  It is the breath we breathe in this moment and no other.

So, what has this to do with leadership?  Well, everything.  It could almost be described as the leader’s dilemma, in fact.  The word leadership, in its Anglo-Saxon origins is about ‘the road or path ahead’.  Transformational leadership is about vision, direction and the challenge of aligning the energies of a diverse range of more or less connected people behind an attractive goal. Driven by what, though? Well, a combination of events that have occurred in the past, near or far, and our best guess about what may happen in the environment around us in a range of future scenarios. We are both pushed by the past and pulled by the future, and leaders find themselves bouncing between the two as they react to one and try to be proactive about the other.  That’s the dilemma!

Now, we are often told that ‘if we fail to plan we plan to fail’. A neat statement that it is very easy to nod your head at and which contains one kind of truth. Within most organisational endeavours it is certainly helpful to plan and prepare, and in terms of shaping the future and having a vision another leadership maxim tells us that ‘if we don’t know where we’re going, then any path will do’. And all of this leads us towards the ‘doing’ trap – the busy business of doing – and we neglect the fundamental importance of ‘being’.  Taking that vitally important reflective breath and being present.  After all, this is the moment that everything before it, quite literally, was building towards. And if we go on postponing it, waiting for another better moment that our wonderful planning and change management may yield, then we become like a child chasing a reflection.

To some extent we are programmed to regard the future as a brighter place than today.  “Sniffing a wonderful carroty horizon,” as Andy Cope puts it, propels us to struggle, survive and evolve.  Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, suggests that these positive illusion, as psychologists call them, make us as “part-time residents of tomorrow”.  However, this forward looking energy, whether driven by fear or optimism, can rob us of our ability to appreciate the here and now.  And the tragedy of this is that it is only in the ‘here and now’ that happiness can be found, and then only if we stop and look for it.  Linked to this, in organisations there is definitely something concerning about the current vogue for futurism and future gazing that, as well as being almost doomed by the same uncertainty on which it thrives, draws us increasingly away from truly valuing our engagement with the present.  After all, engaging with the present is the most profound engagement there is.

So, is it possible for a leader to model ‘being’ as well as ‘doing’?  To value the wonders of the current moment, who we are, where we are and how we are, as much as the agenda we are trying to progress?  If so, such an approach could be seen as embodying values that directly and positively impact the lived experience of colleagues and their wellbeing.  The mindful present, when brought into focus, is refreshing, restorative and relaxing for busy minds.

There is undeniably a strong link between organisational leadership and wellbeing.  Studies by Daniel Goleman and others show that, for example, unrelenting, pacesetting leadership can result in colleagues feeling overwhelmed by the demands, disempowered, micromanaged and mentally fatigued.  Okay, perhaps, with another pacesetter with a similarly single-minded drive to succeed and exceed expectations on every front, but for the overall work climate a potentially destructive approach if it is not combined with a wide range of more collaborative and affiliative leadership styles.  And yet, some may argue, isn’t that the nature of the modern workplace?  Isn’t it more driven, more competitive, and more focussed on targets, outcomes and impact than ever before?  This may be true, although it seems the prerogative of every work generation to claim that it is living through an age of ‘unprecedented change’.  And even if is true that ‘in the modern workplace’ we need to set the pace and work smarter with less, would that not make it even more important for leaders to support the health and wellbeing of colleagues by modelling and encouraging mindfulness.  What a turnaround it would be if, for example, being in a meeting could literally include consciously ‘being’ in the meeting, even if for just a few short enlightened moments.

Mindfulness is a relatively modern term for an ancient insight: we replenish ourselves and find fresh energy and insight when we discipline ourselves to be in the current moment and to notice only the things that are happening now (sounds, images and sensations).  Meditation, contemplation and prayer have been the heartbeat of spiritual life in cultures around the world for as long we know, and in more recent times ideas to do with emotional intelligence, reflective-practice and mindful self-awareness have gained currency as ways for leaders and others to be present, to suspend judgement, to show empathy and to redirect disruptive emotions and make better choices.

The final chapter of my book, Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to Designing and Delivering Courses, published last year, is focussed on leading yourself.  Self-leadership is a strand that runs throughout the book linked to a set of core leadership qualities, and in this short chapter I bring together as a summary some key ideas relating to what I have termed ‘attuned leadership’ and having compassion for yourself:

“In this attuned leadership the leader looks to achieve a level of deep influence that is as much about ‘being’ as it is ‘doing’ (we are, after all, human beings, not ‘human doings’). The emotional and interpersonal environment will figure highly in the leader’s focus and priorities, and the emphasis will be on the climate of the group and liberating potential rather than giving strong direction.”

This highlights another important aspect of mindfulness for leaders, the crucial need not to let passion for the task overcome compassion for people, and this includes having compassion for yourself.  A people rather than a performance culture will be essential for mindfulness principles and practices to flourish, where the individual and the community come first and the work we do and the things we achieve are significantly better for it. And having “compassion for yourself should not be an awkward concept because if you do not sustain yourself in your leadership then it will be impossible for you to sustain others” (Ibid.).  The chapter ends with ten questions based on self-reflection and mindfulness that encourage leaders to find peace and balance in an often frantic world.  This is actually a short mindfulness activity in itself intended to be illustrative of how these principles and practices can put you back in control of your life, as a leader at any level of seniority, and thereby help others to begin to do the same.

“Mindfulness is about observation without criticism: being compassionate with yourself… In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.”
(Williams and Penman, 2011)

Doug Parkin is the programme director for a range of Leadership Foundation development programmes, and in demand for consultancy projects within universities. You can find out more about his book ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The Key Guide to Designing and Delivering Courses’ by clicking here

Mindfulness in Higher Education takes place on Monday 19 June 2017 at Woburn House, London. To find out more and book, click here

Andy Cope will be facilitating our Leadership and the Art of Being Brilliant on Wednesday 28 June 2017 at the Royal College of Nursing, London. To find out more and book, click here

From Kazakhstan to Myanmar: building capacity in higher education internationally

The Leadership Foundation has led or participated in higher education development projects in more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. What have we learnt about the common challenges that have to be overcome to build capacity in the countries in which we work?

Andy Shenstone, the Leadership Foundation’s director of consultancy, shares his experience of co-designing solutions to wicked issues in higher education systems around the world.

The Leadership Foundation’s international work takes place within a vibrant higher education environment and contributes explicitly to multiple UK higher education sector-wide objectives. These objectives include those of the UUKi, which aim to create opportunities for UK Higher Education Institutions to establish new relationships with overseas providers and the promotion of UK higher education internationally. It also addresses the governments expressed priority as regards to enhancing the international standing of UK higher education. Finally, the Leadership Foundation is committed to supporting the development of more robust and autonomous higher education systems in overseas nations including contributing to the wider UK government agenda of supporting capacity-building as a key plank of overseas development through the Newton fund and other programmes.

Each country we’ve worked with has had very different characteristics – which is perhaps not surprising if you consider that we’ve worked in countries as diverse as Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Egypt. Yet, there are still some fundamental similarities in the challenges these countries face, and how we work together to overcome them.

The first challenge is that, generally, higher education provision is underdeveloped. Typically, it has been managed through command and control mechanisms, through government diktat and tight management. That manifests in ways that those of us familiar with the UK system would find very difficult to comprehend. For example, in Egypt, principals or vice-chancellors have virtually no discretion over who to appoint and certainly no capacity or capability to let anyone go or dismiss staff for poor performance. In Myanmar, any significant leader in an institution is forcibly rotated to anywhere in the country every three years, with no choice over where they are sent, regardless of their seniority. In the Ukraine, the direction of travel is moving away from a Soviet-era command and control model to one which is more reminiscent of western and UK models of institutional autonomy but, of course, it will take quite a significant time to make that journey.

Leadership capability
Generally speaking, we find that our clients in overseas countries want to enhance the leadership and management capability of university leadership. Allied to that, there is a keen interest in establishing resilient and sustainable processes for identifying and supporting a pipeline of future leaders – succession planning. Inevitably, if you are the leader of a university and have achieved that position of seniority by dint of your approach under the existing model of governance and politics, that may well mean that you are, perhaps, ill-equipped to be an effective leader in the future when the political and social environment is going to change, potentially quite significantly. That places particular demands on you to develop your skills and capabilities. That isn’t to say such change isn’t possible, but it can be demanding and, of course, longer term, simply focusing on those who are in roles already misses the point. That is, to build capacity to bring forward future leaders who have the skills, capabilities, attitudes and insights that their countries need to develop and modernise their higher education systems. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.

Legislative framework
Another key challenge in global higher education, for a number of countries, is that while they aspire to modernise higher education leadership, governance, and management, the legislative framework (which establishes the boundaries of what is or is not possible under the terms of the law) often takes quite a long time to change. So while there’s a need to develop individuals and direct the travel of leadership in a way which may well speak to an agenda of greater institutional autonomy – and support institutional leaders to develop their own strategies – they have to feel that they’ve got permission to do that. They’ve got to feel safe to do that. They’ve got to feel that the system at large is providing them with the framework within which they can operate.

Take Myanmar. Up until very recently if you said or did the ‘wrong thing’, the impact on you personally could be very significant. That included speaking out and having any ideas of your own that were not acceptable to the military junta that ruled the country for over 40 years. It therefore takes a significant amount of bravery to start behaving outside the norms of those practices. Individuals, naturally, will be very cautious. Having some confidence in the integrity of a redesigned legal framework, which empowers them to behave differently but is also respected by the government and powers that be, is crucial. One of the challenges we face is ensuring that the ambition of change is aligned with those national structures and legal systems, because if they don’t develop hand in hand, you end up with major tensions arising and a real risk of disconnect.

The other key challenge facing global higher education is finance – how it is all paid for. Budgets are under significant pressure. Where you have challenges around education provision in developing, or even middle income, countries, primary care and schooling are often prioritised and higher education can sometimes be lower down the pecking order. Which means, in turn, that it can be difficult to recruit and retain talented people, who may well be attracted to work in other industries or find it much more economically and personally attractive to leave to work in other countries.

At the Leadership Foundation we know a lot about working overseas, borne out of our applied experience in many different countries and geopolitical contexts. Fundamental to our work is a deep appreciation of the importance of us coming to understand the context in which any particular intervention or support might be provided. Critically, this concerns the degree of maturity and capability of the existing higher education sector and the outcomes that are sought.

Our international work is intended to deliver on three levels; firstly, create partnership opportunities for our UK member institutions as a direct product of service design and co-delivery. Secondly, to assist in the internationalisation of our programmes (and through this provide exposure for members on domestic programmes to international practice). And finally, be expressly valued by members and key external stakeholders (e.g. UUKi, BIS and the British Council) as a contribution to the status, reputation and reach of UK higher educations.

Underlining it all is our listening and co-design approach to working with other countries, which means that we are not only be incredibly sensitive and mindful of an individual nation’s needs and context, but we will offer ideas and solutions borne out of that experience that will assist them to achieve their goals.

Embedding capacity building
We typically look to develop solutions which embed capacity building within the national context|: training the trainers and enhancing the capacity of the workforce with whom we’re dealing to take forward the work that we are doing with them. We do not support, condone, create or facilitate a culture of undue dependence.

And, important in all the work we do overseas is to deeply respect, understand and appreciate other countries’ accomplishments. Ours is not a deficit model but a model of adding value by bringing in a genuinely international experience to support colleagues in these countries to tackle the quite wicked issues they are trying to resolve.

The Leadership Foundation has recently launched a global services brochure, which details all of the services we offer as well as examples of their impact. To download your copy of the brochure please click here.

Alison Johns, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation will chairing a session ‘Future scoping for higher education leadership’ at Going Global 2017 on Tuesday 23 May 2017. Andy Shenstone, director of consultancy and business development will also be attending, if you would like to arrange a meeting please email andy.shenstone@lfhe.ac.uk.

For more information on the global works of the Leadership Foundation, please visit the website: www.lfhe.ac.uk/international

Local and Global?

Kim Ansell considers international ambition and civic engagement examining how you can do both and how they can complement each other.

For me it is all about strategy and not the rhetoric of growth/income without knowing why.

  • China’s Generation Y is 250-million strong – a quarter of Chinese A-level students could not find a domestic university place last year.
  • There are now about 8,000+ courses taught in English by universities in non-English speaking countries.
  • The education and skills sector in the GCC (in the Arab Gulf states) is expected to see investment of $150 billion over the next few years due to population growth.
  • The British Council is offering grants of £100-£100,000, for capacity building and community engagement programmes e.g., academic exchange, round tables, online platforms, community dialogue.

Given these statistics the rationale for international development is clearly understood, but many have found the risks are high. Universities with limited resource and global ambitions have found themselves engaged in unproductive, uneconomic or diversionary international initiatives.

Current plans for UK universities suggests a growth in student numbers of well over 10%, yet policy specialists forecast a plateau in numbers so there appears to be a disconnect.

Plans will and must change as your institution gains knowledge and experience, but the commitment and alignment of staff and governance behind the engagement strategy must always be clear and consistent. Along with emerging opportunities there are also sudden upheavals. The biggest impact on strategy is typically outside of your control and presents opportunities to stress test your strategic plan – BrexHEit, the forthcoming general election, the Higher Education Research Bill, REF, TEF and the Europe wide issue, ‘integration of refugees into higher education’.

In such challenging times, the local v international question has never been so important. In particular, the relationship between an international [ised] university and its ‘place’ has become a focal point for the sector.

Cardiff Business School addressed the current refugee crisis head on, not to tick boxes, not because they had to ‘be seen to be doing something’, but because “civic engagement adds value to successful delivery of your strategic ambition” explained Professor Martin Kitchener, a dean at Cardiff Business School.

Professor Kitchener continues, “We recently led a project, through our Responsible Innovation Network, helping Syrian refugees integrate into life in Wales and create opportunities to build their prospects. The project sees undergraduates, supported by Enactus UK, working with asylum seekers and refugees on issues of personal development and advancing social enterprise ideas. Many of the refugees were also enrolled on a ‘Pathway to a Profession’ course in partnership with the Welsh Refugee Council, and some now have the opportunity to study for an MSc in Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship with us.”

Through their distinctive public value strategy which has an interdisciplinary and international ethos, Cardiff Business School students develop the characteristics of ethical, thoughtful leaders equipped with the skills to promote economic and social improvements.

David Morris’s recent WONKHE article , a review of  David Goodhart’s  The Road to Somewhere he highlights the contrasting experiences, expectations and voting patterns of those mobilised by a higher education, and those who have not accessed higher education. While cautioning against “strategically” being “in two places at once”, we are encouraged to think of internationalism and local engagement as mutually compatible endeavours.

One can question whether protection of market position over community outreach determines natural priorities but it is clear that lack of integration between internationalism and local engagement is likely to result in confusion of messaging and more importantly, failure to achieve strategic impact and success.

Arguably, collaborative leadership across a range of organisations/institutions in local places has never been more important and increasingly requires local institutions to work more closely together. Operationalising these partnerships is not sufficient unless there is a clear understanding at a strategic level of the background to the drivers and why these are critical to success.

Leading Places

The Leadership Foundation has been actively involved in developing for higher education the Hefce-funded ‘Leading Places’ programme to help drive growth, re-design public services and strengthen collaboration. Built on our researchCivic Leadership and Higher Education – Where are we now?.   The key challenges emerging from the process of collaborative working from this initiative were:

blog pic KAv2

There are some great examples of local collaboration in this project, but the real test will be whether the momentum is sustained and if they deliver on strategic objectives.

Local or global?

While I agree whole heartedly with David Morris’s belief that “The urgency of now is to recapture a civic mission”, I am not convinced of his assertion that “To choose confident and unashamed internationalism as a top priority is to choose to move civic engagement down the same priorities list”.

Institutions benefit where the strategic objective is supported by an integrated and values-based strategic plan which brings local and global together and speaks to the culture and personality of the organisation. There are many initiatives to stimulate such integration, universities are internationalising their curriculum by introducing cultural, civic and global perspectives into programmes and Fiona Ross, our director of research, has raised the issue of assessing community impact in the REF. This not only addresses how civic engagement and volunteering could demonstrate impact on a local level, but also shows how it could be valued by the ‘system’ without making it regulatory or compulsory.

So do you have to choose between local and global? Some are being a little bolder and doing both. Kings College London’s recent strategic vision certainly claims to be both – “Connecting the local to the global,  … and by 2029… King’s will be regarded throughout the world as London’s leading civic university.”

Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of University of Bedfordshire, is ambitious in his claim that civic engagement should be in our character not in our regulatory architecture. Professor William Whyte, vice-president, St Johns College, Oxford is equally bold and claims that a local ‘only’ university is not a university at all.

So if we accept that there is always a local vs. universal tension inherent in higher education how do we best leverage it to ensure that universities can do both? I’d suggest starting with some reflective questioning of your institution’s international and civic/local strategies:

  1. Is international growth essential to your organisations long term sustainability?
  2. How would international growth add value to your strategic ambition?
  3. Can you fund international investment whilst maintaining existing levels of service and value?
  4. How long can you wait for a return on investment and what form do we want it to take?
  5. Does your staff  or team have capacity and capability?
  6. Are your governance and staff ambitions aligned?
  7. How can international growth complement civic/local engagement?
  8. How well will our community and our student population interact? 

There are no right answers, but once you can articulate your own response to questions like these, you can start to think more holistically about your strategic plan and integrate your global and local initiatives. A few ‘buzz’ words might provide part of the answer – ‘joined up’, ‘integrated thinking’, ‘integrated reporting’ ‘strategic planning’, ‘collaboration’, ‘matrix management’ ‘value-based management’

The extent to which there might be an international ambition or the scope to use the international agenda to support public engagement is the tip of the iceberg. We propose a deeper more strategic approach to the interplay between local and global success. The ethical values espoused by institutions must be one of the starting points along with analysis of your strategic intentions and some deep soul searching through the sorts of questions outlined in this blog post.


For more on Knowing Our Place, go to leadership development programme ‘Knowing Our Place? – Strategic Leadership of Local Partnerships’. As this development programme aims to build on the learning from ‘Leading Places’ and address the strategy of civic engagement.

Kim Ansell is managing consultant in the Consultancy division of the Leadership Foundation.  www.lfhe.ac.uk/consultancy  

Book Review: Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities


David Williams the Leadership Foundation’s web editor on governance reviews Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities.

Stefan Collini’s latest book, Speaking of Universities (Verso, 2017), is a collection of talks, lectures and articles, delivered and written between 2013 and 2016.

Much of the book’s content has not previously been published. This said, readers familiar with Collini’s previous book, What are Universities for? (Penguin 2012), or his articles published in, for example, the London Review of Books will not be surprised with many of the arguments presented in his latest book.

A summary of some of Collini’s main arguments are set out below. Although role of governors and government bodies receives only a rare mention, their period of stewardship should take account of the accumulated intellectual heritage of the university, and the role of each generation in building on the work that went before, and on laying the foundations for the next generation. This reminds governors that during their period of stewardship they should seek to achieve an appropriate balance between the immediate and longer-term needs and positioning of the institution.

An academic working in the field of humanities, Collini’s perspective is informed by his own personal experience and observations. He questions both the growing power within higher education institutions of professional managers (previously known as administrators) and the focus of successive governments on the direct links between higher education and economic prosperity. He argues strongly that an adequate case for universities cannot simply be made on the basis of their contribution to economic prosperity. However, he accepts it is difficult to change the public discourse.

Examining the role of higher education, a fundamental tension is between intellectual, open-end, inquiry and the more immediate instrumental (economic) aims. Both academic research and the education of students should not be overly focussed on narrow economic outcomes: ultimately such a focus does not serve the needs of the state or individuals.

Collini strongly challenges the arguments put forward by government to justify the reform of higher education in England and the introduction of income-contingent loans. He believes the introduction of the latter was poorly conceived and managed, and may well end-up being more-costly to the public purse, than the system they replaced.

The rationale for the government’s actions in seeking to reform higher education is that there was something wrong with the system, and that the proposed changes will put them right. However, it is not clear what was wrong with a system that many judged to have been successful, or that the changes will lead to improvements.

Seeking to create ‘a market’ for higher education is ill-conceived, and the suggestion that the student is a ‘customer’ at the heart of the system disingenuous. Higher education is a ‘post-experience’ good, the full benefits of which cannot be known in advanced by the prospective student. Consequently, how can a student judge the value of the product they are buying? Equally, HEIs choose who they accept onto to their courses; as much as the other way around.

While acknowledging that it is important that universities provide good teaching, and that there has long been anecdotal evidence that this is always the case, Collini does not believe the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will improve the quality of teaching. Attempts to make judgements about quality, using quantitative indicators as proxies for quality are doomed to failure. There is every likelihood that the selected proxies (indicators) will prove to be largely irrelevant and become ends in themselves. Citing the experience of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), evidence submitted in support of their TEF assessment by institutions is likely to create the opportunity for ‘systematic boasting’.

Collini rejects the idea there is a necessarily reliable link between student satisfaction and education quality. Nor does he believe that students are necessarily in the best position to make an informed judgement. While this may be true, Collini fails to acknowledge the possibility that traditional routes for gaining the views of student about their course are not always effective and that low levels of satisfaction shown by a student survey may offer a further avenue to bring about change. To Collini, if teaching is undervalued by universities, it is a consequence of the distorting effects of the REF and of underfunding the expansion of student numbers that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s (i.e. a permanent reduction in the unit of resource). While there is some merit in both of these points, it does risk the suggestion that universities bear no responsibility for ensuring they provide consistently good teaching.

As institutions (particularly those that Collini is likely to have in mind) typically in their marketing literature and at open days heavily promote the idea of research-informed teaching: what steps should institutions be expected to take to ensure the quality of the student experience is high? This question does not receive much, if any, of Collini’s attention, leading to a risk that the reader gains the impression that research matters more, and that any research-active member of staff will automatically be an effective teacher?

At the core of an institution’s quality is its intellectual quality and creativity. The primary focus of universities should be on extending and deepening human understanding: this results in the greatest long-term benefits to society. Universities’ longer-term cultural and intellectual role needs acknowledgement alongside a focus on supporting economic growth.

Collini notes in passing that what is needed in the UK is a world-class system of higher education, rather than more world-class universities. This is a crucial point, but one which is not developed.

Collini accepts that universities cannot just criticise the proposed changes initiated by government, but must be pro-active in making their case. With this in mind, the idea of ‘publics’ is introduced. Publics are constituted by participation – even if only passively – and this is reflected in their discourse. As there is more than one public, there is no such thing as the public view of higher education. To reach and influence different publics, the form and message needs to be tailored accordingly.

From the perspective of governance, Collini asks on whose behalf do the trustees who form an institution’s governing body exercise their responsibilities: ‘who are they holding their institution in trust for.’ He suggests the need to recognise both the inter-generational nature of knowledge accumulation and the time required for a university to build its reputation. The accumulated and collective knowledge base of the higher education system reflects past, as well as current investment. Each generation through investing in higher education helps to build the base of knowledge for the next. Today’s students of higher education benefit from past investments. By implication the stewardship of trustees should recognise not just the immediate institutional needs, but the need to sustain the intellectual inheritance of the institution.

Such has been the pace of change in the higher education policy environment, not surprising some of the pieces contained in Collini’s book appear dated. That said Collini makes many valuable points, and exposes and refutes a number of key assumptions underlying current public policy. He offers a strong and powerful defensive of role of (traditional?) universities and the importance of academic staff in directing their own affairs; although acknowledges the tension between professional autonomy and public accountability. He, himself, is clearly uncomfortable with the direction of change, and recognises that a new way forward needs to be found.

Collini is at this best in pointing out what he sees as unhelpful changes in the policy environment for higher education, and their anticipated impacts. He is less helpful or clear, in offering an alternative and better way forward (assuming the movement back to an earlier era is not possible). Although he expects the system of higher education will continue to evolve in the 21st century he does not offer a view as to how the policy environment might be reconfigured to ensure this exerts a strong and positive influence on the future shape of the higher education sector.

David Williams has worked with governing bodies in higher education for the past 15 years. He manages the governance section of www.lfhe.ac.uk The Leadership Foundation provides resources and development for members of governing bodies and those working in governance throughout higher education. Visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance