The Shaping Futures update from the October 2017 Leadership Bulletin including the introduction by Christina Hughes
Introduction by Professor Christina Hughes, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience
Pencils sharpened? It’s the new academic year and there is anticipation, excitement and some nervousness in the air. And what a year this will be. We have been beavering away, translating the strategy into actions, writing mandates and business cases, having great discussions and incredible engagement. Colleagues have been doing the most amazing job, in the most difficult of markets, to help us achieve our recruitment goals. We have improved our sector position in NSS thanks to all your hard work. Last month saw the successful launch of South Yorkshire Futures, a Sheffield Hallam led social mobility partnership focused on improving educational attainment and raising aspiration, particularly in disadvantaged areas. And for Shaping Futures we saw the commencement of our institution-wide focus on Goal 1 of the strategy for achieving consistently outstanding outcomes. This included a day-long event on the BME attainment gap led by Jacqueline Stevenson. Every department was represented at this meeting and I cannot thank you enough for your demonstrable commitment.
It would be easy though to think that the strategy can be achieved only through the inception of a range of initiatives. Of course, it includes this. But it is also something more. It is a demonstrable commitment to putting into action what we stand for as an educational and educating institution. These are the values at the heart of our strategy that are epitomised in the Hallam Difference. We are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to the best opportunities, so that all students, regardless of ethnicity, gender or disability, can flourish.
And for me flourishing is a key word here. How can we ensure – particularly as an applied university – that we are sufficiently knowledgeable of how we can best support our students to thrive, blossom and prosper and apply this to our own practice? Are we asking the right questions? Are we focusing in the right areas? For Shaping Futures these issues are of such importance that we have put in place an Evaluation and Impact Advisory Group to help us respond to them. This Advisory Group will, of course, be concerned with whether the programmes of work we are putting in place are doing what they have been designed to do. Are they significantly improving our retention rates? Are gaps in attainment outcomes diminishing? Are we enabling all our students to achieve the levels of graduate employment we expect? Are NSS and other measures of our performance improving?
But we are also focusing on an area of student experience that can actually remain unnoticed beneath these metrics. This is how our students’ engagement with us and our engagement with them impacts on their sense of belonging and mattering. The core question here is ‘do our students feel that they matter to us?’ We are therefore putting in place institution-wide research that is designed to explore issues of affect, mattering, friendship and belonging. These are areas of student experience that are under-researched and under-weighted in many institutional approaches. Here, we are innovating methodologically by drawing on the work of Emma Heron, Principal Lecturer in Politics, who has developed an approach she calls ‘Listening Rooms’. This is a data collection method that asks friends to discuss a number of topics of interest.
Already we have learnt from Emma’s early research. So, if you now ask me why students don’t turn up to things, I no longer assume it is because they are scheduled at the ‘wrong’ time or they don’t think it is worth turning up or all the other hypotheses I might have previously thought. Yes, these are still valid and need consideration. However, it might be that they don’t turn up to a lecture because their mates aren’t there or they don’t know anyone or they don’t think they belong or even matter. And this is something that is very hard to say aloud except, perhaps, to your friends.
Have a good start to the new academic year. It’s going to be a good one.
Professor Christina Hughes
For this edition of the Bulletin, I’ve asked my colleague Dave Laughton to write an update:
From strategy to implementation. The Shaping Futures Pillar Board is now sponsoring and overseeing work associated with a number of initiatives focused on Shaping Futures objectives. These are being led by various members of the SFPB, and although early days, there’s a real sense of energy and some positive developments:
- Employability – an Employability Business Plan was agreed, which included £1 million of investment over 2 years to support additional work in this area. As well as a package to support students who had graduated in 2016-17 and have not yet found employment, this included plans for a revised Hallam Award (working in partnership with the Students’ Union) which will involve much larger numbers of students and a wider variety of co-curricular opportunities.
- Retention – a pre-enrolment Call Centre to welcome new students prior to their attending SHU has been active and a range of ongoing retention activities are planned.
- BME attainment – the aforementioned workshop, held in mid-September, explored “what works” with respect to reducing the BME attainments gap and the methodology that the departmental projects will be based upon.
- Assessment and Feedback – resources have been identified to appoint Student “Assessment and Feedback Change Agents” to work with Course Leaders on assessment and feedback on those courses put forward by departments.
The Board also received a report on undergraduate admissions outcomes for 2017-18. This year has been a particularly challenging year for attracting students, with more intense competition than previously experienced, in the context of a drop in UCAS applications across the sector. This new environment has encouraged the University to undertake a Portfolio Review, which started in September and be completed by April, ending with a future state Portfolio Framework. This will cover all taught programmes, sub-degree, degree and postgraduate, and all modes of delivery.
Excerpts from the October 2017 Leadership Bulletin