Leadership Bulletin – October 2017

Introduction by Professor Christina Hughes, Pro Vice Chancellor – Student Experience and an update from each of the board chairs.


Introduction by Professor Christina Hughes

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.


Shaping Futures – 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.

For further updates on the Shaping Futures pillar, visit the pillar information hub.


Creating Knowledge – Professor Roger Eccleston

The research and innovation objectives in our strategy are clear, ambitious and challenging.  If we are to be the ‘leading applied university’ our research will need to be genuinely world class in key areas, our performance in terms of research income and research power and other metrics will need to be leading amongst our competitors and we will need to be able to demonstrate that our research and innovation activities have social, economic and cultural impact and enriches the experience of our students.

We have a good base from which to develop: we have examples of research and innovation excellence across the University and a good performance in the last Research Excellence Framework (REF) to build on.  We have also demonstrated our ability to link disciplines to create innovative research programmes and deliver impact.

External factors, including changes to the funding landscape and Brexit, undoubtedly provide challenges but there are also significant opportunities including new funding streams associated with the Government’s industrial strategy that we are well-placed to access.  The Health Innovation Campus provides us with a very exciting opportunity to enhance the regional profile to some of our research and innovation strengths and develop vehicles for maximising their impact.

The work of the Creating Knowledge Pillar Board will focus on developing and implementing a Creating Knowledge Implementation Plan which will deliver the strategy’s objectives relating to research and innovation.  Priorities for the next quarter will include identifying those application areas in which we are, or can be, outstanding and developing actions to raise our research performance in those areas and more broadly across the University.

For further updates on the Creating Knowledge pillar, visit the pillar information hub.


Leading Locally and Engaging Globally – Professor Kevin Kerrigan

An “Open4Business” University?
Q: “Oh hello there, I would like to talk about some leadership development needs we have.”
A: “What UCAS points do you have?”
Q: “Er, not sure what you mean – my new senior team needs some training.”
A: “We have a new BA in Art History with Mandarin – is that any good?”
Q: “We appear to have our wires crossed, I am the MD of a local SME and looking to work with your university – is that possible?”
A: Wait … Wait … Wait … Wait … Wait … “Computer says no”.

Ok, so it is a bit far-fetched but as competition in the HE sector hots up, universities are increasingly focused on a slick offer to their core markets of UG and PG students with consequently less emphasis on third stream activity. Employer perceptions that universities are hard to do business with can be reinforced by institutional structures based on research or teaching interests of staff rather than the needs of partners. In some ways “computer says no” has the benefit of clarity and finality and is certainly preferable to no response at all or being passed from pillar and post.

What can the sector, and more specifically Hallam, do to become more industry relevant and business friendly?

First, business needs to be a key part of strategy rather than a nice-to-have. SHU is obviously not in the habit of saying “no” but our strategy needs to drive business focus at every level of the organisation. Our new strategy, “Transforming lives“, challenges the University through its partnerships to “provide innovative, practical solutions to real challenges” and our immediate priorities include becoming a “beacon for business creation and growth” and embedding our position as the “leading Degree Apprenticeship provider.”

Secondly, universities need a clear and compelling “sell” to business. This means relevant products, key messages and attractive packaging. Real progress has been made recently on building our portfolio (e.g. we are recruiting to 8 Higher and Degree Apprenticeships this year with around 300 students firmly establishing SHU as a leading UK provider of HDAs) and our forthcoming “Open for Business” brochures and web material will help to provide a “shop window” view of what the University can offer.

Thirdly, business partners are different from other stakeholders. Sustainable custom is built up over time through multi-layered relationship development and repeat business. This requires strong leadership and robust Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data. The creation of the PVC Enterprise portfolio and the shaping of the DEEP and RIO directorates with a clear focus on business needs are key interventions for building relationships and selling our services. The successful implementation of our pilot B2B CRM system is another vital component of success.

Fourthly, there needs to be a wide variety of opportunities for engagement by business from access to students and graduates, through “off the shelf” courses or qualifications to bespoke development programmes, contract research, consultancy, R&D and PhD sponsorship. This enables low risk engagement that can build up over time into multi-level partnerships. A few highlights include:

What is next? This year will see progress on a number of key projects including: Major growth of our Higher Degree Apprenticeships (HDA) offer and increased profile through the creation of a HDA centre of excellence; Refining our Leadership Development offer with a new SCR Future Leaders Programme and an expansion of  our non-accredited open courses; opening of SHU Enterprise and Innovation Hub (EIH) to enhance student/graduate enterprise and build a supportive ecosystem for new business creation and growth; and expansion of our Knowledge Exchange offer.

For further updates on the Leading Locally and Engaging Globally pillar, visit the pillar information hub.


Building a Great University – Richard Calvert

The Building a Great University agenda has some big programmes of work at its heart  – the new Professional Service Operating Model, the Estates Masterplan, the new IT roadmap and so on. I particularly hope you’ll have seen the recent communications on the PSOM; we’ll be coming back to you in the next couple of weeks with details of the next phase of work, which was endorsed by BaGU at its last meeting. But as Christina says in her introduction, successful delivery of the new University strategy isn’t just about these big initiatives. It’s also about all the hard work and commitment which goes into delivering the services which underpin so much else of what we do. In the case of BaGU, this applies to lots of our core service areas, and I wanted to say a bit more about some of those which have been particularly busy over recent weeks.

The confirmation and clearing process, as I said in my blog in late August, was a fantastic example of Hallam coming together to deliver a great outcome for the University, but also of course to give a really positive impression of Hallam to all the prospective students who were ringing, emailing and visiting us during that period. And then it was also really good to have my first experience of enrolment a few weeks ago. As with the clearing process, a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes, right across the University, to make sure we’re as well prepared as possible.  Staff in Registry Services obviously have a critical role to play, but as with the clearing process we rely on volunteers from elsewhere, as well as all the teams in facilities, DTS, faculty staff and many others to make sure it runs smoothly. As a reminder of the scale, almost 26,000 students had enrolled for the 2017/18 session by the end of enrolment week; and as anyone who was involved will have seen, things not only went very smoothly – with very few queues – but there was also a real buzz about the place which sets the tone for the new academic year.

As we move through the Autumn, key things to look out for include not only the PSOM Phase 2 work, but also the launch of the Hallam Deal, the emerging estates masterplan, further evolution of the IT roadmap, as well as a more strategic approach to our commercial work. There’s a lot there, and we will be busy – but this is about getting the foundations right for the next 5-10 years, so please do stay in touch with all this work. Successful delivery will depend very much on our collective leadership of this pillar’s work programme.

For further updates on the Building a Great University pillar, visit the pillar information hub.


The VC’s Blog – Keep up-to-date with the latest posts at: https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/vc/

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