There’s no script for being a new Vice-Chancellor. In fact, what is clear is that you enter midway through someone else’s script – and a script with many authors. If you’re lucky they hand you a copy as they leave the stage. Given that I have taken the stage in January this means that I arrive literally mid way through the year: research projects are underway; teaching is timetabled. This week, across Sheffield Hallam University, assessments have been taking place, with forbidding signs near my office ordering SILENCE as examinations are in progress. And 15 January – last Friday – saw the deadline for undergraduate 2016 applications through UCAS. So it’s both a relief and satisfaction to know that the business of the university is simply sustained when change takes places in the leadership of the university. There could be a temptation to watch and wait, to allow the rest of the year to pan out.
But I’ve been thinking about this role for six months already, since appointment, and am making quick progress visiting the faculties and directorates. I’ve now visited all four of the University’s very large faculties- each of them the size of some universities. This is shaping my thinking and helping me to develop the principles that are important to me as Hallam’s Vice-Chancellor and will underpin the way the University develops. Therefore, I am starting to make some changes, particularly with my senior team, that you might find interesting.
One of these, which might appear small, is that I’ve renamed the University Executive Group as the University Leadership Team. This is a big University, with a complex agenda. Leading the University depends on a cohesive and effective senior team, able to analyse evidence, challenge preconceptions, identify priorities, make realistic decisions and lead the university in implementing them. Changing the name of the executive might appear small, but it is important, because I am keen we work together as a team to actively lead our University. I have also shared with the Leadership Team, whilst we are getting to know one another, some of the principles of how I would like us to work together. At the core of that is the principle that the Leadership Team operates as a Cabinet. That means that we take collective responsibility, and put the interests and needs of the University above the interests and needs of our individual areas. That also depends on transparency and honesty, and a commitment to take, and hold to, decisions – not least because decisions are decisions to do some things and not to do others, to devote resource to some things and not to others.
Leadership Team meetings will take place each week, and the first took place last week. We discussed together some of the issues and challenges facing the University – both those arising from rapid change in the external environment and those which arise internally. We considered the University’s formal response to the government’s Higher Education Green Paper and our targets for the UG recruitment. After a long period leading up to my arrival it was stimulating to begin work with energetic and engaged colleagues on the University’s development.
We also spent some time considering the University’s strategy. The University’s current strategic plan was developed during 2013 and published in early 2014, before the result of the 2015 General Election, before the Higher Education Green Paper, before my appointment – so we will need to review the assumptions in the plan and begin the process of refreshing the strategy. It includes many concepts that I value, and that indeed attracted me to the University: a commitment to the highest quality educational experience, to widening horizons and to developing research and innovation, but the issues that we face are changing and so must our strategy, so we will be working together to refresh and realign that plan.
From this week, I will also be leading planning meetings with each of the directorates and faculties. In this yearly process we review budget plans, student number projections and their financial implications. The process will provide me with deeper understanding of the financial, business and academic structure of the university, to work out where the real challenges lie and where there is potential for longer-term growth. Over the next few weeks, there will be challenging meetings for each faculty and for the University’s central directorates as we build a budget for 2016-7 and consider the longer-term opportunities and pressures on the University.
I’ve now been in post for two weeks – or ten working days. Each one has been stimulating and engaging, revealing more and more about the University and the sheer range of its work. As I have said to the Leadership Team, I have not arrived with a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ plan for the future; it’s important to collaborate to ensure that Hallam builds on the strengths I have seen on my visits to faculties and continues to flourish.
And I want to hear from all my colleagues, across the University, about Hallam’s strengths and answer questions you may have. To that end, I’m hosting a series of events across the week of 1 February, at both campuses. Look out for the email in your inbox soon with full information and booking instructions; I look forward to working with you to shape our script.