Strategy update – beyond the news headlines

It’s been a remarkable few weeks. An unexpected referendum result. The collapse of the Government. A ferocious start to the leadership campaign in the Conservative Party. A no-confidence vote in the Leader of the Opposition. Havoc in the Labour Party. And Wales in the semi-final of the European football championships. The script, when they come to make the film version of all this, will need to combine Greek tragedy, Shakespearean drama, French farce and Boy’s Own adventure. I cannot recall a time when the future has been less certain nor the present more confused. You could argue that this is not the time to be thinking about writing a strategy for the future – we don’t even know what the next fifteen days are going to bring, let alone the next fifteen years.

And yet: for all the headlines and all the noise, it’s important to focus on the really important underlying things. The great French historian, Fernand Braudel, talked about three types of history – the long duration, those deep, only slowly changing features of the landscape and established routines; historical ‘conjunctures’ made up of economic cycles, technological change and social phenomena; and ‘events’, which were the day-to-day stuff of politics and life. Events, he said, are what catch the attention, but they were normally of less importance than the more profound ‘conjunctures’ and long duration. So all the noise and fury of the past two weeks needs sifting carefully; the underlying drivers shaping our future – changing demography, changing technology, the development of science and knowledge – remain the same. What matters most about the referendum, may be, is whether it turns out to be one of those events which really does shift the way our society operates.

So it makes sense to focus on the long-term as the University strategy is refreshed. There is a lot to address, but one line has been taken up and used widely in strategy discussions: the aspiration that Hallam will be the UK’s leading applied university – a university concerned above all with deploying its teaching, research, innovation and engagement to shape practical solutions to complex problems. In the past few weeks, the Strategy team has been working with others to set out more clearly what the UK’s leading applied university might look like in 2030. The rest of this blog begins to flesh that out, drawing on feedback from the cross-university Leadership Forum and Strategy Reference Group.

Increasingly, students, employers, civil society and governments look to universities to offer solutions: solutions to the complex cross-cutting problems facing society. That includes the tough questions at the intersection of technology and its application, responding to the challenges of an ageing society, population health, of social mobility, of climate change, of security in an increasingly technologically complex world, and so on. Universities need to be confident and engaged in developing answers, which itself involves working imaginatively with others. All this means that being an exceptional applied university does not mean that the University should simply be a jobs factory – taking in 18 year olds and ensuring that they are ready-made for specific jobs. In the UK’s leading applied university, employability will be central, but as well as preparing students with technical skills, courses will also give them the confidence, resilience and networks required to succeed, as well as critical skills such as communication and problem solving. High quality placements and other opportunities for work-based learning will be components of all courses – right across the University. The curriculum, increasingly co-designed with employers, will be attractive to students, and satisfaction and graduate outcomes will be excellent. Students will be involved in the development of courses and will build a lifelong partnership with the University, returning for further development at different points in their careers. Learning will be delivered flexibly to meet the needs of students with different circumstances. Neither would the UK’s leading applied university narrow its subject range; rather, it would ensure that the principles of applied learning and progression infused the work of the University for all students.

The UK’s leading applied university will have a distinctive offer for staff. There will be strong links to professions, be that through University staff spending time in professions, or the innovative use of practitioners in teaching, whether on- or off-campus. ‘Practitioner academics’ with one foot in practice, but also meeting the requirements of being an academic, should be common. A blend of staff will be required which gives us excellent teachers, industry expertise and research excellence.

We will be increasingly outward facing, involving partners in curriculum design, development and implementation. Listening to and acting promptly on their feedback, we will produce graduates who are ready to make an immediate impact as they enter the workforce, and on wider society.

Sheffield Hallam engineers at work

Sheffield Hallam engineers at work

Research will support our mission, focused on practical solutions to real world problems. That should mean cross-disciplinary teams tackle some of the biggest issues facing society. Staff and students will work closely with stakeholders in blended environments. One possibility raised has been a series of focussed projects where the whole University looks at key issues from their specific disciplinary point of view in order to explore solutions.

Hallam graduates will have the skills to move the region forwards, and research will also address key regional issues and priorities. Hallam should be the ‘go-to’ partner for employers in the region for skills needs or problem solving. We will be an integral and connected stakeholder – not separate to and simply influencing other regional stakeholders, but leading as a part of that group. Students will expect the connectedness with regional partners to enhance their experience.

Although our link to the region is key, both the Leadership Forum and Reference Group were clear connections and impact internationally were equally important: our mission is also about the technological, social and cultural contributions that Hallam makes to the world, be that through research or students.

These are first thoughts from initial consultations on the university’s priorities and direction – which will outlast the current headlines and enable us to respond to the big issues of our time. Do – please – use the strategy intranet page to contribute your own thinking. There is a good deal of writing of the draft strategy refresh to be done over August, ready for wider consultations in the early Autumn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *