All new years are in some way new beginnings, which is, I suppose, why so many of us begin them with new resolutions – despite the experience we have each year of failing to stick to them. So many of us will be beginning 2020 with good intentions to get fitter, to exercise more, to lose some weight, to eat more healthily, to spend less time looking at screens, to spend more time outdoors and so on and so on. That means that this month – whether it’s a Veganuary, a Dry January, or just a January – is likely to be a test for many of us, pitting those good intentions against daily routine.
The new year, and the new decade, marks a new beginning, of course, not just for individuals but for organisations. The university faces a number of changes as we begin 2020. The General Election just before Christmas – the country’s first December election since 1923 – has brought a definitive end to the three years of political gridlock which we’d all become used to. The university has the prospect of a new government, with a thumping majority, and one with intentions to reshape the nation’s economy and society in the wake of Brexit. The government’s manifesto, at least in respect of higher education was tantalisingly vague. It included a commitment to think again about the Augar review of post-18 education, which covered both further and higher education, and it committed government to supporting the civic roles of universities. It will take some time to work out what that means; over Christmas, working with the University’s Board Chair, Lord Kerslake, and our head of policy and strategy, Natalie Day, I’ve been putting the final touches to a Higher Education Policy Institute pamphlet on how universities might rise to the new challenges. Navigating this landscape in ways which maximise the impact of Sheffield Hallam will be a high priority for the year ahead.
Following a nearly 12-month process of review and planning, the university starts the new year with a new academic structure, moving from a four Faculty to a three College structure. The faculty structure had served the university well in relatively benign financial times, but it had become a little cumbersome and expensive, with divergent practices across the different faculties. By comparison with other universities, academic departments at Hallam were underdeveloped. In a university of this size and complexity – one of the UK’s largest universities – there’s a need for a clear mid-level structure, and the intention of the new Colleges to provide a more flexible, lighter touch middle tier structure, with much greater overall consistency across the university. This is consistent with the approach taken since the publication of the Transforming Lives strategy to adopt a ‘one university’ approach to systems and processes.
The year ahead should see a major re-vamp of our approach to the university’s curriculum, with the implementation of the Hallam Model. Transforming Lives prefigured this, with its references to offering a challenging and distinctive applied curriculum, and the Hallam Model, which has been the subject of extensive consultation since January 2019, seeks to do that. The Hallam Model does not seek to prescribe content or teaching and learning approaches, but to articulate four clear principles to underpin our curriculum design at all levels: to support a curriculum which challenges, engages, supports collaboration and ensures students thrive. During the next six months the Model and its underpinnings will be the subject of detailed work across the University.
Change, of course, is always difficult: back to those new year resolutions. But with a new government, a new policy landscape and a nation working through the implications of the biggest change in our governance for half a century, the University needs to keep a close eye on not just the external landscape but the changes coming from over the horizon. Developing a structure and culture which enables us to respond rapidly to change, to bring on the leaders of the future who will shape the university and to give our students an edge in an ever more challenging work is something we cannot neglect.
Few things date more rapidly than predictions of the future. I don’t know, in detail, what 2020 holds in store for us: the most reliable prediction is of unpredictability. But I do know that we start the year in good shape, with exciting plans in process of implementation, and a great base on which to work.