Inside Track - Tim Peakman: Beyond 2020
Earlier this year, we consulted staff and students on the University’s draft strategy for 2020-2030. Tim Peakman, COO updates us on the feedback received and how this will help shape the future.
Tim, where are we in the process of developing our strategy?
People who have been following the process may recall that our first phase was to engage subject matter experts from inside and outside the University to consider both the internal and external environments and context, in order to shape our initial thinking. This covered areas including the funding environment, legal and regulatory trends, macro environmental factors and best practice & benchmarking. The second phase was to draw this thinking into a draft strategy that could be considered by staff and students. Weve just completed the third phase, where weve engaged with colleagues, students, Council, and external stakeholders to get their views on that draft.
Is now the right time to be looking at strategy when Covid-19 is having such a profound effect on the way we operate?
I do appreciate that many people are concerned about the present circumstances. Over the past few months we have undergone a period of rapid change in just about every area of the Universitys operations, and, while we have addressed many challenges, there are many more that lie ahead.
As we enter a period of disruption and uncertainty, we need a clear strategy and direction with which we can frame our response to immediate challenges. In that way we can move forward with purpose and continue to thrive once we come out on the other side of this pandemic.
What did you learn from the consultation?
We had around 500 responses from staff and over 1,000 from students, plus input from civic regional stakeholders, the NHS and alumni and Id like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken part in the process to date, and engaged with the strategy development so far. This was on top of an earlier round of engagement last summer, which encompassed around 1,000 staff and 50 students.
The first striking conclusion was the level of agreement with the fundamental aspects of the strategy including the way we are describing our ambition for our core activities of student education, research & innovation, and international. There was also very broad support for the aspects that support those activities for example creating a more agile, responsive organisation to deliver the core activities, developing more diverse sources of income, creating a sense of shared purpose and recognising our civic roots and responsibilities.
An interesting finding was that both staff and students picked up on the need to develop our digital capability, while stressing that within student education this should be used to enhance, rather than replace, more traditional teaching methods.
There was widespread agreement on the need to support the physical and mental wellbeing of staff and students, with staff talking about the need for strong support systems as we implement changes arising from the strategy, and students highlighting the particular importance of good mental health.
There was also broad support for the concept of a civic university, closely connected with the city and region, and playing an active role in both.
Of course, not everyone agreed with every aspect of the strategy as it was set out in the consultation we would never expect that. Some of the value of the exercise comes from understanding where people have concerns, where the strategy itself could be clearer and where people have ideas and suggestions for improving it.
On that basis the consultation was very helpful in clarifying several aspects of the strategy and helping to shape its development over the coming months.
Some of that feedback actually relates to the balance within particular aspects. For example, some members of staff expressed concerns that our research and innovation strategy may shift emphasis away from fundamental research if we focus more explicitly on addressing global challenges, while others were concerned about the demographic balance of student cohorts, or how we reconcile an ambitious sustainability and environmental agenda with future international development.
Some colleagues expressed that there would be challenges in implementing the strategy, whether constraints on funding, existing culture and decision making, or the impact of Brexit.
These are all valid questions that provide helpful insight into the way we define and communicate the strategy and will be included in our discussions over the coming months.
How will you use the feedback?
Some of the responses are being incorporated into a revised version of the strategy. For example, digital development will have a higher profile, as we look to improve both digital skills and digital technology across the University, while we will specifically emphasise the importance of employability as requested by students in the consultation.
Looking ahead, the consultation feedback will also inform the development of more detailed plans and projects across the University, that will bring the strategy to life.
To be successful, any programme of change will require good communication, effective engagement and appropriate support for staff, as we plan how the different areas across the University can engage with the strategy. A recurring theme within the consultation was for effective support for staff in these areas.
What happens next?
Following approval from an expanded meeting of the Strategy and Investment Committee, we now have what we are referring to as our baseline strategy. Over the coming months, we will work with our next Vice-Chancellor to develop the finished strategy and the strategic plan to deliver it.
The strategy sets out a clear direction of travel, and the strategic plan defines how the strategy will be delivered, allowing flexibility to respond as the context changes. These will mark the completion of our fourth and final phase and Im looking forward to further engagement with colleagues over the coming months as we refine and agree the plans for the next decade.