Vice-Chancellor's Blog: Strategic Change

Professor Hai-Sui Yu, Interim Vice-Chancellor and President, updates on strategic change at the University.

A message from the interim Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Hai-Sui Yu. November 2023

Dear colleagues, 

There is a broad range of processes, systems and technologies at the University which we need to improve to better support staff and students. There are major change programmes in place to address these, and our ambition for the level of strategic change and digital transformation at Leeds is the right one. But I know there are concerns about our capacity and ability to implement all of these programmes successfully within their current timetable, whilst also maintaining a focus on the quality and prompt delivery of our core services. These concerns are echoed in the conversations I have had with staff and students in recent months, and are among the reasons why I made successful delivery of strategic change one of my six core priorities. 

I want to ensure our change programmes are run in a way that brings real and significant benefits for our whole community, whilst also having sufficient resources available to maintain excellent support for colleagues in getting the basics done well. Over the past few weeks our Chief Operating Officer Rachel Brealey and Chief Financial Officer Jane Madeley have been working with the Transformation Office, change programme leaders and other stakeholders to see how we might recalibrate the timing and sequencing of change to ensure it is effective, deliverable, and manageable.  

Our planned change programmes will still go ahead, but on a less congested, revised timeline which enables the balance outlined above to be achieved. This means we will need to make some difficult choices about which programmes proceed now, which ones proceed later, and which ones we may be able to deliver in a different way, for example through smaller, business-as-usual activity. The results of this recalibration work will go through the appropriate stages of consultation and scrutiny before being shared with you in the next few weeks.  

Over the last fortnight I have been pleased to see that further progress has been made in partnership with our colleagues on some of my other core priorities.  

In terms of staff engagement, I was very pleased to host open Q&A events with staff in both Leeds University Business School and the Faculty of Biological Sciences. With more than 150 colleagues attending each event in-person or online, I and my University Executive Group colleagues enjoyed the opportunity to speak with so many staff, discuss the ongoing implementation of the University’s strategy, and answer a wide range of questions on the issues that concern and interest you. Topics ranged from our strategic research priorities, career progression and pay and reward, to improving the student experience and tackling unnecessary bureaucracy.  

Another seven events will take place across this term covering all faculties and professional service areas, so please look out for your invitation – I hope you can join us. 

This week I previewed the University’s new staff intranet. Built over three months, using the existing Sharepoint platform, the intranet will replace the ‘For Staff’ website and provide you with a customisable and even more accessible gateway to the news, information, tools and policies you need. It will also offer new ways for colleagues to comment, engage and discuss matters at the University. We hope to publish the initial platform later this term, and will continue to develop and improve it, introducing new functions and pages to meet staff expectations and feedback.   

We have also made good progress on actions to improve the experience for our students. This week, we have announced we are removing fees for resit assessments for our taught students with immediate effect. The decision, made in collaboration with Leeds University Union, is a direct response to student feedback about ongoing cost of living challenges and the hidden costs of studying. It underscores our commitment to remove barriers to education, ensuring that every student has the opportunity to succeed and contribute to shaping a better future for themselves, the University and the wider world. 

An important measure of our progress in supporting students is the insight provided by final year undergraduates via the National Student Survey (NSS).  Now open, it remains live until 30 April and I would ask you to encourage all eligible students to take part.  You can find out more about the NSS and access resources via our NSS toolkit and sign up to attend one of our NSS drop-in sessions

Finally, it was also positive to see that our work with the University’s recognised trade unions in reducing the number of fixed-term contracts used to employ staff at the University was noted in a recent UCU report judging the University of Leeds to be doing the most to tackle casualisation of employment. As with the recent announcement of pay increases for colleagues in Grades 2 to 4, there is more we can and will do for our staff, and we will continue constructive dialogue as we progress the wider Pay and Grading Review.

Meanwhile, many colleagues will have been aware of the media and political interest in the topic of so-called ‘cash for courses’ following a number of highly inaccurate articles in The Sunday Times. Its assertion that universities were using foundation year courses as a ‘back door’ to displace UK students with international applicants holding lower grades was as disappointing as it was untrue.  

The University of Leeds has the same academic entry standards for students irrespective of where they come from, and does not make lower offers to international students than those from the UK, and I have been actively engaged with Russell Group and UUK leaders to help provide a balanced and robust response. Nonetheless, I think it is right that Universities UK will be scrutinising international recruitment practices, particularly the use of recruitment agents.  

Taking one positive from the controversy, it has at least renewed wider debate about how universities are funded, as well as the risks of a higher education system in which world-leading research and the teaching of UK students now rely significantly on subsidies provided by educating students from across the globe.  

Of course, what seems to have been entirely forgotten in the debate is the greatest value international students bring to our campuses – themselves. For a global institution such as Leeds, international students make an enormous contribution to our cultural diversity, foster a global learning environment, and prepare all students for a globalised world.

Returning to happier matters, I send greetings to members of our community who this week are celebrating the Lunar New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. This year we mark the Year of the Dragon and it has been wonderful to see so many of our colleagues, students and alumni getting involved with the festivities.  

Best wishes,