Tag Archives: leadership

There may be mergers ahead – Weeknote #272 – 17th May 2024

bird screen

The news this week was dominated by the financial crisis that the university sector is facing in the UK.

Wonkhe said in their daily briefing

An increasing number of universities in England face a material risk of closure unless they significantly cut costs or merge. The Office for Students (OfS) 2024 financial sustainability report discusses a heavy reliance on international students due to declining domestic student fee income, and a “worst-case scenario” predicts that four out of five institutions will be in deficit by 2027 without changes.

With over optimistic views by universities about student numbers (domestic and international) the sector is facing a real financial challenge and with no real solutions in sight. There is no easy solution to this.

The OfS report was quite clear about the pressures facing the university sector.

Continuing decline in the real-terms value of income from UK undergraduates combined with inflationary and economic pressures on operating costs and the costs of developing buildings and facilities, as well as increasing employer contributions to some pension schemes.

They added the following key points in their report.

  • A recent apparent reduction in UK and international applications after years of strong growth, especially from international students.
  • A higher education financial model that has become reliant on fee income from international students, with a particular vulnerability where recruitment is predominantly from a single country.
  • The affordability of necessary estate maintenance and development and the significant cost of investment needed to reduce carbon emissions as part of providers’ commitments to achieve net zero.
  • Cost of living difficulties for students and staff, which challenge both student recruitment and the support needed by students during their time in higher education.

The report set out that universities may need to think differently to respond to the challenges they face.

Changes to a provider’s operating model can be a healthy response to financial challenge.  The sector as a whole has been in a relatively strong financial position for much of the past decade and has expanded its delivery to more UK and non-UK students. The financial challenges it is facing now could be a catalyst to drive positive change and innovation. Actions being taken by providers can result in more efficient operation, and could have benefits for students, including improved value for money.

This very much echoes the work I have been doing at Jisc on optimising operations and looking at collaboration and shared services.

The report also acknowledges that there may be mergers ahead.

We also expect that we might see some changes to the size and shape of the sector, for example, through mergers and acquisitions or increase specialisation.

As part of my work I wrote a vision about mergers and the formation of large university groups, but with the individual partners within that group retaining their local identity.

The first large university groups appeared following mergers forced by the regulator after financial pressures could have caused at least one higher education institution to fail. The new group recognised that though in theory they should have a new name, they also realised that the existing names were brands in their own right. As a result they formed The University Group™ but the individual university names were kept. Staff were employed by The University Group™ but students attended a named university. It was so successful that some smaller institutions asked to join the group but retain their identity. What was important to the group was that management and staff recognised that they were employed by The University Group™ and not the named university in which they worked (though some teaching staff worked across the group), from a student experience perspective the student was a student of the named university. They would be awarded their degree from that named university and would to all intents and purposes be a graduate of that named university.

This is a model we have seen in the Further Education sector, with large college groups and individual campuses having a separate brand and identity.

As well as facing financial challenges, the sector is also facing an unhappy cohort of students who are making more complaints.

Students complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) in England and Wales rose to 3,137 in 2023, the ombuds’ annual report reveals. This was a ten per cent increase from 2022, and OIA recommendations led to more than £580,000 paid out in financial compensation, in addition to almost £640,000 in settlements. Some 21 per cent of complaints were adjudged to be justified (two per cent) or partly justified (seven per cent) or were settled in favour of the student. 

Wonkhe reflects on a year of complaints received by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

I was in the office for a couple of days this week, but reflected I’ve not been out and about for a while. I was expecting to go out and do some visits and workshops in May, but these never materialised. I‘ve also not attended any recent events, I think I might have to do some travelling over the next few weeks.

I attended our regular catch up meeting with the OfS this week in our Bristol office, and we updated each other which what is happening and what this may mean.

Wrote a short thought piece on academic staff using ChatGPT for student feedback.

We know that students are using tools such as ChatGPT to support their assessment work. It looks like some staff are also using the tool to provide feedback.

conference
Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay

I have started a leadership development programme at Jisc. I am very much in the position in my career, where it is much less about what do I need to do to advance my career, but more about having achieved my career aspiration, what can I do for Jisc. I have extensive management and leadership experience, running teams of various sizes, complexity and geographically distributed. I have planned, designed, and delivered shared services for consortia and complex organisations. I have managed multi-million pound budgets and projects.

So, I am not attending the programme to learn how to be a leader, but there is something about refreshing and updating your knowledge in this space. Also, it will be good to work with colleagues across the organisation as well.

The application of duct tape

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

In writing this blog post, I do recognise that as white middle class male from a Western European background, I know I come from a position of privilege.  I am where I am today because of that privilege. No I wasn’t education at Eton, nor did I go to Oxford, but I recognise my background has given me advantages that others didn’t have. It would also be somewhat arrogant if I was to think that I, in isolation, had any answers to the challenges that others face. However I do feel that I have the opportunity to share the experiences and thoughts of others. I also recognise the need to understand and work together on decolonisation.

I like this definition of decolonising from The University of Essex.

Decolonisation involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems. It is not “integration” or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. It is a culture shift to thinking more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations.

In that context I really enjoyed the thought provoking opening keynote at Moving Target: Digitalisation 2022 was a keynote from Taskeen Adam, Designing Justice-oriented Digital Education.

Moving Target Digitalisation 2022, Opening 30.11.2022, Museum für Kommunikation (MfK), Berlin – Credit Stefan Zeitz/DAAD

I thought this was an excellent thoughtful insight into the challenges universities face in reflecting where they are and where they need to be in relation to edtech and digital education.

Moving beyond ‘digital divide’ narratives, this presentation interrogates how the digitalisation of education can embed or promote material injustices, cultural-epistemic injustices and (geo)political injustices. After expanding on calls for ‘decolonising EdTech’, 3 key arguments framing justice-oriented Digital Education are highlighted along with 4 guidelines on how we can strive to design and implement more justice-oriented digital education.

As we move into a century where the technological way of being is the only way of being imaginable, we need to consciously reflect on the impact that technology has on our way of thinking and being, and resultantly how this is embedded into our education. Taking a justice-oriented approach to digitalising education means actively and consciously seeking to address material, cultural-epistemic and political/geopolitical injustices that digitalising education processes and platforms can embed or promote.

This presentation has three main sections.

The first section unpacks ‘decolonising EdTech’ which means dismantling the relations of power and conceptions of knowledge that are reproduced through EdTech in its fundamental assumptions; its content; its pedagogical underpinnings; its design; and its implementation. Here questions about ethics, equity, epistemology and power are raised.

The second section outlines 3 key arguments framing the design of justice-oriented Digital Education 1.) There is no one-size-fits-all framework for creating justice-oriented Digital Education. Justice-as-content, justice-as-pedagogy and justice-as-process are 3 approaches to use at different moments 2.) Designers and implementers need to examine their subjectivities and how these shape the epistemological framings of the course from its conceptualisation. 3.) Greater emphasis is needed on situational factors outside the construction of the digital learning experience, i.e. factors beyond content, outcomes, and assessments.

The third section wraps up by giving four practical guidelines on how we can strive to design and implement more justice-oriented digital education.

Of course it isn’t just about the decolonisation of digital education, there is the shift required in university structures and cultures.

This keynote got me thinking about this.

London Metropolitan University’s Centre for Equity and Inclusion has this to say on the decolonisation of higher education. I think this reflects the challenge in that diversity and inclusion isn’t sufficient, there needs to be more  in order to truly decolonize the curriculum and the university as a whole.

Decolonising education, however, is often understood as the process in which we rethink, reframe and reconstruct the curricula and research that preserve the Europe-centred, colonial lens. It should not be mistaken for “diversification”, as diversity can still exist within this western bias. Decolonisation goes further and deeper in challenging the institutional hierarchy and monopoly on knowledge, moving out of a western framework.

One of the challenges that we face is that we need to decolonise our structural approaches to the way in which we run our universities. Listening to the keynote from Taskeen Adam I was reminded of the struggle this can be, overcoming years, if not decades on entrenched thinking.

One area where I think we have challenges is recruitment and the process of recruitment.

We know from research that a diverse team brings wider benefits than a non-diverse team. 

This Twitter thread explains this better than I can.

To quote from the thread.

Diversity increases innovation: diverse groups are known to produce innovative solutions… 

Demographic diversity is a proxy for diverse thinking.

This is all pretty obvious but as the opening tweet says you often hear the line, “Oh, but we cannot compromise excellence for diversity.”

So I have heard organisations say, yes we have a policy of diversity and inclusion when it comes to recruitment, but we recruit on merit.

However despite the fact that recruitment takes into account diversity, the process of recruitment is flawed and biased. 

Very rarely is a team recruited in one go, generally there is an existing team. We generally recruit individually so as a result we lose the opportunity to have diverse teams that could support decolonisation.

As people leave, new people arrive. We often need those new people to replace the leaver, so we look for skills and background that are similar to the ones that the leaver has. We are looking at the problem from an individual perspective rather than a team perspective. Despite knowing that a diverse team is better, despite having a diversity and inclusion policy, the process of recruitment is biased as it focuses on the gap, the individual skills missing, when someone leaves. Rarely if ever is the holistic picture taken into account.

This process of recruitment can actually reinforce the existing structures and culture, despite the best efforts to decolonise.

This isn’t exclusive to decolonisation, and the talk by Taskeen Adam on this subject reminded me of the challenges that women face in the workplace, disabled people and other groups.

It also reminded me of the challenges in shifting and changing existing cultures and ways of working. Back in the 2000s there was an academic team I was working with who had a very negative culture, one where the students were to blame, they were resistant to change and certainly didn’t embrace digital technologies to support their work. It was quite a toxic culture.

Work was undertaken, probably best described as sticking duct tape to try and fix what was a broken team. It didn’t work. The underlying issues and culture were still there. Solutions that were put in place, were like duct tape, worked for a while, but eventually fell off, as it wasn’t fixing the underlying problems.

Over the years the actual team changed completely, as in people left and new staff were recruited. In none of the original staff were working there, it was a new team, it had changed, however the culture did not. Despite all new people, the culture hadn’t changed, the blaming was still there, as was the resistance to change.

In the end working as a leadership team including myself, with a new  line manager, we started from scratch and completely changed the modus operandi or operating model for the team. The ways in which they worked, the way in which they interacted with students and planning on the embedding of appropriate digital technologies. There was consistency of approaches and methodologies. The team and students were provided with a clear vision and strategic objectives.

There was a massive shift in culture and ways of working, which resulted in better outcomes for students, less complaints, less staff sickness, and better morale. We had to have a holistic approach to the way in which the team worked, but as we had a clear vision of what was expected, they had the clarity as well.

When it comes to decolonisation, this is a huge challenge. Even just looking at one area, the shift required in recruitment, is more than just the application of duct tape to fix the problem. Without thinking strategically and holistically about the challenge, the end result will be a much slower journey to decolonisation.

Scary – UCISA 22 Day #3

I have never attended the UCISA Leadership conference before, but after the 2020 conference was cancelled, I was given the chance to attend the 2022 event. This was the third in-person conference I have attended since March 2020.

This year’s much-anticipated UCISA22 Leadership Conference will look ahead at the future challenges and opportunities for digital leaders in education. The theme of conference is Digital Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World.

I wrote about day one of the conference in this blog post and day two in this post.

This was the last day of the UCISA Leadership Conference, ending at lunchtime. We were in a different space, which though more impressive, was not as comfortable as the space used on the first couple of days.

Great opening session from Heidi Fraser-Krauss on her role of CEO at Jisc, where Jisc has been, where Jisc is, and her vision for Jisc going forward.

I did like this quote from her presentation.

There is something written by “John” in every university which was created twenty years ago and is crucial to the running of the institution.

There were lots of questions for Heidi at the end of the session, which for me shows that people found her presentation interesting and useful. There were some really positive comments on the Twitter as well.

I did think that the next session, What can your organisation learn from Formula 1? with 

Adrian Stalham, Chief Change Officer, Sullivan and Stanley wasn’t going to be my cup of tea, but it was in the end one of the highlights of the conference.

Business models break, new ones develop, technology evolves, regulations are revised and customers alter buying habits. Every industry is witnessing change, and Formula 1 is no different; as a multi-billion dollar sport it has seen unprecedented change in the last 20 years. Above all, Formula One’s leadership teams have had to communicate, manage and implement transformation strategies, bringing their teams with them, ensuring that they make the most from embracing change.

I did a sketch note of his presentation.

Adrian presented some of the key principles from Formula 1 that can be implemented into teams to drive high performance. He opened his talk with a 67 second pitstop from the past and how today the Formula 1 pitstop can be less than two seconds.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Continue reading Scary – UCISA 22 Day #3

I see you BoatyMcBoatFace – Weeknote #161 – 1st April 2022

Spent most of the week in Manchester where I was attending the UCISA Leadership Conference. I am posting my (more in-depth) reflections and thoughts on the conference in separate blog posts.

Though the conference kicked off on the Tuesday, I had quite few lengthy meetings in my diary on Monday so I went up earlier to Manchester.

I went to the Jisc office in Manchester which was the first time in nearly three years. Since I was last there in September 2019 for a fleeting visit it has been refurbished.

I have never attended the UCISA Leadership conference before, but after the 2020 conference was cancelled, I was given the chance to attend the 2022 event. This was the third in-person conference I have attended since March 2020.

This year’s much-anticipated UCISA22 Leadership Conference will look ahead at the future challenges and opportunities for digital leaders in education. The theme of conference is Digital Leadership in a Post-Pandemic World. Recognising our sector continues to operate in an unprecedented period of sustained change, the programme seeks to empower our leaders to not only navigate current turbulence, but overcome the challenges you face, such as cybersecurity, sustainability, and recruitment.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I kind of expected that this would be a highly technical conference, about how technology can deliver transformation and I can say that what I experienced was not what I was expecting.

There was a great range of sessions, I did like the one What can your organisation learn from Formula 1?

Business models break, new ones develop, technology evolves, regulations are revised and customers alter buying habits. Every industry is witnessing change, and Formula 1 is no different; as a multi-billion dollar sport it has seen unprecedented change in the last 20 years. Above all, Formula One’s leadership teams have had to communicate, manage and implement transformation strategies, bringing their teams with them, ensuring that they make the most from embracing change.

Some great reflections on leadership and strategy.

Another highlight was the session by Mark Simpson, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, Teesside University entitled What’s your narrative? Building a compelling vision and dancing in the field.

As with previous conferences I got the Apple Pencil out and did some sketch notes on my iPad.

With three days at the conference, I didn’t have much time for other things. I missed the Wonkhe session on assessment, but have now got the slides and the recording.

Also I did see BoatyMcBoatFace making the news again.

On its first outing to the Antarctic, the £200m polar vessel – popularly known as Boaty McBoatface – has been smashing through thick frozen floes.

It reminded me of the fun we had with that back in the day when I was leading the digital capabilities project and how you should never ask the internet for anything.

My top tweet this week was this one as noticed by Adam Shoemaker.

A shared understanding – Weeknote #105 – 5th March 2021

cogs
Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

I started as Head of Higher Education at Jisc on the 1st March 2019. So I have done two years (and a bit), had three line managers, a changing role and, oh yes, a global pandemic.

On Monday I had an excellent conversation with Isabel Lucas from Cumbria about the HEDG meeting I was presenting at, at the end of the week.

I have been sharing internally (and externally) the draft of the Jisc HE Strategy.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Another post on language, this time from Wonkhe: Why what we mean by “online learning” matters.

As higher education institutions plan for what will happen as we move slowly towards more students being on campus, there is continuing chatter about the form that teaching and learning will take. This includes how best to deliver it and how to communicate what this might look like. In all of this discussion, there has been a proliferation of words like “remote learning”, “digital learning”, and “hybrid learning” – and these terms have largely been taken for granted in respect to their pedagogical nuance. But if the preferred solution to the problems created by the pandemic in the first semester was “blended learning”, as we tumble through a second semester it would appear that the HE sector is beginning to settle on its next term of preference – “online learning”.

We do seem to spend a lot of time discussing what we should call what we do. The article makes the point that this does matter. I disagree slightly what matters is not what it is called, but whatever it is called, we have an agreed and shared understanding of what is means for you, for me and the students. We change the term, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we change our understanding. I recall having this discussion about the use of the term hybridthat I used in an article to mean responsive and agile, whilst someone else was using the term to describe a mixed approach. Words are important, but shared understanding actually allows us to move forward.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Wednesday I joined a panel at the Westminster Education Forum to deliver a session on the future use of technology in assessment.

“The future for England’s exam system – building on best practice from the 2020 series, the role of technology and ensuring qualifications equip young people with the skills to succeed post-18”

I only had five minutes, so not a huge amount of time to reflect on the challenges and possibilities. To think a year ago I would have had to travel to London by train, find the venue and then join the panel in-person. Today, I just switched on the webcam and there I was, did my presentation and then answered a few questions. I didn’t use slides, as there wasn’t always a need to use slides in these kinds of panel sessions and at an in-person event I wouldn’t have used slides.

Of course at a physical in-person event they would have provided lunch, which would then give delegates an opportunity to come and chat about what I had been talking about. That didn’t happen this time. I would say that though using Twitter as a digital back channel at physical in-person events does sometimes work, but people have to be using the Twitter. At edtech events I find a fair few people are , at other kinds of events, not so much.

campus
Image by 小亭 江 from Pixabay

I liked this post from the Independent: I’m tired of hearing that universities are closed – it simply isn’t true

Lecturers are doing all they can during the pandemic to support the myriad different ways in which students learn

It’s not as though the physical campuses are closed, they are open for those courses which require a practical element.

Then again schools are not closed, they are open for the children of key workers, as well as vulnerable children, and staff are working with them and delivering remote teaching to the children at home.

Yes the experience is variable across the country, even across a school, but to keep saying they are closed, doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Lens
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

On Thursday I had a really good discussion with a university about digital strategy. How important it is aligned to the main university strategy, but also how it enables that strategy and other strategies as well. If you are in charge of a strategy, how does it enable others, and how do others enable yours?

At the end of the week I was involved in the HEDG meeting and did a presentation on Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined programme and where Jisc is going next. It was good meeting and the presentation seemed to hit the spot.

I had a planning meeting about a session we’re doing with Advance HE on digital leadership which looks like it will be a really good session.

Looked at the presentation I am doing next week at Digifest on the future of digital leadership, what it is and where we are potentially going.

Favourite HE story of the week was Campus capers, 1970 style from Wonkhe.

Strange things sometimes happen in universities and we’ve reported plenty of them here over the years. From hauntings and strange happenings to animal action and of course true crime events on campus. But this event which recently caught my eye is one of the oddest I’ve noticed lately. It all happened just over half a century ago at Keele University. Those were turbulent times as the world transitioned out of the end of the heady 60s era into a very different decade.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Fifty six million articles – Weeknote #98 – 15th January 2021

No travelling for me this week, well that’s no different to any other week these days… Last year around this time on one week I was in London two days and went to Cheltenham as well. It doesn’t look like I will be travelling anywhere for work for months, even for the rest of the year!

Had a number of meetings about ideas for consultancy offers with various institutions, which were interesting.

writing
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Continued to work on the strategy, which is now looking good. It’s not a huge shift from what we had before, but it takes on board the lessons from Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined programme. It will also lead into some work we are doing on thought leadership. I have to say I am not a fan of the term thought leader, it’s up there with the term social media guru, as something you call yourself, but no one would ever describe you by that term. However the concept of future thinking is something that I think we should do, if people want to call that thought leadership, fine.

Reflecting and thinking about where you see higher education could go in the future, as well as thinking about where they are now can be useful. Sharing those thoughts with others, is more useful. I see these pieces are starting discussions, inspiring people or even making them reflect on their own thinking.

With all the media talk on digital poverty this week, I was reminded that fifteen years ago I wrote an abstract for a conference, the session was called: Mobile Learning on a VLE?

Wouldn’t it be nice if all learners in an educational environment had access to a wireless laptop and free wireless access to their digital resources at a time and place to suit their needs.
comic strip

Wouldn’t it be nice if all learners in an educational environment had access to a wireless laptop and free wireless access to their digital resources at a time and place to suit their needs.

Back in 2006 I was looking at how learners could access learning content despite not having a fancy laptop (or desktop) or even internet connectivity.

I was intrigued about how consumer devices used for entertainment, information and gaming could be used to access learning. Could you format learning activities for the PSP, an iPod, even the humble DVD player?

I even found a video of the presentation, which I have uploaded to the YouTube.

Nothing new really, as the Open University had been sending out VHS cassettes for many years before this.

Wikipedia was twenty years old this week. The first time I wrote about Wikipedia on this blog was back in 2007, when they published their two millionth article. They now have fifty-six million articles. I met Jimmy Wales at Learning without Frontiers ten years ago this week.

I managed to have a few words with Jimmy and wished I could have had a few more, seemed like a really nice and genuine guy.

My colleague Lawrie had a post published on the Advance HE blog Leadership through a digital lens where he reflects on what we have learnt over the past year from having technology front and centre of HE, asking how we ensure that we do not adopt a techno-solutionist approach but look at our goals through a digital lens.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Official sources called this election differently

The US election continues to dominate Twitter though seeing less of it on the mainstream news. Saw a number of people on Twitter claiming to have won the election!

Five years ago this week myself and Lawrie were delivering the second residential of the pilot for the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme at the Holland House Hotel in the heart of Bristol. We had spent four days delivering that week. We also had some great cakes and pastries.

Even the coffee was nice. We learnt a lot from the process and spent the next few months iterating the programme, dropping and adding stuff based on the feedback we had from the pilot delegates.

Less than a year later we delivered the programme to paying delegates in Loughborough, again we reviewed what we did and adapted the programme again, before delivering to groups in Manchester, Belfast and Leicester.

Continue reading I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Looking at things differently…

typewriter

Though we talk about embedding digital technologies into practice, the reality is what we want to do is to undertake practices differently, and one way of doing this is through the use of digital.

So if you want to increase use of the VLE, we approach the problem by thinking how we can get people to use the VLE, use it more and use it in different ways.

By looking at things differently, using the VLE stops being the problem you are trying to solve, but the solution to a different problem.

The challenge can be that learners want to have access to a range of materials, resources, activities and conversations at a pace, time and place that suits them on a device of their choosing.

How do you get those resources and activities to the learner?

Well you could post them the printed resources, however you may not know which specific ones they want, so you would need to send them all! They would also be all in printed format, no video, no audio just print!

printer

You could create conversation opportunities in specific rooms (or off campus locations) at a time and place that suited you, some learners, but not all.

You could determine when and where learning activities should take place, but give no flexibility to the learners about their circumstances or choices.

If we go back to the problem

…learners want to have access to a range of materials, resources, activities and conversations at a pace, time and place that suits them…

Then the VLE starts to become part of the solution to the problem of access, inclusion and flexibility.

An online space like the VLE can be used to store all the resources, the learner can choose which ones they want to access when (and where).

An online space like the VLE means you can do more than just text, you can have video files, audio recordings, even interactive content.
The VLE or other online spaces allow asynchronous conversations to happen, allowing discussion at different times and places for different learners. There are also opportunities for synchronous live conversations too, which can be combined with other resources and activities.

The VLE isn’t the problem, it’s part of the solution.