I write this message as we are reviewing the results of the 2018 Staff Engagement Survey. The results, which are provided below at a College level, highlight some of the tensions we face as an institution. Whilst there are ways in which the College is doing well, including improving our rank in the main newspaper league tables and attracting more students when some others are struggling, the Survey results point to areas of our operations that need to be improved.
The issues facing the Higher Education sector are significant; responding to the TEF, REF and KEF, meeting student needs and expectations, the declining real terms value of home student fees, supporting our staff and investing for the future. There is still more on the horizon; the Augar review of Post-18 education and funding and the long-term consequences of Brexit.
These challenges require us and, in particular, me and the senior management team, to make decisions that protect the interests of our students, staff and funders in order to ensure our short-term success and long-term sustainability.
Many comments were made within the Survey about the difficulties that our processes and slow-decision-making cause. We are aware of this and share that view and it is one of the reasons behind the academic restructuring, where we are devolving more decision-making to Schools and re-designing many of the processes for staff and students so that we can be more agile.
One of our greatest challenges is in ensuring that all of our colleagues feel valued and engaged. Our current structures and some of the ways in which we work are no longer fit for purpose. Therefore, we are working through a change that will see a move to Schools, where Heads of School will play a direct role in the leadership of this university and provide a faster and more direct channel of two-way communication between those directly involved in teaching and research and the leadership team. I am grateful to those working hard to make these new structures work and we shall soon be in a position to share more of how things will operate on a practical basis.
The Survey has highlighted other concerns, such as the attention given to research. I am acutely aware that research plays a vital role in fulfilling our purpose of advancing knowledge. For an institution like ours, research and teaching must go hand-in-hand and it is for this reason we have been developing an integrated academic strategy, designed to help us succeed in both the forthcoming REF and the TEF. Whilst this strategy helps to put research and teaching on a par, there remains more we need to do to in relation to research, particularly in communicating and supporting the world-leading work that takes place.
The Survey highlights also that, whilst many colleagues in the professional services feel more positive about recent changes, there remain issues of concern. Some of these concerns are practical, such as finding spaces to park, but others focus on a lack of mutual respect between academic and professional service staff.
A gap between how academic and professional services colleagues feel is not unusual in universities. The way each works, the language used and what they expect from one another are examples of some of the differences I’ve noticed when working in different institutions. None the less, the difference between how academic colleagues and professional services colleagues feel should be of concern to us all. While we are strengthened by diversity, if we are truly to be the community we believe we are, we need to have a sense of cohesion built upon mutual respect. At the moment, the results suggest the opposite.
As Principal, it’s my job to lead the way and bring us together through a shared commitment to our common purpose. I acknowledge the part I have to play. I also look to all colleagues to acknowledge the part you need to play, and the individual responsibility you have to engage with College life at all levels. We are a successful university, but we risk undermining what we have achieved if we fail to work constructively towards solutions, accept compromise and be accountable.
Over the coming weeks I and members of the leadership team will be around the campus, meeting colleagues. I hope we can talk about the concerns raised in the Staff Survey and together find ways in which we can create an environment in which we can all contribute, feel valued and enjoy the rewards of success.