Updates from the Director of Human Resources of University of Bath. HR isn't just about running recruitment processes – it's integral to defining the University's strategy and making sure that we have the people and skills to deliver it.
This week is an important milestone. As well as being 50 years since Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch had a Number 1 with the Legend of Xanadu it is the first meeting of the 'expanded' Committee on the Office of Vice-Chancellor. We now have an external viewpoint from academia, Professor Julia Buckingham, the Vice-Chancellor at Brunel University as well as three more members from within this University. We welcome Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey from the School of Management, Jane Loveys from AHS and Mandy Wilson-Garner from the Students' Union who have all agreed to bring their unique perspectives to this selection process.
I asked Mandy why she wanted to take on this extra piece of work....
Studying for A levels as a single parent was hard, finding the right university was harder still. I needed somewhere that understood a person comes as a whole package, often requiring differing levels of support. My first university interview (not naming institutions here) was a disaster. A suit-wearing academic asked me pompous questions about Jane Austen, had no idea where the university nursery was or how to access it, and, having ticked a box, sent me on my way. Rejected, the first person from my family to ever go to university, I almost didn’t try again. Luckily I did and, to my relief, I found a different institution with a set of values and behaviours that made me feel welcome and supported. Universities are not all the same. Universities can consciously adopt a new culture, challenge values/behaviours, strive to be different. They can choose to change. So, why did I agree to joining this committee? To bring about that change.
It looks as though Mandy is going to be interesting to work with. At the meeting this week I am hoping that we can agree the main elements of the job description and person specification. The next stage will be advertising and undertaking the active search for candidates in April. If we can arrange it, I also plan to set up a web-page in the next couple of weeks to give anyone who is interested access to the results of our engagement exercise, the job description and these blogs. I am sure that will prompt further debate.
(now back to that black, barren land of HR with Dozy, Beaky etc.)
Does our next Vice-Chancellor need high quality academic credentials to fulfil their role successfully? I think that many would accept that an inherent understanding of the academic enterprise is important in who we engage for this role, and one way to get that is to have fully experienced it. To have been through a career of teaching students and carrying out research. Some of you have pointed out to me that the world's leading academic institutions are, by and large, led by academics with a track record of achievement. That makes a strong case for 'high quality academic credentials' being near the top of the person specification.
The survey we ran in February, against a list of 15 possible characteristics for our next Vice-Chancellor, asked respondents to identify up to 5 as 'Most important' and 5 as 'Least important'. The results are interesting:
While we might expect staff from the Education & Research job family to lean more towards this as an important characteristic, I was surprised at the proportion who assessed it as one of the least important characteristics. Overall, in the league table of results, characteristics about the ability to engage with staff and students, build teams, lead a complex organisation and have strong personal values ranked higher. I hope to be able to publish the full report of the engagement exercise later this month, which I hope will prompt continued debate.
My last thought reflects some of the wider changes being spoken about in higher education. There is a discussion around thinking differently about Universities. In this engagement exercise, people have consistently talked about the 'marketisation' or 'corporatisation' of the sector. While this blog isn't long enough, and I don't consider myself informed enough, to make comment on such a big issue, we might reflect that the current stock of Vice-Chancellors, and their teams, have been brought up to deliver success in this environment. If there is a movement to change the nature of the sector, do we need different skills to lead it?
As a source of wisdom, the Friday Night Comedy on Radio 4 may not be up there with the usual academic texts, but I was struck by a description of a politician on The Now Show last week. "Politicians are there to set direction and connect with the public". Hugh Dennis then went on to say that politicians shouldn't do detail; that is for Civil Servants. Certainly that is my experience of how the roles divide, having supported Ministers at a range of events when I was a Civil Servant. However, nowadays it is often failures on detail which politicians will be remembered for. Anyone remember Diane Abbott's interview about Labour's plans for increasing the number of police?
The snow last week gave me the opportunity to start thinking about the job description and person specification for our next Vice-Chancellor. The phrase 'set direction and connect with the public' seems to me a very good starting point. Looking at Vice-Chancellor job descriptions from Australia, Canada and the UK, there are, unsurprisingly similarities in the job descriptions. When I review the results of the focus groups and survey we carried out here in February, there are some common themes about the type of person you want to deliver this. That person is very 'values' driven, which I can probably categorise into three main headings:
Personal standards: integrity, public-service ethos, diversity, transparency in decision making
Engaging with people: visible, approachable, inclusive, listens
Leadership perspective: global, working in partnership, entrepreneurial, visionary, confident
We are meeting with the recruitment agents later this week who have the experience of engaging with the market. We will be seeking their advice on how best to position this role to attract the best possible field of candidates and that will come through in the advertising material as well as the job description and person specification.
If anyone has other choices of Radio 4 programmes which will help this search, do let me know. I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to on the daily commute.
You have to have been a project manager to understand why I might feel excited about colouring in the final box on a Gantt chart and declaring Stage One of the project to find our next Vice-Chancellor complete. So having put the crayons away, I'll get on with this week's blog.
The survey which has been running since late January closed on Friday with 857 respondents (41% staff, 25% students, 24% alumni and a broad range of other stakeholders) who made 2,488 comments. We also finished the focus groups last week with over 200 attendees, which has given me over 100 sheets of flipchart to assimilate. Thank you to all who took the time to contribute, but engagement with this process doesn't end there. Please do write to me if you have questions or suggestions, and I'll feature any common themes in this blog. The Committee overseeing the recruitment process are now reviewing the results of this engagement exercise which will feed into the job description and person specification for Stage Two.
I am also pleased that, after initially starting with seven possibles, we have now commissioned Saxton Bampfylde to help us with the search stage of this project. Hamish Laing and Dr Jennifer Barnes will be working with us, looking nationally, internationally and beyond (sorry, got a bit carried away - lets stick to this planet); inside and outside the HE sector to find individuals who have the skills and experience we need.
The next meeting of the Committee, chaired by the Chancellor, will be on 21 March at which the job description and person specification will be discussed, alongside advice from the Remuneration Committee on what we might offer to secure the right person for the role. More on this in a future blog.
Last week we held ten focus groups. To all who came along and contributed to the debate, many thanks. After each one I use my phone to photograph the flipcharts, and while I can edit out my shoes, I haven't yet managed to keep the whole thing in focus. The words "clear vision" seem, ironically, to always avoid the auto-focus function and become somewhat of a blur (you can make up your own jokes from Blur album titles).
While being out-of-focus might make translation of the results more challenging, allowing some latitude in the direction of discussions has proven particularly illuminating. Our lay Council members who ran six of the groups last week have all learned something new about how the University operates at the coal face and I have already seen some of this new-found knowledge coming out in email discussions. 'Trust' is probably one of the most repeated words in these discussions, so as I start to draw together the common themes from the whole engagement exercise, I will try to leave the corrective lenses at home.
This week we expect to appoint a recruitment agent. We met with the companies last Thursday to learn from their experience of recruiting Vice-Chancellors, and to understand their perspectives on this job and on the market. All were very positive about the exciting challenges this role brings, and believe that we will have a lot of interest; national and international; from within the HE sector and outside. As a panel, what we were looking for was someone who will work with us, listen, not impose their ideas but add expertise we don't have at the University. I see that the Vice-Chancellors of Sheffield and Dundee have also announced their retirement, so it will be interesting to see how these parallel competitions pan out.
As we come to the end of the first phase of this recruitment project, there is still the opportunity to make your views known on the appointment of our next Vice-Chancellor. The last two focus groups, mixed groups open to anyone are today; the survey is open until Friday.
As we come into the third week of the survey about finding our next Vice-Chancellor, we've had over 500 responses. Thank you; this is a really important decision for the University and will have a serious impact on our future. Perhaps a little disappointing is that only about 170 of those are from staff. Yet this is a group we might consider most affected by the future appointment of a Vice-Chancellor. Each Monday, after we have published a reminder, we get a peak of responses. This Monday, it would be great if an even higher peak was created by staff contributions to the debate.
Immediately following Valentine's Day we are seeing four of the recruitment agents to choose one to support us in this campaign. (In case you were wondering, there is no connection between the first and last parts of that sentence.) I am very pleased that Mandy Wilson-Garner from the Students' Union is part of that selection panel. One of the key things we will be assessing is how well these companies understand this University in particular and have creative ideas about how to engage the right sort of Vice-Chancellor to meet our needs; Mandy will bring another perspective to this. We hope to start working with the recruitment specialist to develop our requirements for the new Vice-Chancellor later this month.
I really enjoyed the focus group at the Virgil Building on Friday. Ten people attended, but between them made the noise and contribution of twice that number. When asked what we should preserve about the University, "high ambition" was right up there, but this was coupled with a desire to build a more coherent team culture across the organisation. I once heard someone described as 'profoundly superficial' and, while you might consider me judgemental, I've been looking for an opportunity to use that delightful phrase ever since. But that won't be today. This group was the complete opposite, generating a very thoughtful and challenging discussion and exactly the sort of input I was hoping for. It gives me real confidence in people's interest in this process. Some of our focus groups in the coming week will be led by members of Council and I know that they are looking forward to hearing people's views first hand.
One week into the survey about our search for a new Vice-Chancellor and we have 350 responses. 49% from students, 25% from Professional Service staff, 18% from academic staff and a range of others including alumni, partners and employers. What a great start and thanks to all who have completed the questionnaire, and particularly to those who have offered some very thoughtful comments. Not many jokes yet, but I’m still hopeful. Of course, this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t see if the number 350 has any particular significance. So, it’s a worldwide movement for action against climate change (after 350 ppm, the ‘safe’ concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere). And in 350 AD the Romans started another civil war, though I’m not sure that this distinguishes it from all of the other years of the Roman empire!
Anyway, Googling over and back to the survey. What is most striking in the first week is the broad variety of views. Some highlight the importance of enterprise and innovation; others see it as selling out to the market. Student satisfaction is prioritised by many; others want a less ‘consumerised’ approach. Research (excellence, impact) is coming through as a consistently strong theme along with education, staff engagement and transparency of decision making. We also started the focus groups last week, and these give an opportunity to delve beneath the surface of such comments. What exactly does ‘transparency’ mean in a University? What examples have we experienced of good and bad decision making processes? I was going to title this blog ‘Frank’. Not because he made a particularly good contribution at a focus group, but because those who have contributed so far have been just that – honest and unafraid to express their views. It makes for really healthy, enjoyable and insightful discussions.
So if you haven’t offered your thoughts yet, with just one click, you can be on your way to influencing who becomes our next Vice-Chancellor. Or come along to a focus group and join in the discussion.
The most common names for a Vice-Chancellor (or equivalent) in the UK are David and John; there are six of each. That isn’t a requirement for the role, but a rather dull fact. There are many less common names but I was disappointed not to find a Nemo as that would have made a good title for the blog - if a rather inauspicious one for a recruitment exercise (that’s a reference for the Latin scholars).
So, what will it take for the University of Bath to be a success in the next ten years? These and many other questions set the context for our search for a new Vice-Chancellor. For a University which has only just celebrated our 50th birthday we have been incredibly successful, and there is no need to repeat those accolades here. That success has been achieved through the contribution of many thousands of people over the life of the University. But we are now in an era when the environment for higher education is changing again – debates over student fees, access to higher education, a new Minister, Brexit and new regulators in the sector will all have an impact in the coming years. So how do we position ourselves to continue to be successful? What skills do we need to achieve that success?
Choosing the right Vice-Chancellor to lead us in this uncertain environment is a big decision for the University. Here are a couple of my observations on the process to date.
The Committee on the Office of Vice-Chancellor hasn’t been needed since 2001. There is only one person on it today who was involved last time and we need to do more to expand the skillset on that Committee and make it more representative of our community.
There are 7.6 billion people in the world, with an estimate that 1.5 billion can speak English (I am going to assume this is a requirement for the job) so that’s quite a large haystack in which to look. We plan to bring a specialist search firm in to help us, and we are currently speaking to a number (think random surnames strung together to create a company name) to find the one best suited to this task.
Wikipedia defines a blog as “consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries”. As the recruitment process progresses, I’ll try to keep you up to date with progress. Very happy for anyone who wishes to email me with observations or questions, but please accept that this is an informal personal view of the process and not a formal management statement! I look forward to some interesting conversations.
Ten of our Exmoor Horn ewes are in lamb, we hope - it was our first time with this ram. I won't try and use this blogpost as a way of drawing out lessons or metaphors for life as I am sure that readers are capable of doing that themselves. This just records our lambing experience this year.
o1 Apr. First lamb, a single male, born to ewe number 63. Its her first time, which was obvious when we approached her in the field with her new lamb, and she ran away. So while my wife tried to distract her by making lamb noises, I crept up on the ewe, grabbed her, and together we got them into a pen in the barn. Lamb #1 decided that he wasn't going to feed from his mum, despite the number of times we pointed him in the right direction, so 48hrs of bottle-feeding ensued. At which point he decided that he didn't like that nasty artificial milk and is now feeding quite happily from his mum, then practicing balancing on her back.
03 Apr. Lamb #2, another single male. This ewe (we don't know which one as she has now lost both of her eartags) spent a lot of time shouting about her lamb as she followed in from the field. By a process of elimination we think that she had a single female last year who didn't survive, so perhaps she was being particularly protective this year.
04 Apr. Ewe number 52 had twins about 7.30 this evening out behind the shepherd's hut. Numbers #3 and #4 are a male and a female who are already feeding well in the barn. Had to start building another lambing pen as they're now starting to come thick and fast. The ram was in with the ewes for six weeks so hopefully they won't all arrive at once.
Read Full Article
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.