Change is the only constant: a proactive approach in HE | AUA Blog

Dr. Christopher Sarchet 
Associate Consultant
SUMS Consulting


Communication and the increase in acceptance of the use of business methods are the two elements of change management that really stand out as being different from when we started the MCHE network in 2008. We are about to host the ninth Open Forum in London and the learning from managing change provided by practitioners has proved invaluable according to the feedback we have received.

Over the years we have heard from university administrators who have: project managed change; developed strategic plans and implemented the identified targets; used LEAN to eliminate waste; restructured their departments; brought in paperless systems; developed and introduced software; developed software to ensure legal compliance; introduced new timetabling software and processes; used Process Review to improve services; and developed new builds/campuses and then moved staff and students into them.

The learning from these experiences have been the focus of the sessions for the Open Forum and it is clear the higher education (HE) sector is still unusual in the fact that we are willing to share a ‘warts an’ all’ review of our work under Chatham House rules for the day. This is refreshing in an age when there is increasing competition between institutions for students and resources. Let us hope that this does not change in the future. It is a reason why attendance at the event is more useful than receiving the slides.

Communication has changed as the media that is available now has changed. Staff and students still value face to face contact during change as the most effective means of communicating although we now have media channels that can be used creatively to help support the management of change and ensure we are more open in the change process. There are caveats though and one of those is the fact that some communications can be taken out of context and care needs to be taken when considering the media to be used. The advice and support of professional communication people should be used whenever possible.

A major challenge for managing change in HE has always been the ‘uniqueness’ of the sector. Academic communities are openly critical and resistant to change and this can be quite a challenge for a change manager who has worked in the business sector. Administrators reported that this resistance was increased if ‘business’ methods were employed and this appears to be changing over time ie it is now more possible to use them and not have to apologise so much for their use!

The AUA open forum has been an annual event since 2009 and each year professionals reflect on their experience of managing change in the sector. The next Managing change in HE Open Forum is on 6 July 2018 in London. With an opening plenary from Professor Peter McCaffery and three working sessions from a choice of nine, the event will offer opportunities for learning and personal development.

Christopher Sarchet is the Coordinator of the AUA’s Managing Change network and a consultant at SUMS. To learn more about SUMS services tailored for the HE sector, visit If you’d like to discuss this topic further, come along to our event Managing Change in HE Annual Open Forum.

If you would like more information, please email Dr Christopher Sarchet at

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