Shân Wareing | What does fit for the future look like? And where does the bear fit in? A personal perspective.

John Baker reports on Professor Shân Wareing’s Keynote | What does fit for the future look like? And where does the bear fit in? A personal perspective.

Shan WareingProfessor Shân Wareing
Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education)
London South Bank University

Shan has 18 years’ experience of bringing about cultural change in universities, having overseeing the 2013 REF submission for Bucks New University and the LSBU 2017 TEF submission, and is currently leading LSBU’s student journey transformation programme, LEAP, and has worked in the USA and Japan, and more briefly in Georgia, Spain, Germany, and Ghana.

Shan has extensive experience in the regulatory and service requirements of higher education, having been Co-Chair of SEDA, the Staff and Educational Development Association, a member of the 2014 English Subject Benchmark Review Group, and is a Fellow of the Leadership Foundation, a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a National Teaching Fellow, and won one of the inaugural Wonkhe awards in 2017 for writing the best piece of original analysis or argument on their website.

So it is no surprise that she is regularly called on to speak nationally on topics including leadership and gender, and is regularly invited to act as an external facilitator, examiner and evaluator for a range of UK HEIs, and is eminently qualified to address #AUA2019 on the conference theme: Fit for the Future.

John Baker MAUA  
AUA Trustee
Corporate and Business Planning Manager
London South Bank University

Shân began the keynote with a brief summary of the many financial pressures and threats facing the sector currently, and underlined the imperative for organisational change for some with a suppositious story of two North American campers who awoke one morning only to realise a large brown bear was crashing through the trees not that far away from their tent.

One of the campers started lacing up their trainers, and their companion turned in surprise and said “what are you doing that for, you’ll never out run a brown bear?”

“I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you” came the reply.

The caveat that the previous minister had referred to financial difficulties relating to policy error rather than institutional management as perhaps requiring a different approach from the regulator brings scant comfort to a sector for whom the review of the latest set of recruitment forecasts has been described as unrealistic, going beyond over-ambition towards delusion.

Shân then outlined the development approach taken with the LEAP transformation programme at London South Bank University, which took the requirement to update the student record system as an opportunity to positively and radically transform many aspects of the student experience, being informed by a self-serve & flexible digital experience ethos – in line with the transformation that the banking sector has seen in the shift to online service provision – whilst also addressing shortcomings noted on her career journey to date.

That the full costs of income generating activities are not always fully explored or understood when new business models are introduced, especially regarding support needs, for which the sector often takes a rather paternalistic overview which may no longer be relevant or appropriate for the digital natives of generation X, Y & Z.

And that historically some internal processes have fallen in the culture trap (this is the way we do this round here) and have been driven by provider staff choices & inclination, rather than any evidenced strategic approach as to what would be the most practicable way to ensure that the student is at the heart of the system, a point that met with much assent from the audience.

In terms of managing change, Shân noted that success involves loss as well as transformation, as it is personal, and can be painful, as you’re different to how you were before, and her key messages for anyone involved in a similar endeavour were:

1   Start with people.

2   Strategy matters. (The final 10% of the project is vital in order to ensure that benefits are delivered, & the project achieves return on investment).

3   Build complementary teams. (in IT, Education & change management)

4   Always more communication. (x7 is apparently the magic number)

5   Work hard at board level to ensure impact and need is accepted. (Many members will have had bad experiences elsewhere, and the pace of technological change means knowledge changes faster, and results in something perceived to have less ‘value’ from an asset perspective)

6   Anxiety makes us naïve (We think everyone else is doing better, so ensure you have a strong partnership with procurement)

7   Buy don’t build. (And make sure you are sufficiently focused on the systems aspects of middleware & technical debt, to ensure futureproofing and ongoing maintenance and flexibility)

Shân concluded the keynote with a reminder of the transformative impact of HE, how we can’t allow sector to fail, but also that we can’t wait for policy to change, and we can be certain that few people think students should pay more for their studies.

This got me thinking about the motive for change, and why it might be that we need the financial imperative, shouldn’t the desire to make things better be enough? Or perhaps it is the ‘wicked’ nature of these sort of cross institutional issues that makes it hard for local teams to feel resourced or enabled to own or tackle the sorts of things they witness, or to implement the changes they would like to see. However one of the great strengths of the sector is the spirit of co-operation that runs through it, and I hope that through the work of the AUA, and other collective associations we can continue to learn from each other to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the professional services we provide, and hopefully ensure that no one meets this grizzly fate!

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