...the home of experts

The home of experts in higher education and beyond

Our consultants have senior-level expertise in sectors that operate for the public good.

We work with non-profits and for-profits including universities, schools, charities, the NHS and arts/cultural organisations.

These institutions are educating our future leaders, providing a platform for talented artists and transforming lives.

But transformation has its challenges.

And that's where Halpin comes in.

Let's get started.

Latest news

Higher Education governance in a time of crisis

May 29, 2020

Our universities are making critical decisions within an uncertain and changing environment. And just at the very moment when things got tough, the normal ways of working were taken away.

Like all of us, governing bodies had to adapt to remote working at short notice. Yet their role to hold the University’s senior leadership team to account is not diminished; if anything, it is just the opposite. So how are they coping? What have they had to change?

To help the sector understand the impact of Covid-19 on governance practice and to give reassurance to universities that they were not alone in overcoming these new challenges, we captured feedback from 39 institutions via a short online survey.

Download the full report here.

Our findings are summarised as follows:

• Almost one-third of the universities that responded did not have contingency plans in place to manage governance in a crisis. In contrast, just over 50% had some back-up plans prepared and 15% had everything in place.

• There are three key activities that governing bodies have used to manage the crisis. These include an increase in the time working together in meetings (either additional committee or Board meetings), pausing some activities to focus on essential business, and the delegation of work elsewhere, such as through Task and Finish groups.

• The crisis has highlighted areas for improvement in governance practice. After all, when responsiveness and focus is needed, it can quickly become apparent if the fundamentals of good practice are not already in place. Over 80% of universities that responded believed that shorter agendas would help them to be more effective, and 42% said they would welcome shorter meeting papers. Furthermore, effectiveness is impacted by culture and behaviours too; 26% admitted that having stronger existing relationships between the governing body and senior leadership team would bring improved outcomes.

• The crisis has also forced changes to governance instruments. In some cases, this includes changing the Standing Orders to allow for virtual meetings and remote voting. For 25% of responding universities, it included changes to the delegation schedule, which can help to increase scrutiny and agility in decision-making.

• Overall, we found the sector is being highly resilient in managing its governance work, with most core activities such as board recruitment, training, effectiveness reviews and strategy development going ahead as usual. Most likely to be delayed for the longest period is board training. Strategy development is the second most likely to be paused, but not for long; the majority who have delayed on this are planning to start again within 3 months. Managing this balance of short-term focus and the longer-term governance needs is not easy, but most recognised that delaying this type of activity for significant periods is likely to cause additional challenges in the future.

• Finally, it looks like online governance meetings are here to stay. Not surprisingly, almost all the universities that responded are using video-conferencing for committee meetings and 87% are using it for Board meetings. More interesting is that 42% of them now plan to build in virtual meetings into their governance calendar, of which 16% will have full governing body meetings held online. Whilst 55% expect to still run most meetings in person, they will now be more open to members joining remotely.

Rachel Killian is a Senior Consultant for Halpin, the home of experts

Where we find kind - kindness resources

May 21, 2020

During the course of Susie Hills' research into kindness, particularly in a leadership context, she has found these resources a particular source of inspiration. Here we list the books, articles, websites and TED Talks that have infomred Susie's thinking along the way.

Books

Matt Dean, “The Soft Stuff: Reclaiming kindness for the world of work

Thupen Jinpa, “A Fearless Heart: Why Compassion is the Key to Greater Wellbeing

Amy Edmondson, “The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety in the workplace

Stefan Klein, “The Survival of the nicest: How altruism made us human and why it pays to get along"

David R Hamilton, “The Five Side Effects of Kindness

Kim Scott, “Radical Candor

Gill Hasson: “Kindness: Change your life and make the world a kinder place

Jamil Zaki: “The War for Kindness, Building empathy in a fractured world

Haskins, Thomas and Johri: “Kindness in Leadership

Rhonda Sciortino, “The Kindness Quotient

Lizzie Velasquez, “Dare to be kind

Articles

https://hbr.org/2016/03/the-most-important-leadership-competencies-according-to-leaders-around-the-world?utm_campaign=hbr&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

https://www.harvardbusiness.org/kindness-counts-in-leadership/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2018/10/24/how-purposeful-kindness-can-make-you-a-better-leader/amp/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/pieces-mind/201712/the-importance-kindness

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-heart-and-science-of-kindness-2019041816447

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/apr/01/the-cult-of-being-kind

Websites

https://www.sussex.ac.uk/research/centres/kindness/kindness-on-campus

https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-quotes

https://12kindsofkindness.com

https://kindness.womenofthefuture.co.uk

http://www.kindnessuk.com

TED Talks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn9VxUPlC5g&list=PLUvcUDePYwUdNvHxFvJZHecqWhrV23Z8I

Philanthropy and a Covid-19 Rich List

May 18, 2020

As someone who has spent a working lifetime involved in philanthropy, opening the Sunday Times Rich List magazine has always been both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating to learn about potential donors, frustrating to read how few were giving big gifts. So much wealth and yet relatively little philanthropy. A show of great philanthropy by people giving significant %s of their wealth, and some simply avoiding paying their taxes.

I have read so many Rich Lists over the years and they are all pretty much the same... a few interesting new entrants, a few new business successes, some interesting 'rags to riches' stories, a few family dynasties and a small number of philanthropists leading the way.

Today it has all changed. Reading the recently published Sunday Times Rich List 2020 feels extraordinary. So many fortunes changing so quickly and so much reputational damage for the super-rich. And a very different editorial tone from the Sunday Times. Some choice quotes:

“Why were so many British businesses brought to the brink of collapse after only a few weeks of lockdown? Why were some of these proudly “self-made” tycoons so quick to beg for a bailout from the tax payer?”

“The coronavirus pandemic has starkly exposed who among the super-rich are sitting on rock solid wealth and whose fortunes are more ephemeral.”

“Demanding a bailout from the taxpayer suggests that multimillionaires see their wealth as impregnable; they may not recognise their responsibility to shore up their defences to cope with the storms that will inevitably come, and hope to carry on buying super yachts, mansions and Maseratis.”

"While it is hard to deny that some of the 0.01% have exposed themselves as self important and out of touch during this pandemic, other Rich Listers have behaved very differently."

So what should those working in philanthropy take from this year's Rich List?

Here are my four thoughts...

  1. The pandemic effect on the super rich is variable - it depends what form their wealth takes. Those whose wealth is exposed to the stock markets are going to be feeling the most pain and may reduce their philanthropy. Note Caudwell's comment on page 6, "We expected Caudwell Children, which offers support to children with conditions that NHS often struggles to treat, to raise £7-8m this year. Now it will get almost nothing."

  2. The attitude of the public to the wealthy is changing and reputational risk for the wealthy is higher. Being seen to seek government bailouts when you are super wealthy (Victoria Beckham) or not paying your share of tax (Richard Branson) will earn you swift condemnation. The wealthy are going to be feeling under more scrutiny for their business transactions and tax affairs than ever before. Does this mean they will turn to philanthropy to enhance their reputations?

  3. Whilst philanthropy is a good way for the rich to enhance their reputations, there is increasing reputational risks for institutions taking gifts. Is it ok to take a gift from a wealthy individual who has been criticised for not paying their taxes? It's time to dust off your gift acceptance and ethics policies and increase your due diligence activity.

  4. Some rich listers have stepped into the philanthropic limelight with extraordinary gifts - Steve Morgan of Redrow, David and Heather Stevens (Admiral) are highlighted, but the giving list (tucked at the back of the magazine) is mostly the usual suspects. Will those giving now in response to Covid19 become long term philanthropists and will we start to see their names on the giving list regularly giving a significant % of their wealth away?

Fundraisers.... this is your challenge.

Fundraising - good enough to cut?

May 14, 2020

The CASE-Ross survey is out. As in most other years, it shows an increase in the amount being pledged (over 20% increase on last year), and increased cash-in. As a whole, the sector raised £1.3bn, the highest amount ever. That’s a total to be proud of, and it shows that fundraising in the sector is becoming ever more mature and important.

However, that snapshot also feels a little like a survey taken in 1913, or 1938. The world of 2020 onwards now looks extremely different. Not because people will stop giving – many universities have seen a significant increase in fundraising activity. It has been a real success on many measures, not just the money secured for Covid-related projects. Fundraising has also provided a huge morale-boost to universities; fundraisers have jumped in and helped in areas like student recruitment; there has been a huge promotion of the importance of higher education through fundraising activity.

Yes, fundraising feels like it has taken the bull by the horns, got out there and proved its worth to the University. Perhaps it has become so important that it now needs to face cuts like every other area of the University. Does that feel like an odd sentence to read?

Cuts are coming

Nobody knows what will happen this Autumn to University recruitment. There are lots of guesses and analysis, but all Universities can do is to plan for a number of scenarios. At one end, the scenario that no international students will come, and there is a drop in domestic students, to the other end where students are on campus and things are more or less stable.

However, universities can’t wait to see which of those scenarios play out. They have to make moves to protect cash-flow and income, so that if the worst happens then they can survive. So cuts are coming, and if you are the Director of Development, then you will be asked to make savings. Should you try to hold out and get your area spared?

Last ditch defence

Cuts in higher education are not new, and the normal behaviour for everyone is to defend their own areas as vigorously as possible. You’ve probably done this before, I certainly have. Here are the key reasons why you shouldn’t cut fundraising:

  1. The Return on Investment is higher than anywhere else in the institution. Who else can give you four, five or even ten to one?
  2. Development generates income.
  3. Development deals with influential people who need to see that the University is serious about this area
  4. Development plays a key role in promoting reputation, including with alumni who can influence recruitment.

All these arguments are potentially true. But let’s be clear – if a cut doesn’t come from your area, it will fall more heavily somewhere else. This is, right now, a zero-sum game with a finite amount of pie to share out.

Show that you see the bigger picture

There has never, literally never, been a more difficult time to be a leader in higher education. You have to make decisions with a very limited amount of information and piles of conflicting advice. The future of a great institution is in your hands. Famous names across the country are likely to fold – theatres and other arts venues, commercial and not-for-profit organisations etc. You are doing your best to ensure your institution isn’t one of them.

The key drivers for university finances are student recruitment and research, and the commercial income that follows because of those two areas. That’s what leaders will be most concerned with right now.

The easiest and fastest way to get to the savings Universities need to make immediately is to ask everyone to take the same cut. This will probably fall on both academic and professional services. There really isn’t time to slice and dice on this.

So, instead of objecting, even if everyone around you does, I recommend that you accept the situation quickly, and implement it in a way that does as little damage as possible to your ability to raise money. Be clear on what you can and cannot do, but show that you understand what is needed, and that you have preserved what the University really needs at this point. Focus on those activities that have the best ROI, make sure you can still do as much major gift fundraising as possible. Make sure you are able to react quickly. Take some tough decisions on beloved events and mailings. Do reunions more cheaply and be innovative with online activity. Let inventiveness replace cost wherever you can.

This really is the time not to ask what the University can do for Development, but instead what Development can do for its institution. It is there to serve, and there was never a more important time to do so.

So what’s next?

Run those amazing campaigns on a shoestring, have those entrepreneurial ideas that Development is so good at, connect people across the campus who are doing amazing work, and be a source of inspiration for those who need hope. Development is brilliant at optimism in the face of adversity. Spread that around.

And take the medicine that everyone has to swallow in the best way that you can. Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario, and you can rebuild faster knowing that you did your bit when required.

If we can all do that, perhaps we will come out the other side of this with a better, stronger institution than the one that went into it.

Interview: Why HE governance has lessons to learn from the FE Sector

May 07, 2020

Craig Williams has two governance roles; he is Clerk to the Board of Governors and Company Secretary at Leeds Trinity University and Governance Adviser and Clerk to the Corporation at Leeds College of Building. He also sits on the Board of the White Rose Academy Trust. Having experience of both higher education and further education sectors gives him an intriguing perspective on practices in each. Our Senior Consultant Rachel Killian caught up with him to learn more:

What are the key similarities and differences between governance in the FE and HE sectors?

The principles of governance are very similar, though nuanced to the respective environments. For example, there is a fundamental difference in operations because of the clients that each serve and the purpose of each sector. FE has a wide spectrum of learners studying at many different levels and settings, from sub level 2 pre-16 students, apprenticeships at all levels, adults with a previously poor experience of education through those studying for a degree in an FE setting. The curriculum is usually more focused on vocational learning too. As a result, FE governors are often closer to the student experience and employer partnerships.

On the other hand, whilst HE governors share the FE focus on funding and quality, they also have more of a responsibility to oversee research in HE. Increasingly they too are more involved with the product of teaching and learning, student experience and associated issues such as widening participation.

How do each manage risk?

They are very similar in how they manage the risk register and monitor the strategic or high risks. They share the focus on the Prevent agenda, though FE has always had an additional agenda of safeguarding because of having under-18 learners. So FE governors are more likely to have an Enhanced DBS check, for example. FE has also had to sharpen its attention to fiscal risk, because it’s had to manage a material cut in funding over a number of years. Funding pressures is an issue that HE is going through and will continue to face.

To what extent do the two sectors take a different approach to student and staff stakeholder involvement? It’s equally important in each to have staff and student reps on the Board. Not all FE colleges have a Student Union as a stand-alone business, so whereas HE use this as a route to identify student reps, some FE colleges have to do this through different routes. In both cases, new staff and student members need support. It can take up to 18 months for any governor to settle into the role and be effective, so using a mentor or buddy system is common in both sectors.

What do you think the FE sector does really well that the HE sector could usefully adopt?

It’s looking like the HE sector may be heading through a similar funding crisis that FE has already been through (see Jim Dickinson’s recent Wonkhe article on whether universities are ‘too big to fail’). So some of the focus of FE governance will be more relevant to HE now than ever, such as operating on very limited resources and managing the quality agenda and regulatory requirements.

Historically, FE has also been more proactive in bringing governance closer to the student experience. FE governors tend to do more ‘walking the floor’, meeting with a wide range of staff and students to make sure they have a full picture of the College and its services, and what the learning experience is really like. It means that decision making can be better informed.

And what about the other way around? What does HE do really well that the FE sector might learn from?

Universities seem to have greater expectations of their governors. The quality of reporting is arguably better and the scrutiny of executive reports or proposals is very good - and wholly appropriate. The ability of some HE governors to analyse masses of data and information and to pinpoint the core issue can be impressive.

HE also have regular governance effectiveness reviews. There’s a value in having an external view on governance systems and processes, but the FE sector hasn’t had the same requirement or finances to invest in this level of scrutiny. Instead, FE has a more established process of internal performance reviews for the Board, Chair and members.

Finally, what are the challenges that Clerks face?

No matter where you are, the role is about enabling effective and legitimate governance. The difference is how you go about it. In both FE and HE, the main issue is to develop good relationships with the Chair and the Vice-Chancellor/Principal, and to be available and responsive to them and the Board members. Of course there are differences between regulatory environments and ensuring best practice is delivered in both places, but those relationships are the key.

Reinventing international higher education

May 05, 2020

Halpin Fellow Dr. Vicky Lewis joined the annual International Higher Education Forum (IHEF) in March and April, which was delivered online due to Covid-19 restrictions. In this blog, she shares the key themes that emerged from the conference:

It’s clear that international higher education needs to reinvent itself for the post-Covid era, but where does the sector begin? There were three prominent areas at the IHEF worth highlighting for further debate:

1. The Greening of International Strategies

Ailsa Lamont (Founder, Pomegranate Global) observed that international higher education is, in a way, a fossil fuel industry. Just one return flight between Beijing and London emits 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Not surprising then that ETH Zurich calculated that international travel accounts for 50% of their university’s emissions. The international education business model that we all know is primarily to fly around the world and encourage others to do so. There is a fixation on mobility.

The climate emergency was already prompting HEIs to challenge this model and the Covid-19 crisis is now providing an opportunity to press the reset button. It is highlighting less carbon-heavy ways of working: remote student recruitment, virtual meetings, online conferences and alternative ways of teaching and learning.

So, what scale of staff and student mobility is acceptable in a carbon-constrained world? It would be counter-productive to cut back completely, as our universities are inherently international institutions, but it is still important to challenge ourselves to achieve some of the same outcomes via alternative means.

Although institutional leadership and commitment to this are essential, International Officers are well-placed to play an advocacy role and work hand-in-hand with Sustainability Officers.

2. The Mainstreaming of Transnational Education

Janet Ilieva (Founder, Education Insight) had been commissioned by UUK International to analyse patterns of global mobility between 2010 and 2017 and to suggest what this might mean for the future.

She found a distinction between global mobility and in-region mobility. As more countries become international education hubs, there is a growing trend towards regional mobility. So more than half of mobile students now stay within their region. The Covid-19 crisis is likely to accelerate this, with many students staying closer to home. Where students do study elsewhere, they may prefer to do so for shorter periods. And there will be a greater emphasis on both flexible study options (not being locked into a single location for the whole course) and affordability.

This means that universities wanting to engage with this growing group of students need to be active in their preferred location, developing transnational education partnerships with local institutions. Ilieva argued that this could be the start of TNE ‘going mainstream’, with particular emphasis on collaborative relationships leading to dual, joint or multiple degrees.

Elsewhere in the conference, Professor Jenny Lee (University of Arizona) observed that TNE has traditionally been the ‘little sister’ within international higher education, but she agreed that now is the time to realise its vast potential.

She argued that reliance on physical mobility is the biggest risk that universities have taken, not least because it focuses too much on a very narrow group of mobile students. There is a strong case for TNE as a mechanism for helping to build capacity in countries with expanding populations where HE can’t currently meet demand. The importance of genuine partnership (stripped of any neo-colonialist connotations) was also stressed.

3. Prioritising Supportive International Relationships

The importance of partners having well-aligned agendas, underpinned by shared values and missions, was highlighted by Professor Catherine Montgomery (Durham University). She urged those responsible for TNE operations to consider local communities and engage fully with them, so that it results in robust region-to-region relationships rather than being limited to institutions alone.

Professor Anton Muscatelli (University of Glasgow) suggested that the quality of an institution’s global relationships will be an important factor in its post-Covid recovery. And Ajit Rangnekar (Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad) noted that no country is capable of managing a crisis like Covid-19 by itself. Global collaboration is essential, not least to provide a much larger pool of talent to tackle the challenges it brings. He argued that Covid-19 has brought an opportunity to truly democratise higher education.

Conclusion

There was a broad consensus that, despite the dire predictions of the impact on higher education of the current crisis (and associated global recession), there are some opportunities too.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis will broaden what universities can offer and allow them to reach a wider pool of students via online and blended learning. Developments such as climate action, new TNE models and stronger global collaboration, which were already gaining momentum before the pandemic struck, are likely to accelerate. Covid-19 has provided a trigger for progress that might otherwise have taken decades.

Unfortunately, not every institution will be able to take advantage of these opportunities. Some will be so caught up in immediate challenges or hampered by financial limitations, that they will find it difficult to step back and plan for the longer term. However, those that succeed in taking a long view will be in the best place to reinvent themselves for a world where - in the words of Professor Shearer West from the University of Nottingham - global fluency and connections will be more important than ever.

Can governance still be effective from a distance?

Apr 03, 2020

In these challenging times, the need for good governance practice is more essential than ever. Yet, under current Covid-19 restrictions, University Councils can’t meet in person for their Board meetings.

We have found that our clients are instead holding their Board meetings virtually, many for the first time. Though currently a necessity for public health reasons, there are other advantages too:

  • It reduces travel costs and saves on travel time.

  • Many platforms enable the meeting to be recorded, giving absent members an easy way to catch-up on the discussions they missed.

  • Having a more flexible option of attending Board meetings could increase the diversity of members over time, making the role more accessible to people who have to manage childcare or other commitments.

However, there is also a significant danger that governance effectiveness itself is put at risk. Without careful management, a remote meeting will have lower levels of engagement, an inadequate level of debate or challenge and ultimately, ineffectual decision making.

So, how do you ensure that your Board meeting maintains its high levels of effectiveness? Our Consulting Fellow Will Spinks believes that for any large virtual meeting, it is all about 'preparation, discipline of execution and good chairing'. Here are our top ten tips for an effective meeting:

  1. Distribute the papers well in advance and ensure they are appropriately labelled and accessible. These should include copies of any visual aids that will be used in the meeting.
  2. The agenda should be clear, with priority and confidential items identified, preferably with timings attached to each.
  3. Ask members to let the Chair know in advance if they are particularly keen to contribute to the discussion of an agenda item; this isn’t to preclude any spontaneous contribution, but it should help the Chair to plan and manage the discussion.
  4. If the video platform allows, make use of the ‘chat’ function. Members can flag any technical problems, request clarifications and make the Chair aware that they want to contribute (see below).
  5. Video conferencing simply doesn’t work when more than one person is speaking at a time. So share the protocols for the meeting with members in advance; for example, rather than trying to ‘jump in’, if someone wants to speak, they should give a physical wave, or use the Chat function to alert the Chair.
  6. If there is a presentation, then the Chair should introduce the item and the speaker, before the speaker presents without interruption.
  7. At the end of the presentation, the Chair should make a list of those members who would like to ask a question, before inviting them to contribute in turn. The Chair then needs to ensure there is sufficient opportunity for responses or additional contributions.
  8. If a decision is being made, then the Chair should ask for a physical sign of agreement; a raising of hands is likely to be the fastest and clearest signal.
  9. At the end of each item, the Chair needs to take care to sum up the discussion and any decisions.
  10. Take some time at the end of the meeting – either on the same platform or by following up with a call or email – to ask for feedback on the meeting itself. What went well? What needs improvement for next time?

There are also some practical things you can do to ensure that the meeting goes well:

  • Do a technology test in advance, especially for new users.
  • Have someone on hand to help identify and deal with any technology or functionality issues during the meeting.
  • Ask participants to keep their microphone on ‘mute’ when they aren’t contributing. This helps to ensure the meeting isn’t distracted by dogs, phones, doorbells, children or sneezing!
  • Plan in regular ‘comfort’ breaks. We’d recommend at least 15-minute break every 1.5 hours. And encourage socialising in the breaks for those people still online – we are all still human, after all.

Interview: Risk & Student Experience with Shakira Martin

Apr 02, 2020

Shakira Martin is Head of Student Experience at Rose Bruford College. Before that, she was President of the National Union of Students UK. She’s also a Consulting Fellow for Halpin and a member of our Advisory Group. A few weeks ago Olivia Dunn caught up with her to ask her about risks within student experience. Here’s what she had to say:

What are the risks to a university if you get the student experience wrong?

The risks to getting student experience wrong are around student retention – it’s that progression route for students to be able to continue and potentially progress into the next thing that they want to do.

Also, reputation is a risk. We talk about the power of education and how it transforms life, but if a student’s experience is one that is negative/unhelpful, it can change the way that they view education for the rest of their life. It's not just about getting students in, but also about getting them on, and that means giving students the support that they need to reach their full potential. Student experience support may vary from institution to institution, and from student to student - but a safe and comfortable environment and community with resources and support is really important.

What risks are students most concerned about?

Pound in the pocket. This was a key priority for me during my time at NUS and it’s still a priority for me now I’m at Rose Bruford. Money is a barrier to students accessing and continuing education. There are students who can't afford to eat or whose circumstances have changed - or they need mental health and wellbeing provision. The debate around value for money is important - are we getting what we expect for our £9,250?

What are the risks around increasing student expectations?

Increasing student expectations is a positive thing, but there’s a risk if it’s done in isolation without allowing students to be a part of creating what their expectations look like. If a commitment to student experience is only done from the top, rather than co-created with students, staff and management, then there are going to be hiccups along the line.

We may work in the education sector, but we are not living the life of a student so it's really important to put your ear to the ground and develop a tangible framework that everyone can believe in and benefit from.

What are the risks if you don't invest in student experience, and what impact does that have on equality, diversity and inclusion?

We need to be honest and say that in the current social and political climate there is a huge number of students with complex mental health needs. Institutions are picking up on issues at crisis point when problems are already manifested, with multiple issues and layers on top of that.

There needs to be a proactive commitment from people at the top in order to support students in this area, and it's going to require investment. We know that access and widening participation is a priority for OfS and that having students with multiple issues and needs is going to be at the cost of the institution.

But if we are serious about widening the pool of students that go to university, eliminating the attainment gap and increasing the number of disabled students (whether that's neuro-diverse or physically diverse), that investment needs to be there. Without that commitment and a ringfenced budget it's just another barrier to students. They may get in, but they won't get on and get out.

That means making tough decisions at the beginning, to avoid future issues that would cost the institution money anyway. Instead of being reactive, let’s put the money in up front and nip problems in the bud at the start.

Students aren't a homogenous group, so how can we understand a diverse group’s expectations and needs?

My line is “listen, learn and lead”. So, first, put your ear to the ground and hear people's voices. BAME/black students aren't one harmonious group, so one focus group isn't going to be representative. We need wider consultations with different groups and organisations within a sector - whether that's charity, school, colleges, community groups – carry out focus groups with different equality groups in different areas. You have to dig deeper to get a true understanding and to build a strategy that will be effective, efficient and relevant to those who need it.

At times there are 'sexy' diversity buzzwords or themes that are mentioned at conferences or by sector bodies. They’re easy to talk about, but is it lip service or are we serious about it? Institutions need to reflect on the integrity of where they are coming from, because if it's a truly commitment then they need to back it up with the resources and money to do it.

What aspects of the student experience are most at risk in your view?

Student support and student services. It’s clear and I've felt it being in an institution - students are coming in with more complex needs. But these may be the students that allow us to reach other targets in other areas of our participation plan.

The stretch on institutions as a whole to be teachers, social workers, mediators and counsellors etc. because of the complexity that students are coming with is very challenging. This is not only because of money and funding but also because of the burden that it has on staff – it’s not that staff don't want to help students, but their teaching roles are different to pastoral ones, and at the moment they are expected to support students with MH and wellbeing because it's presenting in their lessons.

It all comes back to money. We talk about the poverty premium - we have to be honest and realistic and acknowledge that a student with multiple learning needs/experiences/challenges is going to come with a cost. But that investment is worth it if you are breaking the cycle of deprivation.

It's a university's civic duty to empower people to become better citizens. That means we must support those who are worse off or have complex challenges and do so proudly. But money doesn’t grow on trees, so there has to be a louder conversation with the government around prioritising funding for mental health, wellbeing and student services.

These conversations are happening, but we need continuity – and we don’t get that when university ministers with different visions (and often no expertise/knowledge/passion for education) are swapped in and out on a regular basis. It has a domino effect and it’s disrespectful to the sector. Lack of continuity at a governmental level makes progress slow. Every time a new minister arrives we have to amend and change our strategic plans accordingly - and this causes huge issues and delays on the ground.

What role do students’ unions play in enhancing student experience and what risks are they facing?

Students’ Unions are crucial to the student experience and representation because they are the ones that are living the experience of being a student. They know what it's like on the ground and how politics etc effects their learning experience. NUS has been saying it for years, but we need to have support officers within Students Unions. At Rose Bruford for example, because of the specialist nature of the college the learning and contact hours are a lot. Students may not want to take a year out of their acting career to become a student officer. But the risk is that students’ unions are not being respected and valued as much as they should be. They should be seen as a stick rather than a carrot. I would rather have my students’ union tell me what's wrong about my institution than be told by a rival/competitor.

When it comes to smaller institutions, what are the particular challenges and risks/opportunities?

I will always love and champion FE and I'll always stand up for it, but being in a smaller specialist institution I have learned that because FE is underfunded and undervalued, we don't have any scope to get it wrong. We don't have that breathing space and I don't think the regulators understand that – we are being judged against huge institutions. There's something about parity of respect, resources and capacity there, for me. But we aren't deterred - our leadership is gutsy, and we're committed to diversifying the industry and widening the demographic of students going into the arts.

And your final thoughts on student experience?

Student experience mustn’t be taken lightly. It's make or break for students. It's the difference between them finishing their course, or not. Bouncing the term ‘student expectations’ around is great, but if it’s just lip service and we get it wrong then we can directly or indirectly affect people's lives. It's personal, and it's really important to me.

Shakira Martin is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

10 things HE marketeers can do from home

Mar 31, 2020

There’s a huge amount of uncertainty in the sector right now. At this time of year, marketing and recruitment teams would usually be focused on lead generation campaigns, converting applicants, running advertising campaigns and planning open days, balancing the needs of both 2020 and 2021 intakes at the same time.

Much of this isn’t possible or relevant at the moment. We don’t know if university campuses will be open in the autumn and what alternatives will be available if they are not. Marketing teams are all working from home and many of you will be juggling childcare or home-schooling older children alongside your work commitments.

So, whilst we don’t expect there is much ‘spare time’ available, we do hope that there is some extra ‘space’ for thinking about things slightly differently. So we’ve got 10 things that you can do at home that will deliver some positive impact both now and in the future.

  1. Tidy up your data and files. Delete what isn’t useful, identify what’s missing and spend some time doing analysis on the data you’ve not had headspace to think about. Share any findings – big or small - with your team.
  2. Ask your applicants how they are doing. The current Year 13s have had a rough time; they were the first to take the ‘new’ GCSEs in every subject and now they’ve had their A-level exams cancelled, bringing lots of uncertainty about their futures. They don’t need a grand gesture from you, but they do need to know you understand their worries and are listening to them.
  3. Have a conversation with a mentor. Having time away from the usual office environment is a great time to reflect on you, your career and your purpose. Schedule a video conference or phone call with your mentor, put the kettle on and take some time to regroup. If you don’t have a mentor, take some steps to find one.
  4. Research your competition. Find some examples of marketing that you admire and ask your team to do the same. Drop them all into a shared folder and schedule a team discussion to use these to brainstorm your own ideas.
  5. Talking of your team, do something kind for them. Send them a positive message, buy them a book or a jigsaw puzzle to be delivered, or just say thank you.
  6. Organise a ‘fix-it’ day. Together with the team, identify the annoying blockages which prevent you from working as well as you might. It could be a lack of brand templates, unclear processes or untidy shared folders. Once the key ones are identified, everybody takes responsibility for unpicking the problem, finding a solution and reporting back once it is fixed.
  7. Read a book. Or a journal article, or some of those documents that are in the ‘to read later’ folder. Find something that helps you to see your work in a new light, gives you a different perspective on marketing theory or will generate some new ideas for marketing practice.
  8. Check in with your colleagues. Sometimes all people need is a ‘How are you? What can I do to help you?’
  9. Make some new connections with your students. Find those that are active on social media that you haven’t yet met and say hello. Tell them what you like about what they are doing and ask for feedback on your activity too.
  10. Finally, learn about your own institution. It’s too easy to assume you know everything about your own university, but take some time to read biographies of your academic faculty or their research. Dig into some of the teaching materials, take one of your own online classes or browse the online library shelves for inspiration.

And finally, be kind to yourself. We all need time to adjust and it’s ok to be finding this difficult. And of course, if we can help with any of the above, you can always contact us.

Remote working support

Mar 19, 2020

A number of our clients have asked us about the best way to approach remote working. For many employees, this is the first time they have worked from home, and circumstances mean people will appreciate guidance and reassurance.

Active remote management at this time will be absolutely key for keeping people engaged and healthy, mentally and physically. We are happy to speak further about managing remote teams.

Here are some tips for video conferences or conference calls.

  • For big meetings run a test call to ensure kit is working.
  • Ensure everyone has dial in/login info in the diary invites.
  • Remind them of this info an hour before the meeting.
  • Set a timed agenda for long meetings.
  • Put the agenda in the diary invite.
  • Ask everyone to ‘arrive’ 5 mins before the start – otherwise you will lose 5 minutes while people get logged in, sort out camera, unmute etc.
  • Get everyone to say hello at the start so you know you can hear them.
  • If they have background noise, ask them to mute when they are not talking.
  • BUT, otherwise make sure people stay off mute. People are more engaged when they are not muted.
  • If video calls start lagging, get people to turn off their cameras and/or stop sharing screens.
  • Remind people to look into their cameras while speaking otherwise they are not making eye contact.
  • Treat it exactly like an in-person meeting - no one should be working on other things, checking their phone, trying to take care of a child/dog etc.
  • Have an assigned chair and notetaker before the meeting.
  • Remind people of the objectives and agenda for the meeting at the start.
  • Sum up actions at the end.
  • Papers should be shared beforehand and can be viewed on shared screens to guide discussion.
  • Preparation beforehand improves discussion.
  • If a large group is meeting then a a webinar format might be best – this will enable people to present info and for participants to post questions etc.
  • It’s not just about big formal meetings. 1-1s can be delivered remotely too and will need to be. You can use phone or video conferencing.
  • Experiment with informal remote get-togethers now. Halpin opens an online room at 11am each day for colleagues to drop in for a chat over a cuppa. We’re also planning a ‘drinks after work’ event!
  • Internal comms is really important, so if you don’t yet have a platform such as Slack then now might be the time to get one.
  • If you’re transitioning to remote working you ideally need to have a tech go-to person to trouble shoot. Have some written guides to getting set up.

If you come across other approaches that work for you then incorporate them, and please let us know. The next few months will be an enormous learning curve for all organisations, and we would like to ensure that we learn alongside you.

All good wishes for the coming months, from Shaun and Susie and all at Halpin.

Here’s Halpin’s Head of Marketing & Communications Olivia Dunn on some of the risks of remote working, and how to counter them.

Risks of remote working

At Halpin, remote working is standard practice, which is reassuring to our clients - especially right now given the news.

I’m a big fan of remote working – it gives me tremendous flexibility, I don’t waste time commuting and there’s no doubt I am more present for my daughter. But continuing on Halpin’s theme of risk, there are naturally some risks to remote working too, and I’m sharing a few here, along with some suggested ways to mitigate them.

Technology

Things can go wrong with technology, and they often do. Whether it’s your hardware, your software or your wifi, a last-minute panic can be very stressful indeed. To combat this, always insist on a test call an hour before any important meeting. This is the best way to check your hardware is working well. Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter how robust your tech is, you are always at the mercy of those on the other end and their set-up.

If you know your wifi isn’t very reliable, delegate the hosting of the meeting to someone who has better wifi so that if you drop out the meeting can continue. Be clear in your instructions before the meeting, i.e. is it audio or will they need their webcam? Who is chairing? Is there a dial-in option for those without wifi? If your wifi is a bit under-par consider investing in boosters, a better hub or ethernet cables. It’s a wise investment for work and home use.

Space to work

If you can, identify a space which is dedicated for work, and make it as comfortable and effective as you can. If you are doing a video conference, make sure the backdrop that will appear behind you is appropriate for work. Invest in a good desk and good chair and make sure your set-up is as ergonomically sound as it would be in a normal office. Consider an extra screen if you use a laptop so you are not looking down all the time, and get a good webcam if you are going to do video conferencing.

Never switching off

A big risk of remote working is that it’s very hard to establish boundaries between work and life. Everyone has different tactics for this, but I find that closing my office door helps as a physical barrier to getting sucked back in. Admittedly I am not so good at turning off phone notifications - and while there is no expectation for me to do so I find it too tempting to reply to emails or check work updates when I am also cooking dinner – perhaps I should shut my phone away too!

Interruption

Whether it’s a postie, a child, a dog or a neighbour with a hedge-trimmer, Murphy’s Law dictates that they will simultaneously leap into action the minute you’re on an important webinar. While you may not be able to stop this, you certainly need to know where your mute button is. Consider putting a note on your front door asking visitors not to knock. You can’t do much about external nose from neighbours, but if you know you have an important meeting coming up perhaps pop round and negotiate on timings with them – or find a nearby office to rent for an hour or so. And pet-sitters are your friend!

Loneliness

Working from home has its perks, but it has its cons too. One of the biggest disadvantages is the lack of human connection. Many villages, towns and cities have shared office space where you can go and work alongside your fellow human beings. Some people set up working groups in their homes with friends and neighbours in a similar situation. Working from cafes is another great way to get out of the house. Whatever your solution, make yourself do it regularly. Also - a team may be able to communicate and function remotely, but the benefits of regular in-person meetings cannot be overstated – so don’t let face-to-face meetings disappear from the diary completely.

Communication

Humans rely on non-verbal signals to interpret intended meaning. Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language go a long way towards filling in the gaps. Don’t hide behind phone/audio - using a webcam might be an awkward experience to begin with, but you’ll get used to it. And if you don’t show your face/upper body language you are limiting your communication (but I should add that making accurate eye-contact on a video call is impossible!)

Rabbit holes

There will be days when you just can’t concentrate. While in an office you may go for a walk or have a yarn in the kitchen with someone, if you’re working remotely the temptation can be to slide down a social media/news rabbit hole, and before you know it the existential doom has crept in. If you find yourself doing this then stop, get up and do something completely different – away from your desk. A walk in the fresh air is a much better idea.

Change

While you may be up for remote working, your clients may need a little more reassurance. The success of your webinars relies as much upon their tech resources and skills as it does yours. They may be reluctant to carry out interactions remotely and instead insist on meeting you in person. There is a balance to be struck here between giving them what they want and reassuring them that remote meetings can work just as well (not to mention save them travel time and money and help them reduce their carbon emissions!). Now is a very good time to embrace remote working, even with the risks it may present – and sometimes all it takes is to highlight the benefits in order to change someone’s mind.

It’s inevitable that remote working is going to become more commonplace, and despite the risks outlined above we believe at Halpin that this is an excellent thing. As a company we are committed to offsetting our carbon usage and doing everything we can to look after our planet and take our responsibilities seriously. By conducting more of our business interactions online we’re saving our clients money, reducing our travel time and costs, increasing efficiency and building resilience.

At Halpin we love a chat over a cup of coffee – whether that’s virtually or in-person! If we can support you in any way as you navigate these choppy waters, drop us a line.

Halpin is the home of experts in higher education fundraising, governance, marketing and strategy.