news & articles

A developmental and provocative approach to HE and the arts: an analysis

Jun 18, 2019

The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, housed at the Barbican in London, is an extraordinary cauldron of invention. It teaches some of the finest young musicians and actors, has community partnerships across the whole of London, and promotes vigorous and highly creative collaborations with the Barbican Centre itself and its major resident company the London Symphony Orchestra.

Besides having a stellar faculty and excellent programs in opera, chamber music, orchestral studies and jazz, the school also extends its work into research and knowledge exchange illuminating the inter-relationships between repertoire for the 21st Century, the science and art of artistry, and performance practices. It also has a Masters pathway in leadership, the intention of which is to extend the boundaries of performance through improvisation, group composition, cross arts collaboration, creative workshops and international placements.

In 2017 the School opened the brand new Milton Court, a multi-million dollar building funded through a public/private partnership which includes a 600 seat concert hall, a 223 seat theatre, a studio theatre, and rehearsal space, all supported by state of the art technology. It is an astonishing development and one that has created a great deal of interest in the city.

Like all schools managing change and re-examining training and their place in the world, the Guildhall is a wonderfully rich mix of the conservative and the cutting edge. For over 30 years it has questioned the orthodoxy of arts training and provoked debate and analysis of the place of the arts in our contemporary world. This attitude has become part of the institution’s DNA, and informs its overall culture.

A key person responsible for this highly developmental approach to higher education is Peter Renshaw (in photo, left, with this writer), whom I first got to know in the early 1980s when he was Principal of the Yehudi Menuhin School in the U.K. He had arrived at the Menuhin School in 1975 having taught philosophy at the University of Leeds Institute of Education and the University of York. He trained as a violinist playing in the National Youth Orchestra and studying at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. But it was his desire to specialize in Philosophy of Education at the University of London and his Master of Philosophy thesis, “A Concept of a College of Education,” which heralded his critical and intellectual approach to every aspect of education and its place in society.

At the Menuhin School he changed the culture of training for purely “hot house” instrumentalists by redirecting that talent outward. He encouraged young musicians to interact with a wide swathe of the community, much of it underserved. In so doing, he set the stage for the students to broaden their roles, their responsibility, and understanding as musicians.

Peter moved to the Guildhall in 1984 where he continued to develop this line of thinking and finally retired in 2001 as Head of Research and Development. During his tenure and up to the present day, his teaching, research, and engagement touched the lives of many musicians. Indeed, many new leaders are carrying on his legacy, such as Helena Gaunt, who is now the Principal of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and Sean Gregory, Director of Creative Learning, Barbican and Guildhall.

But to say he has retired would be so misleading. Since 2001 he has continued his engagement with music training across Europe, writing provocative and stimulating papers, and generally making himself available to anyone and any organization demonstrating a move away from the status quo. At age 81 he is as young and vital in his thinking and firm beliefs as when I first met him all those years ago. He still asks the most difficult questions.

One of the most important and indeed provocative papers is Being in Tune: Seeking ways of addressing isolation and dislocation through engaging in the arts. Its intent is to encourage discussion and debate, to allow us the space, time and opportunity to ask challenging questions about the arts and our responsibilities to society so that we can “respond creatively to the massive changes taking place in society.” This “Provocation” is full of passion, energy, ideas, some frustration and just a smidge of righteous indignation. It also demonstrates an idealism about the power and transformative effects of the arts and how they could be used and developed in our society to a much greater degree than we imagine at the present, and about the place of conservatories in providing training and re-evaluating their priorities and assumptions. Daniel Barenboim is invoked with some of the keen questioning he has been posing: “Classical music is trapped in an ‘ivory tower’ that has become far too specialised — a specialised audience listening to specialized people play. Both have lost a great part of the connection between music and everything else.”

Renshaw calls for a new paradigm to address the key issues confronting learning and development in the arts. He seeks a model that will connect social and artistic imperatives, access and quality, context and excellence, creativity and risk taking, research and professional development. He envisions a paradigm that will create more interconnectedness for the arts in addressing the needs of our rapidly changing world. The paper contains some compelling examples successful interconnections based on this paradigm. They include Blue Boy Entertainment based in East London which trains young talent using dance, and Barbican Drum Works also working in East London with young people aged 11-23. Each of these projects demonstrates how the arts strengthen self-esteem and self-respect, and breaks down feelings of alienation and isolation. Renshaw feels strongly that conservatories do little to “prepare students and emerging artists for the wide-ranging demands of a work force that is far more differentiated than that of the past. Are the old tried-and-tested models of professional preparation sufficiently flexible and responsive to meet changing needs?” Renshaw invites us to reflect, question, analyse, debate, “to ensure that there is a synergy between the social and the artistic — a synergy that brings with it a sense of dynamism and a confidence in risk-taking.”

I found his paper demanding, provocative, and at times challenging to read. I wanted more context: an analysis of curricula, a study of music and arts in the state school system, research in changing demographics, the place of the major arts institutions, resource allocation. But I suppose such reports exist elsewhere and that’s where I should look. Essentially then, I responded to his concerns for our changing world and society, and the unique contribution that the arts could be making beyond the traditional and historical methods of delivery that we often unquestioningly leave in place. His reflective invitation is to join him for a conversation, open to questions and new thinking in a context of tolerance and intelligence. Who knows where that could take us, but it would be an enthralling conversation to have with this wise and fascinating intellect. And maybe it would help us all in Being In Tune with our world.

Tony Woodcock is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin `

How Will I Know (if my Development Director is doing a good job)?

Jun 18, 2019

For some reason, the words of the Whitney Houston track, “How Will I Know?” came to mind as I pondered the question, “How will I know if our new Director of Development is doing a good job?”

The institutional leader asking me this question had clearly ‘fallen in love’ with the idea of having a Director of Development and had been bowled over by the individual who was appointed. However, the reality of managing a fundraising professional had now become clear to this leader. This was new territory. The leader knew how to manage academic staff, knew what the performance indicators should look like, and knew exactly ‘what good looks like’ for a those who teach and do research. None of this applied to managing a fundraiser.

This leader had no points of reference and no way of knowing what realistic expectations should be. This leader was committed to the concept, but ignorant as to the reality. It felt like they were coaching a player in a sport they had never played.

The leader also asked, “What will the Director of Development need from me?”. They were acutely aware that success didn’t rest alone with the new Director of Development; the leader had a crucial role to play. This person knew what academic colleagues needed in terms of leadership and support, but yet again, was unclear as to what a fundraiser might need. The leader had never played this sport so had no idea what their role on the team was.

In the absence of clear expectations and under pressure to see a return on investment, there is a danger that the success of a new Director of Development will be measured in the wrong way. Either an unrealistic fundraising target will be set (too much in too short a period of time), or conversely, too long will be spent on ‘friend raising’ before the fundraising begins.

This situation is heightened when the Director of Development lacks experience and needs support to set the right goals for his or her work. Given the shortage of experienced fundraisers, a ‘bright young star’ or an experienced professional from another sector will tempt many institutions. This doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster, but it needs to be approached with caution and support for both the leader and the Director of Development in creating strategy, agreeing performance indicators, and setting targets - understanding the rules and developing shared 'tactics'.

And they cannot do it alone, in addition both the leader and the Director will need support from the board and senior leadership - fundraising is a team sport and its vital everyone understands those 'rules' and the role they have to play.

The magic formula would be to provide support to the institutional leader in the form of a fellow leader who has fundraised before, support for the Director of Development from an experienced fundraising professional and training for the board and senior leadership in fundraising. With all the 'players' briefed on the 'rules' and trained in the skills required then the 'game' can be won!

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin

Questions governors should be exploring - a digest.

Jun 14, 2019

Many university governing bodies and their committees will be meeting over the coming weeks for the final governance meetings of the 2018/19 academic year. The Augar review and Brexit will be key features of these meetings. For lay governors digesting the sheer volume of information available, understanding the implications for their particular institution and knowing what questions to ask will be key.

Here is a digest of some of the key questions governors should be asking and links to great sources of information on those topics.

What are the main implications of Augar?

Are we financially sustainable? Are we in too much debt?

Are our UK student number targets realistic?

Are our International student number targets realistic?

Is our marketing strategy right?

What is our position on unconditional offers?

Are we managing the expectations of our students?

Should we review our course offering?

Are we geared up for when student numbers rise?

Can we raise more money through fundraising?

Should we be doing more on alumni relations?

Are we doing enough on sustainability? Should we be declaring a climate emergency?

Is there more we can do with our local FE providers?

Are we doing enough to protect the wellbeing of our students?

Are we doing enough to retain our staff?

Are we offering value for money?

What are the implications of a no-deal Brexit?

What would the implications of a labour government be?

Are we doing enough to address equality and diversity issues?

Are we doing enough for our BAME students?

Do we need to review our governance?

What does our league table performance tell us about our institution?

How can we think longer term? How can we identify opportunities and risks?

Do we have a culture of review?

Are our remuneration policies robust?

Are we tackling pay gaps?

We hope this digest is helpful. The Halpin team is available to explore these questions and many more. We are known for our work with governing bodies and senior leadership to review areas of university activity and offer practical recommendations to step change performance and put in place best practice. This includes:

  • Governance
  • Strategy and performance
  • Staffing and structures
  • Equality and diversity
  • Marketing
  • Admissions
  • Fundraising
  • Alumni relations

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin.

Augar’s implications for international student recruitment

Jun 07, 2019

While awaiting the Augar review, UK universities have been busy modelling the potential impact of a reduction in the income they receive for each domestic undergraduate student they recruit – including worst case scenarios where none of that lost income is replaced. Of course, this also means identifying alternative income streams.

Now that the review has been published, HEIs have a little more detail (‘top up’ funding will be applied to high-delivery-cost/high ‘value’ degrees and will follow individual students from disadvantaged backgrounds), but – thanks to our current political turmoil – no more certainty about what will actually happen and which recommendations will actually be implemented.

So the planning for income diversification (which has long been business-as-usual for most UK HEIs) must continue.

The instinctive reaction for many universities when there is a threat to domestic fee income (whether triggered by a reduction in price, a demographic dip or some other factor) is to look to international student recruitment to ‘plug the gap’. There are no caps on numbers and no caps on fees to worry about.

But it’s important for leaders to take a step back and ask some searching questions rather than launch into a ‘knee-jerk’ international student recruitment drive.

Do we want to change the profile of the university?

Does having more international students fit with our mission? What do we want the future size, shape and profile of the institution to be – and how does a growth in international student numbers play into this? Since most international students study at postgraduate level and there tends to be concentration in certain subject areas, how will the balance of the institution be affected? And what are the implications for our subject portfolio, learning and teaching, research, student experience, even the wider community outside the university? Is that what we want? How can we prepare for it?

Is it a realistic ambition for us to recruit more international students?

Competition (within the UK sector and from other destination countries) is tougher than ever. Despite now having a government International Education Strategy with specific growth targets, UK HEIs are (at the time of writing) still battling a Home Office regime which drastically affects the country’s appeal. Do our institution and our key international programmes have a strong enough reputation to cut through that and demonstrate their value? Can we afford to invest in international profile-raising? Are there other options which are more realistic for us to achieve and might help to differentiate the institution? (Examples explicitly mentioned in the Augar review include accelerated degrees, multiple start dates, distance learning.)

What are our plans for students from the EU?

Augar anticipates a post-Brexit slump (at national level) in EU student numbers but suggests this will be compensated for by the demographic upturn in domestic 18 year olds from 2020 onwards. Is this reduction in EU students something our institution is just willing to accept? If not, what are we doing at institutional level to maintain or increase our EU student numbers? A recent survey by QS, reported on in The Guardian, shows they are concerned about the prospect of higher fees. Where does EU student recruitment fit within our overall internationalisation strategy? What specific measures can we take to reassure prospective EU students?

There are many more questions, I’m sure. The above three are a starting point for discussion.

As always, the key to success will be a holistic approach to international student recruitment, positioning it within a wider internationalisation strategy which, in turn, is an integral part of overarching institutional strategy; and a long-term view which values sustainability over a quick buck.

Dr Vicky Lewis is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin.

A balanced approach to portfolio reviews

Jun 06, 2019

We aren’t the only ones to notice the Augar Review’s attempt to redraw the lines over institutional autonomy. There is now an expectation that universities will no longer have complete freedom over their own portfolios, but instead be expected to focus on courses that create valuable outcomes. Given that much of the sector’s income is funded one way or another by taxpayers, this is probably inevitable.

However, it is the definition of ‘valuable outcomes’ where things become tricky, for three main reasons:

i) There are multiple outcomes for graduates that go way beyond financial return, including the development of higher-level skills and specialist knowledge, overall employability and increased career options. Some of these outcomes, such as the development of social and cultural capital or delivering meaningful work, are intangible and difficult to track and measure. And of course, outcomes aren’t limited to the graduates themselves; there are also other beneficiaries of higher education, including employers, the economy and wider society.

ii) There’s such variation between academic subjects – e.g. humanities vs sciences – that applying the same metrics and weightings to each is illogical and unhelpful. In the worst case, where this approach is used to make direct comparisons between different subjects, it becomes dangerous.

iii) The UK HE sector isn’t homogenous and so shouldn’t be measured as such. Whilst there is a lack of distinctiveness amongst many institutions, in general universities can operate in separate competitive environments, have different target markets and assorted purposes. So they each need customised metrics to fit their own mission, culture and strategy.

It’s quite possible that a significant number of universities will be prompted to review their UG and PG portfolios as a result of Augar. At the very least they will be mindful of the published recommendations; more likely, their portfolio review will be directly shaped by them. So it is even more important that such a project takes a balanced scorecard approach to measuring value; one that doesn’t rely on financial data alone, but that considers other measurements.

The most obvious metric to include alongside financial data is a market perspective, looking at market share and position, student feedback, NSS scores, brand awareness, league table performance and so on. These will reveal whether the university is offering courses that are attracting students and whether it understands what they need from their learning experience. However, this comes with a caveat; like financial data, most of these metrics look backwards; they are focused on the outcomes of past actions, rather than giving insight into the chances of future success.

So equally important are those that are leading indicators – those that can be used to predict future outcomes. They might include:

  • Internal process, which includes portfolio architecture (this includes the size and shape of the portfolio as well as course structures and delivery routes) and quality measures such as accreditation, teaching and research quality and capacity utilisation. This determines how you do something, alongside how well you do it.

  • People, including the level of stakeholder engagement and team knowledge and skills. There’s little point in planning a new course to meet employer or market need if you can’t attract or retain the academic talent to develop and lead on it.

By giving equal attention to market, process and people indicators, your portfolio review project will give you a complete – and more useful - view of the product performance.

If you are preparing for your institution’s future and would like a conversation about reviewing your portfolio, contact [email protected]

Augar inadvertently reveals HE’s failure in marketing on access and participation

Jun 05, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about the how the Augar Report has revealed the failure of marketing in universities.

Leading on from this, the second major example of marketing’s failure in our higher education system is contained within the section in Augar on “Access & Participation”, which notes that:

“Currently more than £1bn is spent annually on widening access and participation and supporting disadvantaged students.”

“We are surprised that there has been no overall assessment of the effectiveness of spend on different approaches to recruiting and supporting disadvantaged students.”

We are spending more than £1,000,000,000 pa on highly local campaigns run by individual universities, often with a focus on teenagers and with Access Agreements that are to be polite, thin on the ground when it comes to KPIs and real achievements.

The report then goes on to argue for the re-introduction of the £3,000 annual maintenance grant for disadvantaged students.

A good marketer would argue that £1bn is far too much, and far too late. If you want to persuade more of the disadvantaged to go on to further or higher education, you have to begin to change social attitudes much earlier, starting with parents before their children are even born.

In the same way that marketers have run social campaigns over decades making smoking and drink-driving socially unacceptable, so I propose a long-term communications campaign designed to make aspiration cool, and persuading parents to want more for their children than they ever achieved themselves.

Universities & FE Colleges find themselves fishing in small pools with their outreach activities. What we need to do is grow the pools into lakes. This will take time.

The irony within the Augar report is that there is so much emphasis on tuition fee pricing when the real issue that hinders disadvantaged students from applying is living costs. They really don’t have a problem with the tuition fee, recognising that it produces a level playing field, and will be written off if they can’t repay.

Their real problem is surviving at university when there’s no Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on. £3,000 is just about enough to keep them going for part of a term.

So, here’s a suggestion as to how to spend that £1bn and get some real momentum.

  • Give £35m every year to the Dept of Education to run a decade-long communications campaign using mostly social media to raise aspirations in parts of the country where they are stubbornly low.
  • Restrict the amount of money that universities are allowed to spend on local outreach and demand performance related KPIs
  • And give the rest via a centrally managed fund to disadvantaged students in the form of a £12,000 pa living allowance grant - and invest more on them via careers services to provide alternative social capital.

Augar’s conclusion is that “Whilst we support the overall approach to access, participation and success for disadvantaged students we note with surprise the absence of any over-arching assessment of the impact of different approaches to widening participation and success.”

There is no over-arching assessment because it would be too embarrassing for the sector to disclose how £1bn has achieved so little. So how can Augar support the overall approach? OFFA was too soft and too often blind-sided by access agreements which were long on rhetoric and short on results.

Let’s hope the OfS proposed initiative on widening participation is tougher, more imaginative and much less bureaucratic. And that maybe this time, they ask for a little help from marketing.

David Miller is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin Partnership.

The Augar Report reveals the failure of marketing in universities

Jun 04, 2019

Amongst the many analyses, insights and recommendations in the Augar report, the evidence of the sector’s failure to adopt professional marketing practice becomes all too clear.

Many universities appear to think that marketing is about short-term promotional tactics designed to fill places. In section three of the report, concerning Market Competition, Augar states that “since the opening up of the sector, universities have increased and professionalised their marketing” and as evidence, cites universities spending millions on advertising, offering cash in hand inducements, inflating grades, lowering entry requirements and proliferating unconditional offers.

For me this is clear evidence of marketing failure, the very opposite of what Augar suggests. Anyone can put more bums on lecture theatre seats by lowering the bar and promising the illusion of a high-quality degree.

The truth is that good marketing is about understanding your target market and delivering a product or service that fulfils their needs and desires better than competition. In most universities, this means recognising that you will live or die by your ability to attract tuition fee income. That if what you offer students is perfectly suited to what they need and want, you will not only survive but prosper.

This of course requires you to be clear about the students you are capable of attracting, know where they will come from, and possess real insight into what they want from their university experience. It often requires more of a focus on vocationally oriented degrees, an understanding of local and regional employer needs, and a serious commitment to meeting them. Most of all, it requires honesty about what you are and who you serve.

Many so-called ‘civic’ universities already recognise this and are delivering - enjoying the success & financial security that results.

But there are many universities who cling to generic mission statements, publicly presenting themselves as Russell Group manqués, when their tuition fee income is 20 times that of their research income. Their implicit snobbery and lack of brand honesty leads to a debilitating dichotomy between how they present themselves and how they are seen from the outside.

Their student numbers decline as a result, and they are forced into desperation tactics, which Augar mistakes for marketing. Marketing people talk of brand, when the higher education word is ‘reputation’. There is a big difference. Brand is as much about how you project yourself as much as how you are seen. Hence marketers’ affection for spending on advertising.

Reputation is about what people think and feel about you. And no amount of advertising is going to change people’s views about a university. Would you ever choose a restaurant that advertises? No, you choose based on recommendations from people you trust. In other words, reputation.

It’s the same with universities. Reputation. Reputation. Reputation. It’s (nearly) all that matters. Slow to build, quick to destroy.

David Miller is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin Partnership. Tomorrow, he discusses the impact that HE’s failure in marketing is having on access and participation.

Augar Review - 7.5 is the new 9

Jun 03, 2019

Whilst the details and potential ramifications of the recommendations in the Augar Review are fascinating, I fear there is only really one simple piece of news:


Given that we don’t know who the PM will be and how long they will last, there is a real chance that Augar will die a quiet and slow death amongst the political chaos. However, thanks to the exiting PM using up her last moment of political capital to ensure it gets some media coverage, I think we can be pretty sure that one headline will last.


No one (beyond HE) will care whether the treasury finds money to top up the unit of resource, and no one (beyond HE) will care how they chose to distribute it if they find it. The message has landed, and it is now oft repeated that degrees at £9k are poor value for money and that they should be £7.5k a year. No one will have sympathy for seemingly rich universities complaining about this.

A new Conservative PM struggling to survive will have bigger issues to contend with and will be happy to stick with £7.5k. They won’t have the power to the treasury in terms of bridging the gap; indeed, they will be looking for headline grabbing ‘offers’ to win the next election and topping up fees for universities will not appear on that list.

If there is a General Election and Labour gets in - and keeps its pledge to remove fees - the cost of a degree will already be seen to be £7.5k. £9k will be old news already forgotten by most. Ways to make up the unit of resource will also be old news… tedious details killed off by election promises.

And so 7.5 becomes the new 9. I fear there is nothing we can do but urgently consider how we survive this reality.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO and Co-founder of Halpin.