Putting students at the heart

The Office for Students has got students’ interests at its heart. Its creation out of the merger of HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access signals a move by the sector to focus more decisively on students. While universities’ purpose remains “…the pursuit, dissemination and application of knowledge and expertise”, there’s increasing pressure to revisit this in the context of students’ changing wants and needs.

Whatever you think about the purpose of universities and the way in which they fulfil this, it is evolving and will continue to. With the arrival of bodies such as the Office for Students, new competitors and rankings tables, university leaders have to ask themselves some tough questions.

The answers will instigate significant change and require leadership that creates engagement, collaboration and innovation with students at the heart of their decisions.

How can you fast-track this? Here are our insights, taken from helping organisations in HE and many other sectors successfully change and perform:

1. Review the university’s stated purpose

Is it still relevant? Is it compelling? Is it interpreted consistently? If not, test it out with students and revisit it with leaders and staff across academic and professional services teams

2. Enable leaders to own it and communicate it

Often the purpose is overly-associated with the most senior person. This is not enough to ensure the whole university is focused on fulfilling a common purpose. Equip leaders and managers with the tools and confidence to bring the purpose to life in their area, through their communications, their decisions and their attention

3. Make the purpose live and breathe

Does everyone get it? How real is it in our day to day work? Support leaders to run engagement sessions that inspire and connect everyone to why and how it makes a difference for them

4. Have the student present in the physical environment

How central are students to decision-making? It’s easier to put students at the heart of decision-making if they are visible. Make creative use of videos, blogs and social media forums to create insight and test ideas

5. Align reward and recognition to putting students at the heart

As we are measured so we behave. Capture and share examples to illustrate how teams have collaborated to improve student experience and increase success rates

6. Remove sacred cows

Find out what’s really getting in the way of fulfilling your purpose. A key role for leaders is to remove blockers to performance – even those that people have never dared touch before

7. Check out the student journey

From initial application through to graduation, what is it like? Get staff to mystery shop to see whether your target students would choose your university

8. Act on student feedback

Whether direct or anecdotally from student-facing staff, there are invariably golden nuggets of insight that can enable improvements. Give these staff the power and influence to make a difference

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