Early-stage academics thrive on their subject matter passion, favouring the thrill of research and teaching over the traditionally low salary and demanding nature of the job. Yet, the pathway to senior level positions such as Head of School and Professor in UK higher education is often a long one, and institutions are at risk of losing talented individuals that waver and choose a more immediately lucrative career. To mitigate the threat of losing some of the sector’s future leaders, Universities that place talent at the heart of their strategy will gain a march on the competition. A proactive approach to people that looks to predict and preserve skills in demand will ensure that the UK remains a global player.
In recent years, UK HE policy has debatably created more questions than answers. Issues including the removal of the student number cap have undoubtedly caused increased commercialisation, and the Brexit vote has led to unprecedented concerns over the future of areas such as research and the workforce. However, moving into 2018 the picture is becoming clearer.
Government’s newly introduced Office for Students, a regulatory body set to champion the voice of learners, comes into effect in April 2018 and is welcome news in helping ensure that profit is not prioritised over the quality of delivery. Combined with the forthcoming round of the Research Excellence Framework, the development of the Knowledge Excellence Framework and the already operational Teaching Excellence Framework, it would appear that every aspect of HE will have high standards to aspire to. Not only do these frameworks shine a light on best practice and increase accountability, but they also give university decision makers an invaluable tool to map out the skills and people needed to increase their competitive advantage and position nationally and globally.
Government’s newly introduced Office for Students, a regulatory body set to champion the voice of learners, comes into effect in April 2018 and is welcome news in helping ensure that profit is not prioritised over the quality of delivery
Looking introspectively, data is also an area of untapped predictive opportunity. Institutions have greater access to and volumes of this information than ever before. From the National Student Survey to the digital response to a piece of research, utilising data can help Universities to understand their strengths and weaknesses, including where there may be talent required to capitalise on opportunities, or plug a gap in delivery. Embedding processes to regularly update, collate and examine available data will allow them to make informed, agile and relevant decisions when it comes to their people strategy.
Armed with the knowledge of the skills and talent they require to cement their relative position, University chiefs must also look to preserve and retain those within their existing workforce capable of fulfilling their immediate and future needs. While mentoring, visibility of career progression and investing in the skills of early-stage academics are great places to start, there are some emerging opportunities to help retain and empower people with potential.
To combat resource pressures on the individuals within academic, an area worth exploring is increasing investment into the operational capacity of a university at a faculty level. This can ease the burden on academics, giving them more capacity to focus on research and teaching, the reasons that many enter the profession in the first place.
Another area where universities are thinking innovatively in their approach to talent recruitment and retention is relaxing the rules and policies on progression, specifically for professorial roles. Challenging the normal requirement of a track record and tenure in research, there is increasing realisation of the importance of education within a research-led environment, opening up professorial opportunities for those with strong credentials in teaching. Providing these career paths will no doubt raise the aspiration, and visible opportunities for early-stage and ambitious academics.
Working as an academic, early-stage through to senior level, is a dynamic and rewarding profession, one that helps to understand and shape industries across all sectors. As the future of the UK’s higher education landscape continues to evolve, it is a commitment to predicting and preserving the talent that will deliver globally competitive institutions of the future.