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Higher education. Disrupted.

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Cat McCusker:

Good morning everyone.

I am Cat McCusker, I am a partner at PwC, I lead our higher education practice and consulting. Thank you so much for joining us today and talk about the higher education sector, transitioned from the impact of COVID 19. We have around 200 people joining us today from UK, Ireland, The US, Australia, India, and Africa, and we welcome you all for attending.

I have a fantastic group of speakers with us, and we want to thank them very much for their time and for sharing their insights with us.

Leo Johnson, a fellow partner and head of the disruption team here at PwC; Laura Hinton, our chief people officer; Damien Ashford, partner and lead for financial improvement across the firm; professor Steve West, vice-chancellor of the university of West England, non-executive director for the office for students, and chair of the left partnership and chair of the West England Academic Health Science Network; pro-vice chancellor, professor Todd Landman, faculty of social sciences, and professor of political science at the university of Nottingham.

In these unprecedented times, we are all grappling how to move forward after the impact of COVID 19, and what does it mean for the sector, especially now as we start to move in to the medium and long term, where we have all been very much focussing our energies from lockdown and the upcoming September intake. We do need to consider what impact COVID 19 has had globally, what trends are emerging, and what this will mean for us in the future.

Rapid shift to remote working and online learning has had an impact on both our staff and students, and to all elements of the university operation. Student’s feedback, as we know, has been very mixed and the quality of online learning and the real concerns about deferral rates as we move into FY21 and beyond. Questions about the value of money, with over 255 students requesting tuition fee refund. In public health and national health terms, the psychological impact has initially elevated greater stress and anxiety, and is something that has always been one of the most silent disruptors of our sector, where psychiatrists are warning of a tsunami of mental health that will rise from stored up depression during lockdown. The National Union for Student has found that 74% of students are worried about the risk to their final qualification, and 81% are concerned about what this will do to their true job prospect.

Student recruitment as ever is one of our key focuses, but what challenges have we seen with the multiple surveys that has been undertaken across research, and the number that we have done in PwC ourselves. We will see challenges associated with predicted grades and students are showing great concern as this will not truly reflect their capability. The introduction of Clearing Plus, and how this is going to influence student demand. Student’s sentiment to date shows that they are proceeding as planned but will this change. International students, one of the big impact in our sector, and the impact of starting to work in the UK, particularly with lot of students from China, the support they will have overseas, and what the model will be, will they come from an online learning experience.

Today, we are going to discuss these challenges and more, and how universities can respond, but we also wanted to focus on the great opportunities that actually brings to us a sector for the future. Is this really going to create turning point for the sectors, and be the real change, and catalyst for change that we’ve always been expecting. How do we move from a crisis towards a positive outcome?

Thank you for those who have submitted questions prior to the session. We look forward to addressing these with you, and we will have some follow up presentations that you will be able to access online, and you will be able to download this webcast as well. You are welcome to ask questions in real time throughout using the chat function, located on the bottom right of your screen, and we will be posting on social media, and encourage you to do the same using #PwCHEDisrupted #COVID19.

For best viewing it is advised that you try to limit the number of devices streaming within your household, and in terms of housekeeping, in normal circumstances I will be advising you of the fire alarms, and door to the left, and how we exit. So, in that case if we do lose connection at any point, and the webinar disconnects, please dial back in using the same link and we will ensure to get back up and running.

I am really delighted to introduce our first speaker, Leo Johnson. Leo is a partner at PwC, who leads our disruption team. He is going to speak up to today about the global impact of COVID 19, the potential medium-to-long-term impact, and how these impacts may disrupt and be already disrupting the sector.

Leo, thank you so much for joining us today, I am going to handover to you to take us through your presentation.

Leo Johnson:

Thanks Cat.

Hi everybody, I am Leo Johnson, as Cat said, head of the disruption and innovation team and I do also a Radio 4 program in moonlight, doing a program called ‘Future Proofings.’ It is about what’s coming down the track and of course I completely missed COVID 19 issue. Then we have got disrupted by COVID 19, but what I’d like to talk about is where I think we are at, and I wanted 2 min of gloom and then 2 min of un-gloom. We are at this moment, which is best captured by that great political philosophy of Marilyn Monroe, who said, ‘sometimes good things fall apart, so that better things can fall into place.’ The operative word in that sentence is ‘sometimes.’ We are at this Marilyn Monroe moment, where it could go either way, and where the amplitude between the good and the bad is greater than it has been at any point in human history.

What does the gloom look like? I think the gloom looks like the way to respond to COVID 19 is to automate the bejeezus out of everything, in a cost cutting move, in a pandemic safety move, in a move that responds to related security issues, and the risk is that we accelerate the trends towards job loss. The Frame Osborne Study study projects 47% US – UK white collar jobs by 2035 automated. The World Bank raise it to about 69% of jobs globally in the same period.

The risk is that in order to stabilise the core, get cost down, there is an acceleration of the trend of job loss, and essentially replacing intelligence and value in the machine as opposed to people. There is a possibility that if we go that way, starts to cascade, that we get a double whammy to the national balance sheet of less revenue in, more cost out in terms of welfare, then we have an increasingly risky financial system with peak national household and sovereign debt. Then you have the combination of other external megatrends, including climate change, including migration, including 140 million projected climate refugees by 2040, and the World Bank 1.5 million globally according to Quinelle, then you start to see a destabilisation of the open borders framework that we’ve got.

You can see that in the context of education, there is all sorts of systemic threats that the sector already knows, and it is not just the job loss, then the prospect that the university deals doesn’t get you a job at the end of it. It is of course the threat of the MOOCS with just under a 100 million already on MOOCS before COVID, the protectionist issues around border controls, and the possibilities of international jobs. Clearly the new competition that’s forming with the neo universities that maybe from the Coursera, from the JLRs, from the Dyson, from the Starbucks, where in order to de-risk the possibility that you are not going to get job, stampede by potential students to try to collaborate with organisations that develop clear iota into the job market. We concede that there is a network of threats out there and that’s the Marilyn moment where there’s the potential to fall apart.

You can also see, and just let me try to give 2 minutes here of completely different vision, which is, we decide to locate intelligence somewhere else, not in the machine, not in AI, not in predictive analytics, and drone distribution of automated goods, but we start to unlock the cognitive surplus of the hundreds and millions, indeed the billions, and their sheer brain power, and empathy, and intent, and talent.

You are already starting to see weak signals of some of this going on, and the use of tech not to displace human intelligence, but to augment it and to unlock it, that of course includes some of the mental health stuff that Cat has alluded to, which I think is going to be absolutely massive, Look at Sussex with their silver cord look at the XXX (0:09:55), the AI predictive analytics around healthcare, around student performance, the Univeristy of Georgia’s graduation rates (0:10:02) so much, look at University of Texas with their total digital experience, look at also some of the combinations of the MOOCs with the universities to come up with much more flexible, much more adaptive, and not hyper-personalised, but much more personalised learning that really works to unlock the student’s capabilities and I’m thinking of the future learn, the new partnerships with Coursera opening up a series of degrees, and of course there is the variance in trends, with the blockchain-based stackable micro-certifications, where you can really take a nick, just as open university has started to, and curate the degree that you want and give yourself the skill that you want.

My hunch is that there is an old model of big education, big universities, which had a relatively blue-berried product line that the student consumed, that’s looking like its reaching the end of its shelf life. But there is a huge opportunity now to come up with a flexible personalised digitally enabled set of learning opportunity with massive humanities, and ethical, and philosophical, and logical insights around how you deploy tech in order to solve the problems of many embedded into them, not just stem. The chance is to unlock that new set of markets with a new tech-enabled set of skills, and create a very different range of learning opportunities, and my hunch is that if we are going to navigate our way into a world where the crisis that COVID is a symptom of, as well as being a crisis in itself. The crisis generates the machine as a model of growth that flies in the face of economic, and social, and environmental realities, I think this sector, thinking about experience, and the changing of belief systems, as well as skill the sector can unlock, will be absolutely pivotal and on that note I am going to stop.


Thank you, Leo, I have a few questions. Leo, what do you think is the biggest disruptor for universities and the real impacts of them not responding?


Probably there is a lot of us around the global virtual room who got kids, who want to go to universities, I think it’s the deal, the biggest disruptor is the deal. Do you want to mortgage your future, their future, if the costs are clear, but the benefits are uncertain. Its reformulating that clear value proposition that this is going to be the thing that unlocks real learning and real opportunities for you to grow as a human being and perform economically in the most cost-efficient way.

Would you send your kids to university, Cat?


I have only got dogs but we sent my nephew to university, and I have got ten more coming with big ambition, so right now I would definitely question the Dean.


Damien would you, Todd would you? I know Todd you have been in a difficult position as university professor.

Damien Ashford:

Leo I will jump in there first. I have a 6-year-old son, I would love him to go to university, I really would, but if he was older, and ready to go to university this academic year, I would want him to, I would. Todd what do you think?

Todd Landman:

I absolutely agree that Steven should make that decision, and they need to weigh the disruption. The debate is about, are they going to defer, or they are going to tolerate a bit of what’s being called online, I will address that issue later, but this is value proposition that is lifelong proposition, it is not about whether you go this September, and that’s it. There are many choices available, and I think it is about the maximisation of choice and flexibility that’s absolutely critical, so the decision making. Anecdotally, we are talking to neighbours, and talking to friends, etc., their kids are restless, this is the moment where they absolutely want to do something different, they want to move on to university. Question and the challenge for us is what the experience those students will have, and how will they experience change over, let’s say the autumn versus from January, versus the whole time that they are university student.

Of course, all the university students are different, and I think appreciating the diversity, and the inequalities that this pandemic have brought to stark really, is also a crude shock. Of course, as Cat opened up, it is not just home EU students that we are thinking about, we’re thinking about all of the international students and how they are going to have certification and experiences that they would like to have.

I don’t want to anticipate my intervention later, but I have a lot to say about this, but I would absolutely, I want my kids to go out as well, 12-year-old, and I am expecting her to go, but that’s six years from now. There is a lot that could happen, as you know, between now and then.


Leo, thank you so much for your thoughts and contribution, and I really loved the concept of the Deal. Those Marilyn moments are going to be something rather different for me now in the future when I think of Marilyn Monroe with your analogy, so thank you.

We have Laura Hinton our chief people officer, unfortunately Laura hasn’t been able to join us live, but we did this just little earlier on the WebEx, so we would like to just take you through the video with Laura as she takes us through her thoughts on the people agenda.

I am really pleased to introduce Laura Hinton as our next speaker on our webinar today. Laura is our chief people officer at PwC and has been absolutely pivotal in our response to COVID 19, and how we’ve been doing this in regard to the impact on our people. Laura has some great insights to share about the focus we have put on our people, the challenges, but also the opportunities we have faced, and will continue to face as we transition out of lockdown.

Thank you very much Laura for your insights, I will handover to you to start to share.

Laura Hinton:

Thank you very much Cat, and hello everybody. Yeah, as Cat said, I have been responsible for thinking about our overall COVID response, but specifically in relation to people. As a starting point, and it goes without saying, we’ve been very clear that the safety and wellbeing of our people is our number one priority, so that has been our overall message as we have navigated our way over the last few weeks. It has been in stages as I think we will probably all recognise, it is very early days where more intensive reaction to the very fast paced rate of change in terms of working from home and then full lockdown.

Some really important learnings for us early on in terms of the importance of technology. I would say, we started in a position of strength, which was incredibly helpful. We have been using Google technologies of Hangouts, video conferencing, share documents for a number of years now. Being been able to switch fully into that mode, was relatively seamless, although there were certainly a few moments of holding our breath back first day, where we had 23 thousand people suddenly working remotely overnight, but the technology held up really well. We have also had our focus over the last few years around flexibility, and people working in different ways, thinking about workforce of the future and talent of the future, and people wanting to work in different ways, at different times, using different particular focuses of technology.

Again, that held us in good stead, but I would certainly say we have achieved more from a change management perspective, around behavioural change and accepting flexibility in the last few months than we’ve probably had over the last two years. Really understanding how effective and how productive we can all be working from home and that has been a real positive for us that I certainly can see going forward into the future.

We’ve been talking about it a bit like a change curve actually or thinking about kind of the immediate response of a bit of adrenaline in the system, working from home, working in new ways was a really new way of working. There was enough of technology factor, and everybody hugely agile, technology stood up, and we just got on with it. As the weeks have gone by, it has become more challenging in terms of mental health in particular, how do we keep people focused and motivated when they are dealing with lots of different challenges, ranging from isolation, anxiety for their own health, or health of their loved ones, thinking about, and working within households, and strained relationships, financial pressures. Recognising all of those pressures on people and the impact that it has on their motivation and overall sense of wellbeing has been a really important factor for us. We’ve been very focussed on recognising that as a challenge. We’ve provided a lot of support to our people around their mental wellbeing as well as their physical wellbeing.

We have run a couple of live web streams with all of our people with medical professionals, to normalise the way that people are feeling, lots of questions and answers in terms of guilt, because people aren’t able to look after their children as much as they would want to, or work as much as they would want to, and really providing hopefully that reassurance to our people that we are not in normal times, we understand that we have to be creative in terms of how people can balance work, and other responsibilities, and at times it is not possible to get that balance right and that’s okay.

There has been an yearn of recognising the different stages, and people will be feeling different at each of those stages, and real focus on mental health and support, and a focus on lots of tools and tips around staying effective and productive in long periods of time working from home. We would all agree that 10-hour days, 12-hour days on live streams, video conferences is absolutely exhausting, so how do we mix that up in terms of ways of working, again another area of focus for us.

At the moment, we are starting to think, as are many other organisations around transition out of lockdown, and what might that look like. Obviously, thinking about our buildings, how do we prepare our office buildings for people coming back to an office environment, making sure we obviously apply the guidelines around social distancing, both in terms of the regulations, but actually in terms of providing reassurance to our people that we are taking their safety really seriously. Lots of focus on our building and physical environment, obviously some question marks around travel, and how people will travel safely to offices, more of a challenge in London, where there is a greater reliance on public transport, and less of an issue elsewhere, but thinking about how that dynamic works.

We’ve also put a lot of thought into how and which people will return first. Where is there a real priority for people to be in an office location, and clearly where there is work, that needs to be done that cannot be done in an home environment, we will obviously prioritise that, as well as individuals who have real difficulty working from home.

We are looking at technology solutions, so are there apps out there, pieces of technology that can really help us manage our workforce, manage numbers, think about getting people safely in and out of locations, contact tracing, and really leveraging on some work that we are doing with our clients around the concept of a greenlight framework and how do we develop a technology solution that we can pilot on ourselves, to make sure that it does everything that we would want it to do.
Obviously, thinking more broadly around engagement, around culture, values, the vast majority of our workforce will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. Really thinking about how do we make sure that all of that glue and the informal camaraderie, connections, consultation can still happen in a world where we are working virtually. Thinking about communications, style, as much as content, being transparent, being open, pulse surveys in terms of checking in, in terms of how people are feeling periodically. All of those more obvious people-related elements are in the mix as we think about really managing and leading a workforce where the vast majority of them will be working remotely and in a very different way than they used to.

A bit of a quick run through there of lots of different elements and things that we have been thinking about as we navigate, as we have come into the lockdown, but I think certainly coming out will be far more complex than that initial process.


Thank you, Laura, that was really helpful. As always, as a good consultant I’ll always have a few questions to ask.

One of the biggest challenges we are hearing from students is they are really concerned about their future, and particularly with graduates, who are soon to become graduates, have their normal ceremonies in June and July, but also for those entering into the whole graduate system, what do you think this is going to mean for the pandemic for PwC as a result of this, and our graduate employment?


Yeah really good question, at a really high level, we are not planning or anticipating making any changes in terms of overall numbers of graduate recruits or school leavers apprentices. We have a fairly broad profile now in terms of people that we bring into our business from the school and university system. We expect 1200 people, there or thereabouts to be joining us in September, as part of our graduate and school leaver programs, and those numbers will remain as they are.

Now obviously, we will have to onboard them virtually. The induction process will be virtual. We had a slight test in terms of how we can make that happen recently, so we have a smaller intake that joined us in April, so we had 180 people joined us as planned as graduates in April just gone by, and really gave us the opportunity to experiment with different technology, with different styles. The physical onboarding process, right to work, checks and passports, and all of that stuff that you didn’t necessarily, we haven’t thought about how you do that virtually, we had to get to an answer very quickly, but actually we have done that.

Certainly, for us, and I know that other organisations and some of our competitors are making different decisions, but we really want to invest in our future talent, it is absolutely critical. We know in previous downturns, recessions, we have made cutbacks to graduate and entry level roles, and as things pick up, as the economy comes back to normal, we never have the right number of people with the right skills in the right place if we have made reductions that graduate level. We are absolutely focused on maintaining the same volume of graduates, giving them the best experience we possibly can, but understanding that it won’t be necessarily the same as coming into one of our offices and being able to interact in person with the team. It will be a different experience, but as much focused on creating their peer group, and a cohort, and that culture, as much as the contents, and training, and technical elements that we need to give to them. On a similar line, we have a number of people that would have been joining us for work experience or internship programs over the summer. All of those, we’ve manged to turn into virtual programs, which has actually given us a broader reach into various different pipelines, so definitely some advantages to having to think differently.


Just a slight build on that, on how we have been so quick to pivot in regard to moving to those online courses, and you will be aware that we have all of our universities are expecting that they are going to have to deliver everything virtually from September for the first semester. University of Cambridge has come out and announced that it will be the fall of next year they will be delivering online. Just from our experience what would you say has been that’s worked particularly well and maybe your lessons learned from doing this going forward?


Yeah, we have been definitely been on the learning curve for sure, and I am certainly not sitting here with all of the answers, but what we have learned is taking an existing in person training program course or curriculum, and turning it into a virtual program, actually it takes much longer than designing a virtual program from scratch. It’s probably obvious that we’ve had a lot of content that we’ve been converting. Actually, the resources and the time that it has taken to do that have been much more significant than we had anticipated. We have also learned that anything is possible, we do a huge amount of work, upskilling our workforce from a digital perspective. Digital upskilling, lots of technical training around building bots, and data, and analytics and that was a two-day digital academy, as you know. People went through that two-day program in person in groups of about 50 people at a time. A big challenge for us, how do we make that a virtual event, and the engagement scores from those in person events were phenomenal.

We have rewritten them, refocussed them, they are now delivered virtually, and to our shock and surprise, I have to say, the scores are actually higher. It’s easy to make assumptions around how people prefer to learn. For us, people have been able to work more at their own pace, rather than in the physical classroom environment, where they are forced to move along at a certain pace. So, our assumption was that couldn’t be done, it wouldn’t be as good, but the feedback has actually been hugely positive and very surprising that it’s better. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to face to face for those particular programs. It’s real time effort, piloting different things, using different formats, we would all agree that having people sitting, not moving or interacting for large periods of time, in large groups online, is very hard to keep people focused and motivated. So, different formats, different forums, the ability through technology to have virtual breakout rooms, and jamboard, and to bring everything back together. There is a lot that is possible, but it is really is intensive, in terms of time and resources.


Thank you, Laura for those key points. Two key takeaways for me from that was just about the importance of the investment in technology, and actually what can truly be achieved whilst working at home and delivering online. It’s not just about the adoptability of material & how they’re going to be delivered when you move to virtual learning. Very important, it’s okay, not to be okay both for our staff and for students. Very important with the mental health agenda, that that ability to be able to talk about that and having different ways to track and engage with people, and we find the Firm to be really phenomenal. One thing that I am particularly proud of, is our continued commitment to our graduates, but also for all of our degree, higher apprenticeship and programs, like school leaver programs that we have run. It’s really positive to see the importance of the sector to firms like PwC, we are not going to be dropping off in any of that recruitment.

With that I would move on to one of our next speaker, Damien Ashford. Damien has been partner for 20 years and works across our financial improvement sector. He is going to speak about some of the biggest challenges, and the biggest conversation that I am personally having in the sector, around financial sustainability, and how do university structure respond to these challenges.

Damien, thank you so much for joining us today. I am going to hand over to you now.


Thank you and it’s been a pleasure. Hi everyone.

I am Damien Ashford and a partner in our restructuring and across 20 years I have worked with hundreds of organisations across all sectors including higher education and helping them through their journey including quite a lot of work on making rapid financial improvement as well. In the context for this, we have heard from Cat, heard from Laura, heard from Leo. Leo using the word gloom and then un-gloom as well, and Cat had started as well, how do we move from crisis to positive outcome.

We just think about the financials at the moment, is a really challenging financial outlook for higher education at the moment. Many of you will be well aware, there is growing financial challenge in the sector prior to COVID 19, let alone now with the impact of COVID-19 on top as well.

What I thought I would do in the next few minutes is to share some of my experience of success factors from learnings over the years, of what makes a really good financial improvement program, and I hope some of the 10 things I'll just put the outline, be very relevant to what you are thinking of and might help what you do and what you do today and the rest of the week, and for the next few months as well.

The first of those 10 success factors is around knowing besides your financial challenge, how much and also when you develop some robust forecast around that, things to be based on operational assumptions, and certainly one of the things that have happened with a lot of uncertainty, as there is at the moment is used scenarios to look at your forecast and map out a range of those scenarios on what you think would happen and make sure you've got some robust financial numbers alongside it. From experience, many organisations going about financial improvement program have to make adjustments during it. They didn't invest enough time at the front end, knowing what the size of the challenge was, to get that size of the challenge known upfront; secondly, create an organised program of work. There are a lot of different ways of doing this, but broadly financial improvement programs happen in three phases. First is about knowing the size of the challenge, the second is about designing and developing your financial improvement program, the third is around implementation, and the fourth is going back to my first point about being able to understand the scale of the challenge. Hopefully in the start your design and development of your program will be quite right, they put in place an organized program of work.

Thirdly, develop robust implementation plans and so often I worked with organisations that have moved quickly out of phase 2 into phase 3. They don't have implementation plans. They are not too sure where exactly the money is going to come out and how the financials are going to improve, and the consequence is that what they're doing. So, invest that time in planning, it is really worth it, including redline. If you have any redline around what you are going do with the workforce, such as redundancy, is that ruled out, is that in, but also around the quality of the service as well, and how you go about teaching, and so forth. It's not a red line where you are not going to adversely affect the quality of that, but putting in place redlines upfront is very important, that’s the third thing.

Fourthly, have a culture where financial responsibility, financial improvement is shared. What I mean by that is around the board table across the executives, make sure everyone shares that responsibility for the financial improvement program, and you will get the best effect of everyone working together, but also to take that and run it deep into the organisation as well. Again from experience, see lots of times where normally the finance director is most worried about the money, but actually other executives committing the organisation to money in extra expenditure, or the top tier is really worried about things, you get under the deputies and so on, and the middle management in the organisation isn't behaving in the same way to get that culture going wide and deep in terms of financial responsibility for whatever you are doing on transport improvement.

At fifth, you've heard this before. ‘cash is king,’ believe me, it is. Just so many times the cash is the that comes up during a financial improvement time, and also a time of uncertainty, where there is of course a greater financial risk. If you haven't already got a 13-week daily cash flow which is updated on a rolling basis, make sure you've got one, and also put in place other enhanced scrutiny on monitoring your cash as well.

Sixth, all about governance here. They with the heightened risk, I mentioned earlier, what should happen in an environment of higher risk and rapid financial improvement if government works a bit differently. It will have more of its time focused on financial improvement, but also some of the regularity will change as well. If I put it another way, If your governance is working exactly how it was three months ago or six months ago, I suggest it might need to change a bit to adapt to the environment you're in. It also needs to be agile as well, there are some things around delegate authorities and so on, which is in the current environment more change is going to be needed, and more rapid decision making as well.

Seventh, organisations that act fast and are agile always fare better. When I say acts fast, I think most of the costs in higher education around workforce in the states, a lot of those have quite a long lead time to make changes. They really don't have time to contemplate things, is around getting into it very early. Generally speaking, the higher education sector is cost-based isn’t that flexible. There are some things, which can be done in the short term, but certainly this isn't something to be left in the new financial year, the sooner you can act, develop plans, start making changes the better.

Just on agility, listening to what Leo was saying, and Cat, and Laura, there is definitely something here around using the licence that you've got for change in the current environment, to put in place new operating model using technology and doing some other things, and that should be done hand-in-hand with whatever you are doing in your financial improvement program as well to a connected rather than separate.

My eighth success factor in learning is around managing stakeholders during a time of financial challenge, and that's your internal stakeholders, who you need with you through the journey here, but also your external stakeholders as well. It's definitely the time for more communication, more stakeholder management internally and externally.

The ninth one is around the balance challenge and risk, but then also alongside recognition and support. I guess the question is in whatever you are doing in the way you are going about financial improvement, where's your balance now, is that where you want it to be, and is that going to change in coming weeks as well.

I guess sharing very quickly my experience on it, it is normally best to start tougher in terms of the financial improvement program, and then once you get into it, then you can balance it up a bit more with some more recognition of successes that are happening, and so on, just think about the balance of what you're doing. Again, I've seen many programs over years that haven't got that balance quite right, and it affects all of what they're doing in that first way.

The tenth thing is around asking for help, and that is not you’ve got great experience in the governor's, ask them for help from their experience and skills in a different way. Also use networks around high education and also from other forms of support as well, whether it is advisors or otherwise. Typically organisations, the stronger ones who ask for help more, and it's actually the ones which are more challenged, and actually need the help the most, but ask for it the least, so it is just really a bit of a plea, make sure you ask the help is such a challenging time.

The last thing I want to say before handing back to Cat is look after yourselves, the mental health and the wellbeing agenda has been discussed in this session already, but financial improvement and some of the challenges that that brings an extra burden on leaders and linked stress and other forms of wellbeing. I would say, make sure you invest in yourself here as well, and look after yourself, not just doing the right thing personally, because as responsible leaders, your organisations need you next month and the month after that and in a years’ time and two years’ time. With whatever you are doing, make sure you look after yourself, it's also leading by example, it will work for you as well. With that Cat, back to you.


Thank you, Damien, I thought that was really great. As you would expect, I am getting a lot of questions coming in from the audience on range of areas, if you don't mind, we will take them at the end as the Q&A, just to give everybody else an opportunity to get them uploaded.

I think it’s really interesting to note that both you and Laura have reflected on both the pace of change, but how it is going to influence the business, but highly important for us really needing to capitalise on that as well and not hide behind it. I think it's a really good chance to take into our next speaker.

I'm delighted to welcome professor, Steve West, who is the vice chancellor at the University of West England, and Steve is going to share with us around how the operations of the university has been affected during COVID-19, and how they have been responding to this, and with their students, but also engaging very highly in stage role at OFS around the mental health agenda, and some of the measures that they have been bringing in to work closely with their student. Steve again had to video this a little bit earlier this morning, just the timings, because of a crisis at the university, but I hope you will enjoy. I am happy to take further questions on this.

I am delighted to welcome one of our next guest speakers, Professor Steve West, who is the vice chancellor of the University of West England. Steve is going to be taking us through number of the key challenges that universities have felt in regard to COVID-19. What does this mean from an operational perspective, but also what opportunities has this presented to us?

I should just say one of the unique reasons we were so keen to get Steve on as one of our guest speakers is because of the breadth and depth he brings, it's not only his really strategic important role as the vice chancellor, but as the only vice chancellor that sits on the office for students, he is the senior chair of the LEP down in Wales and West, really looking at this from the place agenda and the business agenda. He is also chair of the academic health board, really focusing on the mental health. Steve can bring a whole wealth of insight to this from all different angles of what this means. Steve, I would like to hand over to you to get your views, please.

Steve West:

Thank you very much and thank you for inviting me. It goes without saying that we are all in new territory and we're all trying to find a way through what is a very difficult period, not just for universities, but for society as a whole. I want to start just by reminding us that it's not that long ago, middle of March, the world of universities were suddenly ticked on the head, and we had to move very rapidly to come to terms with a huge disruption. A disruption that is probably going to continue for some time and a disruption that is going to impact on every part of the university's life.

My university, not like many, is a large comprehensive institution, 30,000 students, about 5000 staff, and you have to think of it a bit like a small town. When we got a very clear direction that we were going to have to close, how do you close the town down in effect within 24 to 48 hours, and that was the big challenge to start with.

Recognising I've got four-and-a-half-thousand students on campus, I've got students across the world with staff, studying in places that they had gone to, and we needed to be thinking about all of that from an operational perspective, how do we ensure that health and safety was our primary responsibility, and how do we make sure we close down but bring people into safe places. Initially, the lockdown was a significant shock, I think for many, and we had to take staff with us on that journey of understanding what does this mean in the short term and what does it mean in the medium and longer term. As I said, within 24 hours we had shifted our whole operation administrative, professional services and academics online, also, for our students, moving them online. Of course, like most universities, we've had experiences of some online delivery, but suddenly it was just online delivery, and that I suspect, for a period of around four weeks was the new normal within the university.

The real challenge for us, of course, is looking beyond that four week period, it's one thing to take everything online for a short period of time, and have staff working at home, where they can for a short period, but now we know this is going to continue for a while. Therefore, the next big challenges are, as we've dealt with the immediate crisis, as we've secured our institutions, as we've determined how to perhaps ensure that some key areas remained open for science and technology, how do we then move into the next phase. So for this university, we were looking at what's the normal cycles that we would need to be doing, so how do we finish the academic year really well for our staff and students, and then how do we prepare for the next academic year. A part of that is about how do we graduate our students, how do we ensure that students’ progress if they are going to be continuing to study, and then how do we prepare for the summer period, which is often one that revolves around open days, and where we are looking for the new academic intakes and so all of that having to move online as well.

Of course, doing that, and taking staff and students with us, has required us to really hone our communications and be very clear and honest throughout all of this. Coms have been key in keeping people with us on a journey of uncertainty, because that's what we've been dealing with. That's required all members of staff to be authentic, and honest, and open, and to be clear about the direction of travel, but recognise that there may be some bumps in the road. Of course, thinking about mental health and wellbeing has been an important feature of how we are supporting our staff, and students through this uncertain period. We've also been having to respond to government often, we were finding out at the point when ministers were making announcements in the briefings, so we were not given heads up or early warnings, it was hitting us in the same timeframes as everyone else. That required our coms also to be really sharp and fast to make sure that we weren't spinning off in all directions.

The final bit of course is now looking to the future, and universities working out how they are going to clearly learn from the experiences thus far, mentioned everybody moving over to teams. There's lots of stuff we've done that probably mean we're never going to go back to doing things the way that we did. The pace of change within certainly my university has been tremendous and it's something that probably six to eight weeks ago I didn't think was possible. We've been able to do things that we never ever dreamt we would be able to do in the timeframes, but we have also got a very clear view about how we are now going to be working on delivering a 2030 strategy, which is hugely ambitious, and requires us not to lose sight at this moment in time of our end goals, why we are moving in the direction that we are moving, delivering a very clear vision and mission, and making sure that we don't derail that, in fact, how can we accelerate some of that and do it may be a bit faster than we thought.

Operationally, what it has required us to do as a university is bring teams together. Like many, we had gold command, when we were in crisis, we have now moved into a recovery phase. We have got very clear instructions and very clear ways of doing things and making sure decisions are logged and we know that we have a fairly good audit trail to understand why do we make the decisions that we were making.

All the way through this, we've been looking at our finances and looking at what we need to do to ensure that we have a secure future going forward, I suspect that's happening in all universities. Of course, we are having to make some difficult decisions, I suspect, but actually decisions that we are already likely to have to be made, given our 2030 strategy. It's not necessarily things that we weren't thinking about doing before COVID-19, but COVID-19 has given us the platform and the reason to move forward faster, but I think overall, and I am sure we'll get into this in a minute with the questions, change is now being accelerated. Staffs are coming with us on that journey, of course there are questions, but actually, there should be a huge amount of optimism. If we take the opportunities to change, if we take the opportunities that this disruption has caused, to really rethink as institutions, how we collaborate together, how we work together with businesses, and how we create a new future for our institutions, but more importantly than that, a very clear future for students who will be coming to universities and studying and thinking about their futures. That has to be our primary goal, we are people organizations that create opportunities and build futures. Fundamentally, we've got a fantastic set of opportunities that now we need to start taking.


Thank you, Steve, I find that really informative, and thanks for your honesty as well. Just on a few questions, do you think the role of technology and given that swift move to teams as one examples, is going to really now emphasise the importance of technology and digital platforms from an operational and delivery perspective going forward?

Steve West:

I think it is, but I think we have to be honest, in order to make this sustainable and in order to make it a really rich experience, there are few things that we've got to get sorted. Most institutions have had virtual learning environments, virtual learning platforms for many years. Most universities will have examples of excellence, absolutely outstanding delivery, and content. Then we have also got some variability, and we have to be honest about the variability. The challenge for us all is how do we lift everything to be in that excellent category and how also do we take staff, not just our academic staff, but professional/technical staff into that digital environment, where digital agility and our ability to use and enhance what we do through technology is going to be really important.

Big challenge is digital poverty and how we deal with digital poverty in our student populations, but also within our staff populations. You all know, you've all been on calls, where the technology has broken down. You've all got experiences of dodgy internet that keeps dropping out and fading, or you've had systems that freeze. Now, in thinking about how do we support staff and students, we've got to start resolving some of those things, and actually that might mean us working in partnership with business and with local enterprise partnerships and regional boards to make sure that the deep infrastructure that's needed in all of our homes, in all of our businesses is actually fit for purpose as we move in this direction.


Do you feel as a sector, Steve, that we are really ready to respond?


As a sector, there is variability, there is difference across our sector and diversity across our sector, which is really important. Of course, within that there will be parts of the sector that really is spearheading, really is forging new ways of doing things. The challenge for us is, how do we share that, how do we learn from that, and how do we collaborate more effectively within potentially what is quite a challenging marketplace. The real problem for the sector to resolve, given the diversity, given the marketplace that we are in, how can we get beyond that as a sector to collaborate and partner for the benefit of all, rather than just potentially locking ourselves up in silos that means not much get shared. Now universities should be really good at this, because that's what we do when we are engaging with research. If we can do it in research, surely we can do it in learning and teaching, surely we can do it in thinking about our administration, and professional, and technical services, surely we can do it when we start thinking at a global level, how to collaborate more effectively across the world.


Thanks Steve so much for that presentation, there is a couple of key things that I personally really took away from that. How we should look at that with optimism about how university should be engaging with business, how we create a new future for students to thrive and grow and help them achieve their goals, but secondly, how do we really consider the important question of how we drive digital agility for all staff, but recognising that we have a digital depth. Historically, we've talked about technical depth in university, with that in mind, the COVID-19 is becoming a real digital depth for both staff and students. The real barrier we need to consider as to how we move forward with things. Please note, any questions that you have for Steve, please put them through the webinar, and we will personally come back to you via email and share any more things that are for general consumption on that as well post the webinar.

Now I am really pleased to introduce professor Todd Landman as our guest speaker. Todd is the pro-vice-chancellor of the faculty of social sciences and professor of political science at the University of Nottingham. Todd is going to really speak to us today about the student view from a national and international perspective, but also give us that academic perspective on what this has meant for both the University of Nottingham and how they are dealing as one of our global university. But what that's really mean to them going forward and the academic response to that?

Todd, thank you so much for joining us today, I will hand over to you.

Todd Landman:

Thank you very much, I just thought I would start by making a link between the last presentation and mine. It's important to recognise things called anti-fiction (0:55:23) where many universities had quite a lot of guided learning, online learning, and flexible learning models, already in place, but that there is great variability in those experiences. For me, I would like to just provide my remarks into principles, variables, mechanisms, and student preferences, and really the principles for us today under the pandemic across the world really are the primacy of health and safety of all our students and staff, but also equality, diversity, and inclusion. When Steve talked about the wide digital poverty, there is a big question about inequality and ways in which students can access digital facilities, etc.

The other principle that is very important is to recognize how costly it is in time and the technology to prepare about converting from existing material to online is quite costly, even more so than devising online in the first place. We do need to maximise our engagement in our activity with our students and to have high quality communications with responsiveness and to build a community of learners maybe in a different way. Finally, I would like to discuss the issue of rationalisation, so a lot of the niche program focus on core content and core delivery of disciplinary content, and really look at things back to the financial point about the bottom line and what can be delivered with the resources that the university actually has. In terms of variables, there are a lot of exogenous variables that are affecting universities that are largely outside their control.

The pandemic behaviour, UK Government COVID policy be influenced by universities, but not necessarily determined by it. There is foreign government COVID policies. You don't know how foreign governments necessarily react. We are picking up signals that there has been a bit of discomfort the way in which the government has responded here, perhaps students then have a raised level of anxiety about coming to us.

Equally, there are endogenous things that are in our control. The structure and shape of the academic year is absolutely being discussed across the sector, availability of social distancing spaces, and here I think there is a great variability. Central London-based universities have a different spread of campus than our own, for example. So, how does one practice social distancing, what are the availability of flat spaces for students to be, rather than raised auditoriums, etc. Can all the spaces that can be converted or opened up that are normally used for another purpose, is used for social distance learning, because it's likely to be with us for some time.

The other area that's quite interesting are contact hours themselves, how is that defined. So, part of the reaction to Cambridge going online was this great outcry, and yet, it's very possible that contact hours be broadly understood as that interactive pastoral care that we provide for our students through technology and one on one meetings and social distancing spaces, virtual office hours, guest lectures and external engagement, all these facilitated by technology.

The mechanisms at our disposal are mixed modes of delivery, that will absolutely require us to think carefully about workload allocations for academic staff, with reimagining the academic year, and mixed modes of assessment and examination, the take home exam, the unseen exam, a number of things can be done online. I just really finish by saying we have had experience of lockdown in china. Where the campus was absolutely locked down for a number of weeks, we delivered all our content online, and then welcomed the students back, once the Chinese authorities allowed the students to come back on campus. In a sense, we have had a kind of look into the future by looking at another part of the world, but having said that, there is great anxiety in the student community if we looked at all the survey data.

In fact, the Chinese data on 8000 students from the Association of British Chinese professors showed that they feel those students are very significantly and fairly substantially affected by COVID up to 50%. They worry about xenophobia and discrimination if they do come, and most of them support some sort of three-month online offer with a phased return that seems to be the highest preference. Universities need to really think about talking to students, what their preferences are, what their dispositions are about the sorts of things that they would like to do. I'll just stop there Cat, and if there's any time left, so I could take a question too.


Great, thank you so much Todd. I find that great, really great insight on the international agenda, we haven't touched as much upon what we are seeing happen in China in particular, although we have heard a lot of press.

One quick question that we have coming through is about learnings from other universities, particularly in Australia, and obviously their academic term started just with COVID really hit, and international is an important part for them. Any views or learnings from what you have seen them doing that the UK could avail of? One example that comes to mind for myself is how they are working some of the australian agencies directly with the airline to facilitate the transport of students from particular parts of China and Asia Pacific to Australia. Have we any views on the UK doing anything similar?


There is a lot of discussion about what might a protective corridor look like, so is it possible for universities to collect for students. And equally, is it possible then to quarantine policy in place in UK, what then does a university provide to have a safe place for students to land and get settled. So can free accommodation for a two-week period on quarantine, is that something that could be offered. Again, housing is a mix always between university housing and private sector housing. It's not an easy question to answer in terms of how one would operationalise a protective corridor. Something about giving confidence to parents and confidence to students that as many safety measures as possible are being put into place, but again, as Leo said, a lot of that is very difficult to imagine with the uncertainties around that are difficult to control. There is always going to be an element of risk in decision making that a student makes, and that's partly why we have scenario with our financial modelling, because despite what students are saying, the behaviour is one that we have to anticipate that they might at the last minute not come, and I think that’s a really important question for us to consider.


Great, thank you. I am very conscious of the time and we are just running over. What I would like to say, we've had a lot of questions come in and each of our speakers, we will respond with them to the questions and we will repost and share this with everybody. Really, thank you for participating. We are also going to be running another webinar in a few weeks, which will be all about students dealing with their anxiety, their voice working very closely with the NUS and a number of the leading universities and their student population. We will be reaching back out to you but really keen for you to cascade within your organisation as well, because their perspective is equally as important, particularly in regards to what their experience they are hoping to receive.

Huge thank you to all of our speakers, we are incredibly grateful for your time and your insights today and a big thank you to your audience. We hope you enjoy the rest of the day and we will share the rest of our materials with you via your email, and if you have any further questions, please let us know.

Thanks so much. Take care everyone.

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