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VC holds plenary session at UHR national conference

17 May 2012

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol and President of Universities UK, held a plenary session at the Universities Human Resources (UHR) national conference yesterday, at which UHR launched a report on the HR contribution to the challenges facing UK universities.

Linda Holbeche, author of the report and co-director of The Holbeche Partnership, presented the report and discussed its findings during the session. The report, entitled ‘Changing times in UK universities: What difference can HR make?’, demonstrates the quality and confidence of the HR profession in higher education, the ways in which HR contributions could and should improve and how HR can help HE institutions to adapt and thrive in this complex environment.

The report examines some of the implications for people and organisations of the reform agenda for HE in England with similar challenges facing the devolved administrations. The reform agenda is set out in the current Government’s White Paper (‘HE: Students at the heart of the system’, BIS, June 2011). This, combined with the scale of changes facing the HE sector being the most significant for decades, led UHR to commission the report.

Matthew Knight, UHR Chair and HR Director, University of Leeds, said: ‘This report finds that HR people are confident about the change agenda in HE, but are eager to build their capacity and to learn from others. As a profession we know we can play a leading role in supporting staff to deliver an excellent student experience and world leading research performance. We are upbeat about the challenge but not complacent about the scale of what must be achieved.’

Higher education is facing radical, fundamental and unprecedented challenges, a large amount of competition, an unprecedented focus on the student experience and uncertain pressures to differentiate institutional missions. Some of the implications include developments in funding for teaching, a reduction in public funding for teaching and the transition to new systems of graduate contributions which will bring with them enhanced student expectations and competition.

Professor Eric Thomas said: ‘In a sector where its people are such a key component of its success, it is clear that human resource managers will be pivotal in helping universities thrive in a fast-changing environment. Their role in making sure we have the right people, with a clear and shared understanding of what the university is trying to achieve, should not be underestimated.’

Linda Holbeche added: ‘The “people” and “organisation” issues arising from the Government’s higher education reform agenda – and today’s increasingly competitive global marketplace – make a distinctive contribution from university HR functions more necessary than ever. The ways in which many HR professionals in the sector have stepped up to the plate to equip their institutions for current and future success are truly encouraging.’

A detailed version of the report is available online.

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