This week I’ve been out of the office for most of the time. On Monday I was in London for the day, on Tuesday and Wednesday at a conference and on Thursday and Friday on two days development with the middle and senior staff from my faculty. It’s been a bit hectic.
The two days with Faculty staff have been brilliant. I try to take this group of about 30 people away from the office twice a year. We use the time to review and revise our strategic plans, talk about portfolio development – including which programmes are not doing well – and often bring in speakers from other parts of the university to talk about finance or estates or learning resources or student administration processes, or from outside the university to help us refresh and challenge any complacent thinking. This time we used part of the first day to look at faculty finances and had a group work exercise with a template and spreadsheet to cost the provision of a new programme and decide how it should be priced. Not something that health care educators normally get involved with – but something that they need to really understand so that we don’t plan provision that needs to be subsidised (because there’s no scope for subsidy), and so that academics can understand how many students they need to recruit at what price in order to break even or make a small surplus for reinvestment. We had some inventive and humorous responses to the exercise – the point is not to take it too seriously but to learn how different delivery methods, changing contact time, different assessment methods etc can have an effect on the economics and the feasibility of a programme. Understanding their financial context really helps in the thinking and planning for the academic portfolio.
On the second day we gave each Programme Leader a 10 minute slot to present an innovation from their course. Sixteen presentations of incredibly impressive work resulted. Great for me to hear about this front-line activity – it means I can boast about it whenever I get an opportunity , both internally and externally. But more importantly, it gives the different programmes the opportunity to see innovative teaching methods, learn from each other and translate excellent principles from one course to another. I was so impressed I have asked for a ‘brochure’ (hard copy and virtual) to be produced twice a year that we can use for marketing and promoting the excellent experience that students get and I am encouraging staff to write-up their changes and to talk about them at relevant conferences. It was a really motivating and interesting day. Lots of scope for interdisciplinary activity and collaborative working across the programmes.
But the greatest benefit from these days is the chance to spend time together. To have biologists rubbing shoulders with occupational therapists, nurses with sports scientists, social workers with scientists. It’s brilliant for levelling playing fields, preventing any sense of any one’s programme being of higher ‘academic’ value than someone else’s, and recognising the many, many similarities in their work and how much they can learn from and contribute to, each other. We have an evening meal together and a good laugh and just generally kick back a little.
From my point of view as Dean, these days are one of the best innovations I have made in my time in the faculty. They have been running for about eight years and have really brought the faculty together. Building personal relationships helps with working relationships, different skill sets means great support for each other, and builds a culture of mutual respect. It wasn’t easy persuading busy people of the necessity, neither is it cheap taking 30 people away for an overnight stay, but the benefits in terms of alignment of vision, faculty cohesion and collegiality are tremendous. And now everybody enjoys it and appreciates the time to share and learn. Result.