Keeping it European

AHUA Honorary Secretary and HUMANE President, Paul Greatrix, discusses the advantages of joining HUMANE for AHUA members.

In addition to my role as AHUA Honorary Secretary I am also privileged to serve as President of a sister organisation, HUMANE, the Heads of University Management and Administration Network in Europe. These are similar organisations in terms of scale and scope and share common ambitions in terms of providing a strong network for heads of administration to come together, learn and support each other as well as share intelligence and ideas. AHUA and HUMANE are also, importantly, committed to the development of both our members and aspiring university leaders.

Obviously the geographical scope is different but I do think there is huge merit in active involvement in both networks and I must admit to being more than a little surprised at the relatively modest number of AHUA members who are also involved in HUMANE, given the obvious benefits. In this post-Brexit world it seems to me that finding whatever ways we can in higher education to maintain connections with other European institutions is absolutely essential, and HUMANE offers one really valuable means of achieving this. Membership of HUMANE provides opportunities to:

  • expand professional networks both locally and internationally,
  • continually develop the skills and expertise that senior staff need to succeed,
  • stay up-to-date on key issues and trends,
  • have the opportunity to work with HE leaders who have first-hand experience of the ever-changing challenges within HE in a European and global context.

There are over 170 HUMANE members in 26 different European countries and beyond (we now have Australian members too) and I would strongly encourage all AHUA members, if not already a member, to consider it. Many member institutions will be members of EUA, the European University Association, but they are a bit more like UUK in approach and offer whereas HUMANE is much more closely aligned to the AHUA outlook.

Wintering in Spain

I’m writing this blog in the middle of the 2024 Winter School in Barcelona, a flagship HUMANE event, which I’ve been privileged to be a part of as a presenter and assessor for a number of years now. This is a week-long intensive training course for up and coming senior professional services staff. Since its beginning in 2003, it has become one of the best programmes around for developing the leadership potential of outstanding administrators. Most importantly though it brings together 40 administrators from all over Europe (and beyond) and there will undoubtedly be at least one or two of the hundreds of Winter School alumni, all of whom will have derived real professional benefits from the programme, somewhere in most institutions.

The Winter School is one of the signature events in the HUMANE calendar and is intended to develop the leadership potential of talented senior managers by making them fully aware of the concepts and practices of strategic management in a European context, and the importance of integrating academic matters, finances, human resources, governance, leadership and communication strategy in the development and articulation of university strategy.

The Winter School focuses on leadership and management skills in the context of the “big picture” of global higher education. The programme is equally sensitive to the uniqueness of the practice of management in a university setting. This is not just “yet another” management course.

Participants gain experience in making informed choices in decision-making processes. The Winter School uses the experience of HUMANE members and other expert speakers to give unique first-hand insight into general problems. The geographical and cultural spread of our members ensure that this discussion is not system-specific.

The core themes of the Winter School Programme are broad and international:

  • Global sector trends and the implications of globalisation for higher education institutions
  • Governance, leadership and management models in higher education
  • Talent management
  • Financial Management
  • Strategic and Change Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Communication Strategy
  • Globalisation

The programme is highly intensive, and includes plenary sessions and practical work in small groups based on international case studies. One of the case studies, delivered for the sixth (and final) time this year, has been the internationalisation strategies of the University of Nottingham. The other case this year, for the second time, was La Rochelle Université and its involvement in the European University Alliance Conexus (the European University for Smart Urban Coastal Sustainability).

As ever I’ve really enjoyed discussing and engaging with delegates on this and talking about the challenges and benefits of international strategy and operations. Seeing how the participants engage with the material, and work incredibly hard in their teams to respond to one of the two case studies and then present to another team who play different roles as part of a University Executive Board is always stimulating. The case study submissions and presentations are each assessed by a selection of senior leaders, including former Winter School participants, and feedback on these is then provided directly to them on their work and pointers offered for future development.

As an indicator of the quality of the programme I wanted to highlight that one of the speakers this year was Nicola Owen, AHUA Chair, who presented on the topic of talent and leadership management for global engagement. You can see the full Winter School 2024 programme and list of all of the speakers here.

Building on the experience

Many of those who have participated in the Winter School over the years have progressed to senior leadership positions in European universities and continue to engage in the programme. There is also a thriving alumni network too which brings together everyone who has completed the annual Winter School and other key HUMANE events and now has over 500 members from several hundred universities across Europe. The alumni network seeks to encourage the further development of international networks of professional staff so that they can continue to exchange ideas and experiences as well as enabling members to continue to develop their careers in university leadership and management by deepening their understanding of other universities across Europe and further afield. It’s a really powerful collective.

A Broad Offer

HUMANE’s annual programme comprises a strong selection of high quality events. Beyond the signature Barcelona Winter School, there is also the Summer School which takes place in September in Berlin and the annual conference, being held this year at the University of Amsterdam. Other forthcoming highlights include a spring seminar on AI and data governance at the University of Groningen and, closer to home, a study visit at the University of Edinburgh focusing on innovation in higher education.

All of these events offer a great opportunity for participants to learn from a group of multi-national peers whilst exploring a quite different university context. As the UK continues to adapt to a very different international profile post-Brexit it reinforces the need for those of us involved in UK higher education to sustain our engagement with colleagues from institutions overseas. In addition to this programme, involvement in the HUMANE network offers an excellent way for AHUA members to maintain connections with other European institutions develop their skills and expertise and expand their professional networks both locally and internationally.

HUMANE recently conducted a survey of its members about their roles and responsibilities and made some interesting insights into the role of the head of administration in European universities. This report very much complements the work which AHUA has undertaken, initially in 2018 and again more recently, about the role of the Registrar. Taken together the similarities of experience and activities of heads of administration across Europe as presented in these reports show significant similarities.

I would therefore strongly encourage AHUA members who aren’t yet involved to join in and take advantage of the outstanding network and development opportunities HUMANE has to offer. Even at times of financial constraint like we are all experiencing currently, when everyone is looking through their list of institutional subscriptions and questioning the value of each, HUMANE membership is, in my view, a must have. Anyone who wants to know more should not hesitate to get in touch if they would like to discuss further.