The value of AHUA learning sets

AHUA learning sets are invaluable to our membership. James Rolfe, Chief Operating Officer at Anglia Ruskin University, shares his experiences of being a learning set member, and the critical insights and support he has gained.

AHUA learning sets

AHUA has successfully run 16 learning sets since the first took place in 2010.

Learning set membership is regularly cited as one of the most helpful development offers the Association makes to members.

Access to a network of peers, with whom to share and discuss current issues in a confidential and supportive environment, has proved vital for many.

James Rolfe, Chief Operating Officer at Anglia Ruskin University, shares his experiences below.

James Rolfe, AHUA Action Learning Set

The AHUA Action Learning Set has proved invaluable to me as a relative newcomer to higher education.

There were three main benefits:

1. Networks

Success in any senior role depends on a wide range of networks both within our institutions and outside: locally and across higher education institutions.

The learning set provides an informal, confidential, and safe way to develop some of those networks, and get exposure to new ideas and experiences.

And, given that our learning set covered both pre- and peri-pandemic periods, we did have the opportunity to meet face-to-face. This allowed us to get to know each other better, build that social capital, and relax away from the day-to-day workplace.

2. Culture

Many of the challenges faced in higher education are very similar to those in other sectors: customer (or student) service, digitisation, value for money, efficiency, agility, being a competitive employer, and wellbeing, to name a few.

But the cultural nuances between sectors can be significant. Addressing a problem a certain way in one sector doesn’t necessarily carry over to another. The Action Learning Set has given me those insights, again in a safe environment, that make it easier to understand and operate in higher education.

Obviously, not all higher education institutions are the same, but the cultural differences between sectors can nevertheless be significant. The Action Learning Set has been a quick, focused way of getting those insights.

3. Knowledge

Whilst there are many similarities with the other sectors I’ve worked in (local and central government), there are key differences too, not least around the relatively heavily regulatory burden in higher education.

Learning about that regulation, how best to judge it, and to make the most of it, is a key skill for success in higher education. Sharing ideas, views, and opinions has been invaluable. I doubt, frankly, I would have had anywhere near the useful level of understanding of our sector without this aspect of the learning set.

The learning set format has also moved well between face-to-face and virtual. It will, no doubt, move back to face-to-face at some point in the future. This has added to the cost effectiveness of the AHUA offer. I’m absolutely sure that both my time, and Anglia Ruskin University’s money, have been well spent in our investment in the learning set.

Join an AHUA learning set

Further learning sets will start this Autumn.  If you are interested in joining one, please contact Catherine Webb in the AHUA office by 10 September.