We Live In Interesting Times – Which Of Us Will Be Writing The Novel?

Lee Sanders, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Birmingham, took up the role of AHUA Chair on the 1st January 2017. Here he takes a look at some of the current issues facing the sector, and considers how we as individuals, and as the AHUA might influence the story over the coming months and years.

I was reading Wonkhe’s insightful coverage of the government’s defeat in the Lords on the opposition amendment to the Higher Education Reform Bill. This was the first of 500 plus amendments being mooted. Interesting to those of us who live and breathe HE.

There has also been a flurry of press articles on the Bill in recent weeks. But it got me wondering – has there ever been anything in novels, films or TV series on universities and government?

I couldn’t recall anything in the foreground of campus novels, such as those by David Lodge. The backstory of the TV series The Very Peculiar Practice is the Thatcher cuts of the 1980s and there is one darkly comic episode when the government auditors visit.

Then there is this amusing clip from Yes Minister – Coffee at the University. Despite its vintage it has some resonances. But no scenes of parliamentary debates about universities leap off the page or screen.

One day, a colleague in AHUA might fill the gap – we do have at least one novelist in our ranks. Working as we do in unprecedented times and close to the action, we could be ideal narrators.

On top of the Bill, there is the TEF and a reformed REF. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are taking different paths with their own HE policy changes. Teaching, students, research, funding, regulation, and the UK’s international standing are all affected. Competition is running hot, yet we must continue to collaborate to succeed. Brexit only adds to the complexity.

All of this means AHUA is more important than ever. And as the new AHUA Chair I wanted to share three themes that I would like to pursue:

1. AHUA will continue to be a ‘go-to’ organisation for informed, wise and well-respected advice for government and sector bodies. We are well placed in this regard. We are the lead body for HE Professional Services across the UK. Our roles bring insight and broad expertise. We are well networked and connected.

2. An inclusive organisation, AHUA embraces the diversity of HE organisations and the variety of members’ roles. Our diversity means our voice is more authoritative and gives a basis for sharing issues and practice. With our UK-wide membership we can contribute significantly to issues in all parts of the UK, and reflect on differences and common themes.

3. AHUA will continue to be an effective member organisation, whose support and services are valued. As a community of practice, AHUA provides a range of events and opportunities for peers to come together to network, discuss, share, learn, mentor and develop. We pioneered talent development in HE Management, through schemes such as Ambitious Futures (http://ahua.ac.uk/ambitious-futures-developing-university-leaders/). I am keen to encourage active engagement in the Association through conferences, regional meetings, learning sets and the AHUA Blogs and forum.

I’ll need help with these things. We are fortunate in having excellent colleagues on the Executive and across the Association, who make valuable contributions to AHUA’s work. Catherine and Tracey are wonderful support. I will continue the team approach to our activities, so don’t be surprised if you are approached to lend a hand. I also intend to get out and attend the regional meetings over the next 12 months to listen to colleagues’ views.

I’d like to finish this piece with huge thanks to my predecessor as Chair, Liz Winders, who retired in December, for all her wisdom, work and commitment over many years.

So, will I be writing the novel? Some might feel fact is already stranger than fiction.