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A year of progress – building the foundations of Advance HE

01 Apr 2019 | Advance HE Chief Executive, Alison Johns, reflects on the past year and looks forward to the next phase of Advance HE’s work with the sector.

This time last year the final legal agreements had been signed that brought Advance HE into being (on 31 March 2018). So on our first birthday, I feel it is a good time to reflect on progress and to look forward to very encouraging times to come.

This infographic provides some insight in to what we have achieved together with you, our members and sector group support; including these highlights: the 5,000th person to attend the Aurora programme, demonstrating the sector’s commitment to promoting and encouraging equal representation and opportunity for women in higher education; the 100,000 Fellow, evidencing individual and collective commitment to great teaching; over 50 institutions now committed to the Race Equality Charter, sharing their determination for equality, diversity and inclusion; and the launch of the Board Vacancies Portal, just one of the many initiatives to enhance governance in higher education. These successes, and more, are ones of which we should all be proud.

There was also a huge amount to do which meant last year was challenging and exhilarating in equal measures: in line with the Bell review commitments, we streamlined our three legacy organisations reducing costs; at the same time we delivered a 10% discount on member fees across the board; we consulted with the sector on what Advance HE should be and should deliver; we re-named and rebranded and even ‘moved house’ in Scotland. Restructuring dominated our internal agenda from Easter to Christmas and even then we merged at break neck speed, given a highly complex three way merger. I am extremely appreciative and proud of the way staff continued to deliver business as usual to our members at all levels, when we were in fact heavily under-resourced ourselves at times as we reshaped the organisation. Their dedication and commitment made me feel very privileged to be given the job I have.

I think that there are a number of factors behind this progress. Among these I would highlight: 

  • the willingness of the sector to engage in a productive consultation process, highlighting what is really valued and helping us shape Advance HE, driving us to bring the promise of the Bell review for a more financially sustainable and joined-up sector agency to life. Our consultation with our members has continued to shape our future membership offer and we will continue to consult through our new Strategic Advisory Groups. Formed from established experts from our membership, they will be built on trust, transparency and openness. They will consider the major challenges facing our members and will outline how Advance HE should respond, ensuring our services truly meet the needs of our members.  
  • the willingness of the sector to embrace the transition year which has reduced risk and accelerated the integration of the legacy agencies into a more effective offer; thank you for your support.
  • the unrelenting support and objective guidance of our new Board, who have been a real model of support and appropriate challenge. 
  • Finally, two other vitally important “people” factors have given our year added impetus. The first has been the enthusiastic engagement of the many thousands – literally thousands – of your staff at every level who have engaged in our programmes and events, or blogged or contributed in a myriad of ways. Second, our own team, in the way they have performed as I referred to above.

So as our ‘Year in review’ infographic illustrates, a considerable amount of progress has been achieved in just one year. My interaction with the sector leads me to believe that we have built a good foundation, but that the sector will expect more. We are far from complacent and we plan to deliver and develop our work so that it’s leading, relevant, continuously refreshed and improved, and it represents value for money. 

Our focus is on meeting the needs of our members, collectively and individually. We will develop and connect our expertise in teaching and learning; equality, diversity and inclusion; leadership; and governance, to support world-leading student outcomes. Most importantly, we will build on the capabilities of our three founding agencies to make the most of our synergies and expertise to deliver value, quality and impact. Alongside this, we will share our membership model which, through our consultation process, I am confident will offer choice, flexibility and value. We will be more than the sum of our parts.

Perhaps one of the most important insights from the past year is the ‘almost’ unique and privileged position we hold that allows us to connect so many people. These connections reach across all four UK nations, across mission groups, disciplines and themes, and increasingly connect institutions and practitioners around the world. In an exciting development, to be formally launched in May, we will provide an online platform that will underpin and enhance these connections. Its potential as a platform for sharing and learning has no borders and I believe the opportunities it offers are huge. We are really excited about this development which we look forward to sharing with all of you as a benefit of membership.

Finally, and on a personal note, I would like to thank you for your support over the past year. It has been a whirlwind: both challenging and rewarding! We are excited by the future. We are optimistic for the sector, despite the challenging political and economic landscape. We cannot wait to continue our work in partnership with you and in support of your efforts to deliver world-class higher education for all.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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