The University of Salford, is ‘on a journey’ of rapid (and sometimes disruptive) adaptive change. This institutional change is itself set within a wider change landscape – we are in the midst of seismic shifts in higher education (HE) policy in England and the wider UK, whilst accelerating technological innovation is rapidly changing the way we work and the ways in which we prepare our students for life. Meanwhile, universities (and wider society) are questioning and revisiting previously stable ‘normals’ in light of a global pandemic.
We are delighted to present Salford’s Enabling Student Success (ESS) portfolio of insights and reflections which form part of Advance HE’s Collaborative Development Fund 2021 project Inclusive Institutions - enabling and supporting culture. This project enabled us as a learning organisation to pause and explore how change felt to staff as a lived experience. Our case study captures the institutional perspectives from School Senior Leadership Teams and their respective Academic Schools with respect to our own strategic ambitions and in response to the government’s 2019 value for money agenda (Trendence UK, 2018; OFS, 2019).
About ESS (Enabling Student Success)
The strategy is firmly grounded in the ESS framework, introduced in 2020, to metamorphosise progression, employability and the overarching student experience. ESS consists of four distinct strands (academic success, customer service, leadership and the assurance environment) which formed the foundation pillars to support eight specific institutional challenges.
Each strand is firmly rooted in the drive to enable students to maximise potential throughout their learning journey. Enabling Student Success is our single institutional priority, and the work, which touches all aspects of the student experience, is led Dr Sam Grogan, Pro Vice Chancellor Student Experience.
Since spring 2020 professional services and academic colleagues across the institution have come together to make targeted, focused changes to practice and operations through a number of parallel and related pieces of work to deliver a step change in the students’ University journey. It synthesised all internal policy and processes under a single approach to form an institution-wide strategic plan bringing together HE focused expertise on governance, leadership, teaching and learning, equality, diversity and inclusion, to deliver industry-focused teaching, research/scholarship and transform student outcomes.
Inclusive institutions: enabling and supporting culture change
The Advance HE project enabled us to develop a deep understanding of the key cultural institutional enablers that drove the change required to facilitate ESS. Given the complexity associated with whole institutional change we gained a better understanding of the nuances in adopting and implementing a large institutional change project. The interactive case study developed for the Collaborative Development Fund 2021 project provides a narrative for how Salford culture articulated the enablers for transformational change to deliver the ESS framework. It explored instrumental drivers for initiating the inclusive culture required for this rapid transformation to be successful; and teased out differences between approaches and adaptations between Salford’s four Academic Schools; in terms of management, leadership and support for colleagues to enable sustainable environments to be formed.
What we discovered
Our project evidenced that a more inclusive culture, grounded in a sense of belonging and value, leads to more impactful transformation when ingrained at the heart of large scale HE change projects. The model for promoting inclusive cultures highlighted 10 enablers which are drawn from the strength and barrier themes that stem from the analysis of the research. Success was found through tapping into shared motivations and personal drivers to craft an inclusive vision through the development of a culture of trust and belonging.
“I was empowered by management and given the space to innovate and make positive changes that enabled student success.” (pulse survey, 2022)
It was found that the ‘sticky’ culture at the heart of the institution provides an inclusive environment for impactful transformation based on strong foundations and organisational cohesion. This 'stickiness' provides a positive workplace culture that lends to employees wanting to 'stick around' which is key to achieving a successful inclusiveness to drive transformational change. Many elements drawn from the research evidenced a positive 'sticky' culture at Salford, where staff worked together towards a shared, strategic vision driven primarily by a motivation to improve student outcomes. A primary factor for successful transformation was strongly related to how change feels to staff at all levels. Through consideration of the lived experience and understanding pre-existing cultures, more effective communication and a more connected inclusive approach can be adopted to drive future transformational change. Ultimately resulting in the journey feeling more positive within all levels of the organisation.
“I was impressed on the work towards developing the framework, it brought together a range of staff form different parts of the university, using their experience and perspectives to build a meaningful framework for Salford…” (pulse survey 2022)
Our sticky culture promoted the inclusive environment for transformational change and was found to be dependent upon several considerations, including understanding of the historic context of change to temperature test how change felt in relation to the lived experience. This requires significant relationship building to empower and develop confidence at all levels of the organisation’s infrastructure. Thus, tapping into shared motivations and personal drivers to craft an inclusive vision through a culture of trust and belonging - “we are in this together”. Furthermore, the sensitivity of pre-existing cultures and the need to collaborate were paramount to promoting environments to empower people and drive sustainable change where people felt valued and heard.
We have showcased our findings through a range of digital assets providing an evidence base for Advance HE members seeking to explore and embed inclusive culture transformation.
The Salford team wanted to go one step further by seeking to identify new forms of evidence of culture transformation, and so our evaluation is expressed though a set of digital assets which together form an interactive case study. This strengthens the teaching and research nexus within the newly established Learning and Teaching Enhancement Centre at the University of Salford, by bringing the postgraduate research (PGR) community into the core of a key strategic institutional transformational project. The student voice has been captured within the case study and essential experience has been gathered which will contribute directly to wider postgraduate studies thus, building and supporting pedagogic enquiry, contributing to academic citizenship and providing further networking opportunities both within and beyond the institution.
The multi-discipline project team comprised of three postgraduate researchers, four academics (three Associate Deans and a National Teaching Fellow), two Academic Developers, a Learning Technologist and Salford’s Research Development Manager, overseen by Professor Jess Power (Academic Lead for the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Centre and Professor of Learning and Teaching at The University of Salford).
Jess Power, Professor of Teaching and Learning at The University of Salford, leads for the newly-formed Learning and Teaching Enhancement Centre. She is particularly interested in contributing to shaping the future of higher education through interdisciplinarity working. You can find out more about her work here:
Trendence UK (2018). Value for money: the student perspective Research commissioned by the Office for Students. Project led by a consortium of Students’ Unions © Group GTI, February 201 Layout 1 (officeforstudents.org.uk) [accessed Feb 2022].
OFS (2019). English higher education 2019 The Office for Students annual review The Office for Students English higher education 2019 – The Office for Students annual review.
2021-22 Collaborative Development Fund: University of Salford - Inclusive structures driving transformational change
Find out more about the University of Salford's project and access all of the project outputs here.