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New Challenges, New Solutions: Advance HE Collaborative Development Fund

12 Nov 2020 | Nick Skeet Nick Skeet, Associate Director (Membership & Accreditation), explains how Advance HE’s new development fund will enable members to address emerging complex challenges through collaborative approaches.

Speaking to our members in Higher Education and Research Institutes across the globe I know that one of the most enduring, perhaps even astonishing, aspects of the sector’s response to the crisis created by Covid-19 was the breath-taking speed and agility with which individuals and teams responded to move teaching, tutoring and large parts of the student experience online. It’s the type of response that had I read it in a scenario planning exercise, I would barely have thought the outcome credible let alone actually accomplished.

Yet it happened, and we continue to see innovation and enhancement to online provision as we all respond to the likelihood of Covid-19 being part of our lives for some time to come. All of this has highlighted an appetite, and indeed a capability, for swift, relevant and collaborative ways to respond to rapidly emerging and unforeseen challenges. Hopefully – thankfully – not every challenge will be on a scale of the pandemic. But the current crisis has shone a spotlight on an array of other challenges which we believe demand swift, and well-considered, solutions. And we know from what we have witnessed and our own recent sector-wide projects that creative, applied solutions can be achieved through collaboration, in short order.

Take, for example, the sector’s very proactive response to our call to join with us in facilitating collective learning and rapid solutions through the ‘Creating Socially Distanced Campuses and Education project’. In early May we issued the invitation to participate in the work; by mid-June we had engaged over 1,000 colleagues from across our global membership in considering key facets of the priority topic of student education and experience, resulting in a series of themed leadership reports and a capstone report. We know from your feedback that the collaborative and iterative approach taken to the work and the highly practical and readily applicable nature of the outputs, has been hugely valued by our members in helping them address the challenges involved in planning and implementing a partial return to campus, in a situation with no precedent upon which to base planning and decisions.  

The response and success of that project set our minds thinking about how we might use a similar approach to supporting members in addressing other widespread  issues arising from the crisis. In particular, we have focused on how we can stimulate study, innovation and collaborative learning to help address the strategic challenges faced by the sector and underpinning our current year’s member benefits. Specifically we aim through our core benefits activity throughout the year, to develop institutional and individual resilience by helping members mitigate the impact on equalities of the current crisis, develop sustainable and flexible programmes of education, and strengthen capacity to lead and manage transformation. These aims are directly informed through our engagement with members in formulating the benefits for 2020-21.

This is the context and backdrop to our launch today of our new initiative: the Advance HE Collaborative Development Fund: New Challenges, New Solutions, which will replace the Good Practice Grants, as we build on the appetite to address shared strategic challenges ‘in the moment’.

We have identified three areas of significant challenge and will be inviting submissions from our members to lead grant-funded solutions valued at between £20,000 and £35,000 per project:

  • The Board Diversity Practice Project – collating, understanding and sharing members’ practice in Higher Education and Research Institutes. We know that the diversity of Boards remains a key challenge (Diversity of HE Governing Bodies in the UK Report, 2020); as well as challenges around their substantial delivery of commitments to equality, diversity and inclusivity at all levels.  We will be looking at work which addresses how boards challenge institutional progress on EDI as well as delivering an inclusive board culture. Our own governance effectiveness framework is being updated to enable us to draw out these issues with more precision in future. The Board Diversity Practice Project in running  in collaboration with the international executive search firm Perrett Laver, whose involvement has enabled us to widen the scope of the research and maximise its benefit to Advance HE members and the sector.

  • Developing flexible ecosystems for education that support student success: where are we, what works and where next? The pandemic has highlighted that, globally, higher education institutions are looking to enhance their capacity to operate flexible and resilient education systems to meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that society anticipates. The higher education sector is looking for strategies and infrastructure that develop and support this capacity and this project call is aimed squarely at soliciting evidence and good practice that supports how these changes are taking place across the educational ecosystem. 

  • The reshaping of Higher Education and Research Institute strategy and culture: pandemic perturbations, evolution or revolution? Whilst in some respects the pace of change has been seen as acceleration in widespread innovation, particularly in the field of on-line and blended learning, there are many other areas where the impact and ramifications of changes are far from understood. The goal of this strand will be to review the range of radical changes to institutional strategies and strategic thinking brought about so far by the pandemic, and hand-in-hand with this the transformation of organisational cultures. In essence to seek out answers to the core questions, what is transient, what is transformational and what is existential?  

The Advance HE Collaborative Development Fund: New Challenges, New Solutions is launching today (12 November 2020) with the individual calls for applications all differing in focus and requirement. For each of them however, Advance HE wishes to work collaboratively with the successful teams to develop and define the project parameters and methodology, undertake the fieldwork and produce the draft outputs and recommendations. All three projects will be undertaken between January 2021 and June 2021 and final outputs submitted to Advance HE by 30 June 2021. 

Our ambition for these projects is to see the successful bid teams articulating how they will engage through the work with the diversity of our global membership base spanning higher education, in all its settings, and where appropriate research institutes. Working with us to maximise reach and participation, we wish to see benefit from both the discovery phase and project outputs for the full breadth of our membership.

Applications could be from a single bidding institution leading a project demonstrating broad base, wide reaching engagement through the delivery and creation of outputs, or could potentially take the form of a consortium of institutions with a single institution leading the bid. Regardless of the approach, preference will be given to bidders that demonstrate engagement with the themes with a broad range of our member institutions; encouraging contributions from different types of institutions in different countries.

Using these grant funds in this way we are aiming to help create the space within our member benefit activity to address emerging complex challenges, enabling projects that are collaborative in nature, allowing for both exploratory phases and output components that reflect this and a focus on co-creation of insight and resources.

All of the information required including detailed guidance for each call, and how to apply for funds is available via the links above and here.

The deadline for applications in 12 noon GMT on 11 December 2020 with successful bidders being notified on 18 December 2020.

We look forward to working with the successful bid teams on taking forward these exciting initiatives for the benefit of all of our members; generating new insight and successful approaches to these significant and largescale challenges.


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