12 Sep 2017

Unity on campus: professional development for administrative staff

Professional development for administrative staffToday is the first day of the EAIE Conference and Exhibition, with the kick off of the week’s activities. Perhaps you’re looking forward to a workshop or session, or simply starting your conference week off at the Opening Reception this evening. Maybe you’ve signed up for a Campus Experience, where you will tour one of Spain’s public universities, either virtually or in person. The campus, after all, is the physical embodiment of higher education. That is why it is so important to create unity on campus by ensuring nobody gets left behind.

 
Universities’ transformations and reforms are very much the result of the current global political and social trends and national responses. Turbulent times need quick and flexible solutions, thus constant change has become an integral part of the everyday reality for universities in recent years. Now more than ever higher education institutions need to be fast in order to remain relevant, and run twice as fast if they want to achieve their strategic goals. To do this successfully, they need to get everybody on board.

Who is everybody?

When we say ‘everybody’, we mean EVERYBODY. Yes, in capital letters. Most of us think first of students, then of professors, of course the leadership. But what about non-academic staff?

 
In order to get everybody on board, we also need the administrators to be ‘on board’. On one hand, these professionals can serve as the backbone of the change management process and, on the other, share the university’s values and support its ambitious strategic goals, of which internationalisation is very often at the core.

 
Professional development programmes tailored to address specific challenges related to university strategies might be a good working solution.  Of course, the idea of a ‘tailored’ programme implies that there is no universal approach to the design and content, but there are certain outcomes that are very important, provided such programmes are delivered university-wide.

Key elements for professional development programmes

The most important of all is that they create a shared communication space. Administrators rarely work with colleagues outside their immediate teams and as a result often lack the understanding of how their work influences the performance of others and the overall result for the university. Sometimes, administrators simply lack competences of working cross-functionally.

 
They have as well a very vague idea of how the university’s strategic goals can be translated into routine administrative work and what immediate or planned changes might be necessary. So, this communication space can be used effectively by the university leaders not only to explain the institution’s strategic goals, but also to get administrative staff involved through formal and informal discussions. A shared communication space leads to a shared space of values, which is the key to building a sense of community and mutual responsibility.

 
Finally, when people exchange and discuss ideas, they often come up with new solutions, some of which might prove to be good working ones for building new flexible and more efficient administrative routines. The benefits an institution gets are quite obvious, as such programmes help to build support for the changes that any university needs.

Benefits and challenges for the participant

One of the main benefits is that they understand the university’s strategic goals better and their own role in achieving them, which is the basis for building a sense of ownership and commitment. But they also have an opportunity to make professional contacts with peers and colleagues in other functional units and departments.

 
The majority of challenges universities face today on the bumpy road of constant change and transformation cannot be addressed only with regulations, but rather with colleagues working together under a common cause, a motivated community striving to achieve the same aims. Therefore, it is critical to foster processes and tools that can help the administrative personnel to transit from ‘I am doing my part’ to ‘I am working towards our common goal’. Professional development programmes can do the job very well.

Two different universities in two different countries: URV and HSE

 
In 2011 Rovira i Virgili University (URV) created a training course on internationalisation aimed at its administrative staff. The result proved to be such a success that it became an annual offer within the professional development programme at the university and it was exported to other institutions and to the SGroup European Universities’ Network. Under its new name, SUCTI (Systemic Universities Change Towards Internationalization), it has been recently awarded EU funds under a Strategic Partnerships call of the Erasmus+ programme, in order to spread and improve this good practice.

 
In 2013, in addition to its own strategic goals concerning world-class research and teaching, National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) became a participant of the Russian Academic Excellence Project. To respond to the new challenges, the university needed to undergo deep transformations in a very short time, and it created a demand for university administrators who could be the backbone for implementing the changes needed. A special project-based development programme was launched in 2015 and it has borne its first fruits.

 
Making sure the campus is united in its goals, especially if those goals include internationalising the institution, is crucial to long-term success. Administrators should be kept up-to-date and informed as much as the rest of campus faculty and staff, and creating professional development programmes for admin staff is a great way to make sure everybody is ‘on board’.

 
If you’re here in Seville and think your campus administrators might benefit from professional development, please join us Wednesday afternoon from 15:30 to 16:30 for Creating unity on campus: professional development programmes for university administrators (S4.09). Authors Yulia Grinkevich and Marina Casals Sala look forward to sharing their knowledge and hearing your thoughts.

 
Yulia Grinkevich is Director of Internationalisation at HSE. Marina Casals Sala is Director of International Relations at URV.