Huddersfield staff development may be like the Gulag, but it gets results

Deputy vice-chancellor Peter Slee describes the demanding approach that has led to rising standards

October 30, 2014

Rising standards at a university have been put down to the introduction of “a ‘Gulag’ form of staff development” by a senior manager.

Peter Slee, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, said that the demanding approach of requiring all lecturers to have professional accreditation, a teaching qualification and to get a PhD if they do not already have one had been a key factor in improved student satisfaction.

Speaking at the Higher and Further Education Show at London’s Olympia earlier this month, Professor Slee said that academic staff were motivated by being asked three key questions: why would anyone want to be taught by them; why would anyone want to be led by them; and, if their job were advertised now, would they get it?

A PhD was a key part of the answer to these questions, he argued, with the proportion of Huddersfield lecturers who hold the qualification now at 60 per cent, up from 45 per cent. Another 30 per cent are registered on courses that they will complete over the next five or six years.

“It’s about a mindset and hopefully growing and developing in the job,” said Professor Slee. “It’s a ‘Gulag’ form of staff development, but what our students are finding is that it is benefiting them when they have staff with broader knowledge.”

Professor Slee conceded that not all employees had been happy with the management approach, or with the need to get a new academic qualification. Huddersfield’s staff headcount has reduced by 10 per cent in recent years, without redundancies or restructuring.

But he argued that the university’s current lecturers were “very productive staff doing great things for us”.

Huddersfield’s overall score in the National Student Survey rose from 76 per cent to 86 per cent between 2007 and 2013, while staff appear to be happy too, with Huddersfield claiming top spot in each of the four key areas of the last Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey.

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