Managing Uncertainty

The UK Higher Education (HE) landscape is currently undergoing a major directional shift which is causing great uncertainty for all key stakeholders, namely universities’ administrators, staff, and prospective students. There is a move towards an American style commercial model, making many UK universities worried about their future.

University administrators are running financial projections based on what fees to charge prospective students in 2012, between £6000 and £9000, in preparation for eventual government cuts to teaching and research funds. HE academic and support staff are nervous about their jobs while prospective students are concerned about the large amounts of debt they will graduate with from 2015.

Uncertainty for staff breeds anxiety. The antidote to uncertainty is clarity. This is the reason why I believe Professor Bob Cryan, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, has organised several corporate town hall style meetings with university staff members to manage the uncertainty and anxiety within the university. These drop-in meetings offer him a great opportunity to address the anxieties and concerns of staff members. I attended one of such meetings last week and I felt he provided the clarity that staff members needed at this current moment. He did not make any promises or guarantees but provided the honesty and clarity that was desired by staff who attended the meeting.

He spent about 45 minutes addressing three key issues – (1) what we {executive team} know, (2) what we don’t know and (3) what we are doing. He then invited the audience to ask questions which they did as several staff members quizzed him about the university’s plans for the future. He did his best to answer these difficult questions and promised to hold another series of meetings when his team gets new information from the government.

I don’t know how other VCs are handling the uncertainty and staff anxiety in their institutions but failure to meet with staff to address their concerns will be a big blunder. Without clarity from the top, gossip and rumours will run riot in any organization. It is best for leaders to meet with their followers in person in times of great uncertainty and not delegate the task to others or rely solely on electronic communications to get their message across. Bob Cryan has handled the uncertainty brilliantly so far.

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2 Responses to Managing Uncertainty

  1. Ogechi

    As a student, lemme just say that I’m not finding some of these uncertainties funny at all. The Tuition issue and the loans are not going down well. There’s so much financial strain these days.

    Like you said, though, we could do with more clarity so that plans can be made and backup plans put into place. It’s not just the staff who are suffering anxiety.

    At the end of the day, let’s keep looking unto GOD…all will be well.

  2. Kike

    I like what Oge said about the fact that it’s just not staff members that are anxious. We students also have questions that should ideally e addressed by our own university VCs.

    I like this post Uncle Ola. I particularly like your example. More unis should aim to have such meetings. Not just for staff but also for students.

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