Changing the University of Mercian’s Culture

Changing the University of Mercian’s Culture

The University of Mercian is located in Central England and was created from the amalgamation of Mercian College and Mercian Institute of Arts, gaining university status in 1998. It currently has 12,500 full and part time students, having always attracted a high proportion (around 40%) of mature students, its location making it accessible and attractive to students from larger cities such as Leicester, Coventry, Bedford and Peterborough. International students account for around 9% of the student population.

The university’s core activity is to help students to succeed in their careers. The vast majority of students attend to improve their career prospects or to change career. Mercian offers programmes across a range of disciplines, being strong in Arts & Media, Business Studies, Engineering, Health Studies, and Social Sciences.

Like all institutions within Higher Education the university faces challenges due to changes in funding and uncertainty regarding international recruitment and funding relating to BREXIT (the country’s decision to leave the European Economic Community). As such, Mercian needs to create a more diverse portfolio of income streams, without putting its core activities at risk. The university’s strategic plan is to deliver high quality, innovative, flexible programmes both on and off campus. It also aims to work closely with employers, schools and colleges to offer excellence in research, scholarship and knowledge transfer, to create and support cultural and economic development.

Mercian currently has a number of strengths, including: a significant proportion of teaching staff with professional qualifications and experience, in additional to teaching qualifications; an increasing number of degree programmes with professional accreditation (with recognition by over 30 bodies); a high student satisfaction rate and a reputation for excellent student support. The University also recognises some weaknesses, including: a low proportion of teaching staff engaged in research; a poor track record in attracting students with high grades on entry and a relatively poor working relationships with relevant professional employers. In setting a course to achieve its new strategic vision, the university has established 5 strategic goals:

  1. Helping all career minded students achieve their career aspirations
  2. Consistently delivery academic excellence
  3. Enhancing the university’s track record in applied research and innovation
  4. Developing the capacity to generate income
  5. Contributing to the cultural and economic prosperity of the region

The Board of Governors has established an ‘Ad Hoc Joint Committee’ with representatives from teaching staff, deans, research and innovation, the students union and HR who are tasked with developing an action plan to address goal 3 enhancing the university’s track record in research. At the first meeting a variety of arguments were put forward.

The HR Director presented data on research funding and activities of Mercian in comparison with that of six other medium sized universities. She suggested that few academic staff engage in research and this was unlikely to change in the near future unless there is greater incentive to do so. Several unit heads suggested that teaching staff don’t have time to do research, and that given the university’s strengths teaching should remain the priority. This was countered by the Research Director, who suggested that teaching and research go hand-in-hand – students need opportunities to be involved in research with academic staff, as this also has benefits for their employability. One of the mature undergraduate representatives expresses a concern of students: that if teaching staff were to be promoted based on the books that they write then will be less interested in teaching.

The Dean of Social Sciences, who has recently joined from a research-intensive university, suggests that compared with her former employer Mercian is a teaching institution, but that the culture must change if the university’s strategic goals are to be met.

At the end of the meeting the President of the Committee summed up the contributions and the need for culture change to occur. After some discussion it was agreed that prior to the next meeting – in 6 weeks time – the university’s Research Manager would draft a report as to how culture change might be progressed.

Assignment Task

Adopting the role of the university Research Manager your task is to develop a management report of around 2,500 words (+/- 10%), which will be sent to the committee members in advance of their next meeting. Your report should utilise and reference relevant theory. You are advised to consider the following:

  • The need for a management style report, which presents the arguments in a structured, readable way for busy professionals and managers (10 marks).
  • Why culture change is likely to be challenging within this environment. (20 marks).
  • The particular people management issues that the university is likely to face and will need to address, as and when change is introduced. (30 marks).
  • Recommendations as to how the university might start to introduce and embed a culture that values and places increased emphasis on staff undertaking research activities. (40 marks).