From operational to transformational: the changing role of HR in higher education

How can HR play a more central role in shaping the direction of higher education? This was the topic of our workshop at the 2017 UHR conference. And while there was clearly appetite from delegates to shift HR to being more strategic, there was also a sense of the scale of the challenge ahead.

The HR leaders of the future will need to be dedicated to finding and motivating talent around their university to adapt and perform at their best. So are they ready to make the transition from operational to transformational? We discussed some of the key things to consider on that  journey:

Using new technology platforms

Challenges delegates raised ranged from IT system change to how they are going to meet the needs and expectations of future students. While new technology platforms will enable universities to have access to greater information and self-service tools, they need to focus on educating their organisations on how technology can free up HR leaders to play a more strategic role.  

Creating ‘one workforce’

Another challenge raised was how a university can think and work as ‘one workforce’, managing talent with different skill sets across teaching, research and back office staff. The increasing focus on the international agenda also requires HR to have knowledge and experience in new areas like global mobility and how to create a flexible yet stable workforce.

Enhancing the student experience

There was recognition that students are beginning to demand very different ways of working to create the best student experience. As a result universities need to become more innovative in order to attract, retain and develop new skills fit for a digital age.

People strategy

HR leaders need to set out a people strategy aligned to the wider university strategy. This should include how they attract the right skills; provide opportunities for career progression, deploy their workforce according to organisational needs and retain the experience that is needed to succeed.

If HR leaders are to play a more strategic role, they will need to challenge themselves and work in a different way with their organisations, bringing their professional capabilities to the fore and moving away from more transactional activities and relationships.

While there is no doubt that there will be significant challenges ahead, these cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the transformation that is needed if HR is to play a strategic role in shaping the university of tomorrow.


Juliet Stuttard | Director
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Vicky Campbell | Manager
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