Patrick Hackett: All change?

by | Dec 11, 2019 | Registrar, SLT | 3 comments

When I’m out and about meeting staff I hear much debate about the why, what, when and how of change in our University. I wanted to share my thoughts on this often contentious topic – and hear your views too.

Early in 2020 we will launch our University’s new vision and strategic plan – Our future. In order to fulfil Our future we need to ensure that we are in a financially sustainable position so that we have the funds to invest in the new staff, facilities and infrastructure which will be needed to bring our plans to life.

Our Financial Statements for 2018/19, which have been published following approval by the Board of Governors, confirm that more than 95% of our £1.1bn income is spent on our core goals – on our staff and our students – to deliver research, education and social responsibility; with the remainder invested in the long term sustainability of our University. You can find a summary of the Financial Statements on StaffNet.

However, this is a testing time for UK universities, due to the many external factors that have an impact on us – current home tuition fees are falling in real terms, whilst our costs (not just pay but non-pay too) are increasing. There are further and even greater tuition fee funding risks outlined in General Election manifestos as well as a range of Brexit-related risks that could affect our operations. The Office for Students (OfS) demands that we demonstrate both value for money for our students and our financial sustainability (in the sense of being able to invest to deliver our ambitious strategy, rather than survival). There are, of course, also ongoing unresolved national issues around pay and the continuing challenges around funding pensions in the higher education sector.

Our Financial Statements show an improved operating surplus (3.7% of income compared to £24.7m (2.3%) in 2017/18), with a rise in income from tuition fees, education contracts and research. As I mentioned earlier, we re-invest the surplus we achieve each year in activity in line with our strategy. Recently our funds have been used to create some new academic and Professional Services posts; to invest in key infrastructure including IT; to invest in some new buildings like our student accommodation at Unsworth Park; to improve the student experience by funding more full-time Residential Life staff and to upgrade a range of buildings and research and teaching spaces and resources. Increasingly it is also invested in environmental sustainability and meeting our ambitious carbon targets. So even when we are making difficult decisions in some parts of the University we continue to invest our surplus.

Whilst we have reported an operating surplus, our Board of Governors expects us to deliver a much larger surplus than this (at least 5%) if we are to be sustainable in the long-term.
Improving our financial performance will help to deliver our ambitious future plans, but we must also increase our capacity to create the funds and time to invest in our core goals. One of the ways we can do this is by changing what we do and how we do things.

Our strategic change programme (including IT Modernisation, the Student Experience Programme, and the Research Lifecycle Programme), alongside our continuous improvement plans, will ensure that we create the financial headroom to invest in people and facilities. The strategic change programme will also enable us to embrace new technologies and new ways of doing things that better support all our staff and students to be the best that they can be.

Yes, this means that some individual roles will change. New roles (some that we haven’t yet identified) will be created and some roles will no longer be required. I appreciate that this will cause some uncertainty and where that is the case we will do everything we can to support staff, but the alternative is that we never change anything. If we fail to take advantage of advances in technology and develop more joined-up ways of working we will ultimately find ourselves outdated in the eyes of future students, funders and other stakeholders. Staff want to work for a progressive and successful institution, of which they can be proud. This means we cannot stand still.

When I talk to staff and students I often hear their frustrations about how difficult it be can be to get some straightforward things done, grappling with paper-based, manual and repetitive processes, on outdated systems and infrastructure, all of which serves to increase staff workloads. Everyone wants to do a good job, but regularly feel that our world-class status is earned in spite of our internal systems and processes, not because of them.

To deliver our new vision and strategic plan we will need to embrace new opportunities and face challenges with courage and determination. That will sometimes mean we have to make tough decisions and no-one is claiming it will be easy or that mistakes will not be made along the way. But where we do have tough choices to make we will commit to implementing changes fairly and with compassion to support the wellbeing of all our colleagues.


  1. Wendy Olsen

    Dear Patrick Hackett,
    Thank you for contributing another blog. Since this is publicly visible to all staff, family members, and students, I wonder if you can flesh out more concretely what you mean here: “New roles (some that we haven’t yet identified) will be created and some roles will no longer be required”. It sounds like you are saying that in the change areas, including student experience, IT and Research, which you have mentioned explicitly, you will be cutting jobs. You make it sound like people losing their job role will have to apply for jobs but when, where, and what jobs is still unclear. What do you really mean? I would like a lot more clarity to help us interpret your christmas message. Thank you. Meanwhile I hope you will ensure that a rising percentage of us are working on permanent contracts. To me that is what our UCU action is all about: Manchester University is at the high end of the Fixed-Term Contract level, with around 43% of normal contracts being fixed-term among academics, compared with 33% national average. And I hope that the USS pension plans will get sorted out, because when the USS suspended one of the key academics, Prof Jane Hutton, I seriously doubted the process that is being followed. I was concerned that there was no reason given in public. I was concerned that she is a whistleblower. Are you aware of these issues which underpin the ongoing UCU union action ‘short of a strike’? This is where I read about this in October 2019. You may like to see the Times Higher Education summary of this key event:

    • Patrick Hackett

      Dear Wendy,
      My blog is part of our commitment to provide more regular information – sometimes this will be about direction of travel and other times it will provide more detail when it is available. I understand that this can raise some questions but colleagues I speak to tell me that they would prefer to be kept updated on a regular basis rather than waiting for more detail. I welcome feedback from colleagues to help us ensure that we get the balance right.
      I don’t recognise your assessment of fixed term contracts use. Of our academic staff (i.e. at Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader and Chair), just over 13% are employed on fixed term contracts. Our use of fixed terms contracts is monitored by the Contracts Working Group which comprises both University and Trade Union representatives. Apart from PhD students, who are always on a defined length of contract for the duration of their PhD and are now on staff contracts, virtually all other staff on fixed-term contracts are research staff whose work is externally funded and of finite duration.
      In Professional Services, they are generally used where work or funding is fixed term or where there may be organisation changes, in line with our Security of Employment Policy agreed with the Trade Unions.
      I fully share your hope that the USS pension dispute is resolved. JEP2 has now been published so let’s see what happens in the coming weeks and months.


  2. Donna Campbell

    I personally would find a timeline or roadmap for 2020 useful, that not only shows milestones and planned communications for the strategic change programmes but for the ‘tough decisions’ that are coming. With regards to when things will start being discussed, decided, implemented etc. Will anything like this be made available?


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