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The home of experts in higher education and beyond

Our consultants have senior-level expertise in sectors that operate for the public good.

We work with non-profits and for-profits including universities, schools, charities, the NHS and arts/cultural organisations.

These institutions are educating our future leaders, providing a platform for talented artists and transforming lives.

But transformation has its challenges.

And that's where Halpin comes in.

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Latest news

10 things HE marketeers can do from home

Mar 31, 2020

There’s a huge amount of uncertainty in the sector right now. At this time of year, marketing and recruitment teams would usually be focused on lead generation campaigns, converting applicants, running advertising campaigns and planning open days, balancing the needs of both 2020 and 2021 intakes at the same time.

Much of this isn’t possible or relevant at the moment. We don’t know if university campuses will be open in the autumn and what alternatives will be available if they are not. Marketing teams are all working from home and many of you will be juggling childcare or home-schooling older children alongside your work commitments.

So, whilst we don’t expect there is much ‘spare time’ available, we do hope that there is some extra ‘space’ for thinking about things slightly differently. So we’ve got 10 things that you can do at home that will deliver some positive impact both now and in the future.

  1. Tidy up your data and files. Delete what isn’t useful, identify what’s missing and spend some time doing analysis on the data you’ve not had headspace to think about. Share any findings – big or small - with your team.
  2. Ask your applicants how they are doing. The current Year 13s have had a rough time; they were the first to take the ‘new’ GCSEs in every subject and now they’ve had their A-level exams cancelled, bringing lots of uncertainty about their futures. They don’t need a grand gesture from you, but they do need to know you understand their worries and are listening to them.
  3. Have a conversation with a mentor. Having time away from the usual office environment is a great time to reflect on you, your career and your purpose. Schedule a video conference or phone call with your mentor, put the kettle on and take some time to regroup. If you don’t have a mentor, take some steps to find one.
  4. Research your competition. Find some examples of marketing that you admire and ask your team to do the same. Drop them all into a shared folder and schedule a team discussion to use these to brainstorm your own ideas.
  5. Talking of your team, do something kind for them. Send them a positive message, buy them a book or a jigsaw puzzle to be delivered, or just say thank you.
  6. Organise a ‘fix-it’ day. Together with the team, identify the annoying blockages which prevent you from working as well as you might. It could be a lack of brand templates, unclear processes or untidy shared folders. Once the key ones are identified, everybody takes responsibility for unpicking the problem, finding a solution and reporting back once it is fixed.
  7. Read a book. Or a journal article, or some of those documents that are in the ‘to read later’ folder. Find something that helps you to see your work in a new light, gives you a different perspective on marketing theory or will generate some new ideas for marketing practice.
  8. Check in with your colleagues. Sometimes all people need is a ‘How are you? What can I do to help you?’
  9. Make some new connections with your students. Find those that are active on social media that you haven’t yet met and say hello. Tell them what you like about what they are doing and ask for feedback on your activity too.
  10. Finally, learn about your own institution. It’s too easy to assume you know everything about your own university, but take some time to read biographies of your academic faculty or their research. Dig into some of the teaching materials, take one of your own online classes or browse the online library shelves for inspiration.

And finally, be kind to yourself. We all need time to adjust and it’s ok to be finding this difficult. And of course, if we can help with any of the above, you can always contact us.

Remote working support

Mar 19, 2020

A number of our clients have asked us about the best way to approach remote working. For many employees, this is the first time they have worked from home, and circumstances mean people will appreciate guidance and reassurance.

Active remote management at this time will be absolutely key for keeping people engaged and healthy, mentally and physically. We are happy to speak further about managing remote teams.

Here are some tips for video conferences or conference calls.

  • For big meetings run a test call to ensure kit is working.
  • Ensure everyone has dial in/login info in the diary invites.
  • Remind them of this info an hour before the meeting.
  • Set a timed agenda for long meetings.
  • Put the agenda in the diary invite.
  • Ask everyone to ‘arrive’ 5 mins before the start – otherwise you will lose 5 minutes while people get logged in, sort out camera, unmute etc.
  • Get everyone to say hello at the start so you know you can hear them.
  • If they have background noise, ask them to mute when they are not talking.
  • BUT, otherwise make sure people stay off mute. People are more engaged when they are not muted.
  • If video calls start lagging, get people to turn off their cameras and/or stop sharing screens.
  • Remind people to look into their cameras while speaking otherwise they are not making eye contact.
  • Treat it exactly like an in-person meeting - no one should be working on other things, checking their phone, trying to take care of a child/dog etc.
  • Have an assigned chair and notetaker before the meeting.
  • Remind people of the objectives and agenda for the meeting at the start.
  • Sum up actions at the end.
  • Papers should be shared beforehand and can be viewed on shared screens to guide discussion.
  • Preparation beforehand improves discussion.
  • If a large group is meeting then a a webinar format might be best – this will enable people to present info and for participants to post questions etc.
  • It’s not just about big formal meetings. 1-1s can be delivered remotely too and will need to be. You can use phone or video conferencing.
  • Experiment with informal remote get-togethers now. Halpin opens an online room at 11am each day for colleagues to drop in for a chat over a cuppa. We’re also planning a ‘drinks after work’ event!
  • Internal comms is really important, so if you don’t yet have a platform such as Slack then now might be the time to get one.
  • If you’re transitioning to remote working you ideally need to have a tech go-to person to trouble shoot. Have some written guides to getting set up.

If you come across other approaches that work for you then incorporate them, and please let us know. The next few months will be an enormous learning curve for all organisations, and we would like to ensure that we learn alongside you.

All good wishes for the coming months, from Shaun and Susie and all at Halpin.

Here’s Halpin’s Head of Marketing & Communications Olivia Dunn on some of the risks of remote working, and how to counter them.

Risks of remote working

At Halpin, remote working is standard practice, which is reassuring to our clients - especially right now given the news.

I’m a big fan of remote working – it gives me tremendous flexibility, I don’t waste time commuting and there’s no doubt I am more present for my daughter. But continuing on Halpin’s theme of risk, there are naturally some risks to remote working too, and I’m sharing a few here, along with some suggested ways to mitigate them.


Things can go wrong with technology, and they often do. Whether it’s your hardware, your software or your wifi, a last-minute panic can be very stressful indeed. To combat this, always insist on a test call an hour before any important meeting. This is the best way to check your hardware is working well. Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter how robust your tech is, you are always at the mercy of those on the other end and their set-up.

If you know your wifi isn’t very reliable, delegate the hosting of the meeting to someone who has better wifi so that if you drop out the meeting can continue. Be clear in your instructions before the meeting, i.e. is it audio or will they need their webcam? Who is chairing? Is there a dial-in option for those without wifi? If your wifi is a bit under-par consider investing in boosters, a better hub or ethernet cables. It’s a wise investment for work and home use.

Space to work

If you can, identify a space which is dedicated for work, and make it as comfortable and effective as you can. If you are doing a video conference, make sure the backdrop that will appear behind you is appropriate for work. Invest in a good desk and good chair and make sure your set-up is as ergonomically sound as it would be in a normal office. Consider an extra screen if you use a laptop so you are not looking down all the time, and get a good webcam if you are going to do video conferencing.

Never switching off

A big risk of remote working is that it’s very hard to establish boundaries between work and life. Everyone has different tactics for this, but I find that closing my office door helps as a physical barrier to getting sucked back in. Admittedly I am not so good at turning off phone notifications - and while there is no expectation for me to do so I find it too tempting to reply to emails or check work updates when I am also cooking dinner – perhaps I should shut my phone away too!


Whether it’s a postie, a child, a dog or a neighbour with a hedge-trimmer, Murphy’s Law dictates that they will simultaneously leap into action the minute you’re on an important webinar. While you may not be able to stop this, you certainly need to know where your mute button is. Consider putting a note on your front door asking visitors not to knock. You can’t do much about external nose from neighbours, but if you know you have an important meeting coming up perhaps pop round and negotiate on timings with them – or find a nearby office to rent for an hour or so. And pet-sitters are your friend!


Working from home has its perks, but it has its cons too. One of the biggest disadvantages is the lack of human connection. Many villages, towns and cities have shared office space where you can go and work alongside your fellow human beings. Some people set up working groups in their homes with friends and neighbours in a similar situation. Working from cafes is another great way to get out of the house. Whatever your solution, make yourself do it regularly. Also - a team may be able to communicate and function remotely, but the benefits of regular in-person meetings cannot be overstated – so don’t let face-to-face meetings disappear from the diary completely.


Humans rely on non-verbal signals to interpret intended meaning. Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language go a long way towards filling in the gaps. Don’t hide behind phone/audio - using a webcam might be an awkward experience to begin with, but you’ll get used to it. And if you don’t show your face/upper body language you are limiting your communication (but I should add that making accurate eye-contact on a video call is impossible!)

Rabbit holes

There will be days when you just can’t concentrate. While in an office you may go for a walk or have a yarn in the kitchen with someone, if you’re working remotely the temptation can be to slide down a social media/news rabbit hole, and before you know it the existential doom has crept in. If you find yourself doing this then stop, get up and do something completely different – away from your desk. A walk in the fresh air is a much better idea.


While you may be up for remote working, your clients may need a little more reassurance. The success of your webinars relies as much upon their tech resources and skills as it does yours. They may be reluctant to carry out interactions remotely and instead insist on meeting you in person. There is a balance to be struck here between giving them what they want and reassuring them that remote meetings can work just as well (not to mention save them travel time and money and help them reduce their carbon emissions!). Now is a very good time to embrace remote working, even with the risks it may present – and sometimes all it takes is to highlight the benefits in order to change someone’s mind.

It’s inevitable that remote working is going to become more commonplace, and despite the risks outlined above we believe at Halpin that this is an excellent thing. As a company we are committed to offsetting our carbon usage and doing everything we can to look after our planet and take our responsibilities seriously. By conducting more of our business interactions online we’re saving our clients money, reducing our travel time and costs, increasing efficiency and building resilience.

At Halpin we love a chat over a cup of coffee – whether that’s virtually or in-person! If we can support you in any way as you navigate these choppy waters, drop us a line.

Halpin is the home of experts in higher education fundraising, governance, marketing and strategy.

Equality and diversity in Higher Education

Mar 06, 2020


It is well documented that an ethnically diverse higher education workforce positively affects the ability of institutions to deliver core services to a diverse student population.

In a survey conducted by the NUS on ‘Race for Equality’ (2011), on the experiences of Black students in further and higher education it highlighted that Black students want a more representative workforce, diverse teaching practices and more Black role models.

Many Black workers in higher education struggle to progress their career in the sector and there is extensive evidence that Black staff are underrepresented at all senior levels. Therefore, the initiative devised by Advance HE (previously Equality Challenge Unit) on race equality in higher education is a positive step.

Race Equality Charter Mark

In 2015 the Equality Challenge Unit launched its Race Equality Charter Mark (RECM) after extensive consultations to Universities to address racial inequalities as part of their ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. The RECM addresses inequalities and gets universities to think about race equality by examining their own practices and institutional culture, and developing actions plans. It is hoped that this would identify the root causes of race inequality and develop some solutions that can be shared as good practice (AdvanceHE website, accessed 7 May 2019.).

The Charter has the following five guiding principles:

• Racial inequalities are a significant issue within higher education. Racial inequalities are not necessarily overt, isolated incidents. Racism is an everyday facet of UK society and racial inequalities manifest themselves in everyday situations, processes and behaviours.

• A UK higher education institution cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of the whole population, and until individuals from all ethnic backgrounds can benefit equally from the opportunities it affords.

• In developing solutions to racial inequalities, it is important that they are aimed at achieving long-term institutional cultural change, avoiding a deficit model where solutions are aimed at changing the individual.

• Minority ethnic staff and students are not a homogeneous group. People from different ethnic backgrounds have different experiences of and outcomes from/within higher education, and the complexity needs to be considered in analysing data and developing actions.

• All individuals have multiple identities, and the intersection of those different identities should be considered wherever possible.

At the time of the launch 33 institutions volunteered to take part in the RECM pilot (trialling of the framework) in August 2015, but only 22 applied by the 2015 deadline. Of the 22 institutions only the following 8 were successful:-

  • De Montfort University
  • King’s College London
  • Kingston University
  • Royal Holloway University of London
  • Staffordshire University
  • University College London
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • University of Manchester

Since the pilot further changes were made and ECU’s Race Equality Charter officially launched the scheme in January 2016 with plans to undertake an evaluation of impact in 2020. An additional 5 universities have been successful in being awarded the Bronze award:-

  • Abertay University (July 2016)
  • University of Oxford (February 2018)
  • University of Brighton (July 2019)
  • University of Cambridge (July 2019)
  • University of East London (July 2019)

To date (March 2020) the following insitutions have shown to have successfully renewed their charter mark:

  • De Montfort University – renewed February 2018
  • University of Manchester – renewed February 2018
  • Kingston University – renewed February 2019
  • Royal Holloway University of London – renewed February 2019

What do we know?

There are currently 62 members and 14 award holders of the Race Equality Charter. In comparison to its Athena SWAN charter (developed to encourage and recognise commitment to combating the under-representation of women in STEMM research and academia) it shows that there are currently 164 Athena SWAN members, holding 815 awards between them. The Athena SWAN charter completely ignored the plight of Black and minority ethnic women.

Questions therefore need to be asked – what is happening to the 42 institutions (some of which members since the pilot)? Why does it appear that is there no huge appetite for the race charter?

Concerns about race equality in Higher Education

Research conducted by Singh and Kwhali, (2015) found that there is a lack of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) staff at all levels, particularly at senior levels for both academic and professional staff. Several reasons are highlighted, for example:-

  • Recruitment practices – often they overlook the importance of positively promoting equality;
  • Black staff feeling unsupported or discriminated against;
  • EDI policies are mainly on show as a tick box exercise – they are simply not implemented.

In a race equality survey conducted by Black British Academic (BBA), 2014 it highlighted that 38% of staff agree in principle with the proposed Race Equality Charter Mark, 59% disagreed and 3% did not know. It also reported that 98% think it is important that black and minority ethnic staff and students are represented on the committee that awards the Race Equality Charter Mark. More importantly it reported on how black and minority ethnic staff and students experience racism and how this should be regarded as central to informing policy and practice around race equality.

Research by HEFCE (2014) reports BME staff are underrepresented compared to the student population and is most evident at senior management levels. BME staff are less likely than white staff to be on a permanent contract (61% compared to 74%) and that intersectionality of race and gender shows the largest contributing factor to under-representation of BME women at senior levels is gender. The report also reports a degree attainment gap of 16 percentage points between white and Asian students and 19 percentage points between white and black students, with the same entry qualifications.

In May 2019 a new report by Universities UK and the National Union of Students entitled Black, Asian and Minority Student Attainment at UK Universities: #CLOSINGTHEGAP, emphasises that the sector has accepted that there is a problem and the Office for Students (OfS) in England has set new targets for institutions to close their gaps. It was also reported that the issue has been given a profile by the Cabinet Office and the Government Race Disparity Audit.

The report focused on the following five steps needed for success in reducing attainment differentials:

  • Providing strong leadership;
  • Having conversations about race and changing the culture;
  • Developing racially diverse and inclusive environments;
  • Getting the evidence and analysing the data;
  • Understanding what works.

The report highlights that there is no ‘quick fix’ to address and eliminate attainment differentials as every university’s context is different but universities are encouraged to actively address the issues around race, ethnicity and attainment. An evaluation is set for 2020 which ties in with the evaluation of the Race Charter Mark.

There are already in the sector some excellent examples of good practice and the following are noted:

  • The embedding of race equality in the curriculum across all taught programmes;
  • University BME mentoring programme (a) to support new BME staff and (b) support career progression of BME staff;
  • The publishing of good practice examples on institutional webpages;
  • Unconscious bias training and development provision;
  • Yearly staff and student BME focus groups;
  • The promotion of BME role models/images on webpages.

It is important to note that the inequalities experienced by students in Higher Education is not new. In fact, black staff experience discrimination in all aspects of public life. In a report by David Lammy MP (2017), it highlighted the racial inequalities in the criminal justice system and race in the workplace. The NUS report 2011, ‘Race for Equality’ (linked earlier in this blog) highlighted the societal and institutional barriers embedded in education. In 2015, the Trust report ‘Aiming Higher’, highlighted the complex, interlinking issues of race within institutions, from inequalities in pay and promotion of BAME academic staff.

I acknowledge the limitations of a charter mark to influence individual attitudes, but the race equality charter would enable the sector to acknowledge race equality as an issue and put race back on the agenda.

What next and where can we learn more?

If your institution is looking for help with the Race Equality Charter Mark, we have a team of experts who can help. Email [email protected] for more information.

Liz Baptiste is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

The risks of a homogeneous team

Mar 05, 2020

We’re hardwired to seek out people who are like us, as a reassuring antidote to a mad world.

On the face of it, there are benefits to homogeneous teams: decisions go unchallenged and get made quickly, there’s less unrest and disagreement, and surrounding yourself with people similar to you can feel comforting.

But comfort is a strange beast. We may all seek it, but gone unchecked, comfort can slide into dangerous complacency which can stifle the most ambitious of plans.

We all know that the magic happens when we leave our comfort zones. So it follows that it doesn’t matter how comfortable your homogeneous team makes you feel, you are potentially limiting the magic you can conjure together.

Do you want voices or echoes?

People who share similar professional, social and educational backgrounds are more likely to agree with each other on a regular basis. But the most productive, progressive conversations happen when there is a culture of challenge as well as support. Having a diverse team in place is the best way to ensure that a wide range of views are thrown into the melting pot. It may take a little longer to get to a decision, but that decision will be much more likely to be well-informed, and ideas formed by a diverse group will likely be broader and more original. Unchecked, an echo chamber can reinforce conscious and unconscious biases and the dreaded groupthink can set in.

Do as I say…

A homogeneous team stands in a weak position at such a time as it has to manage EDI issues. Any allegations of discrimination will be strengthened if it can be shown that leaders have not sought to address or at least acknowledge their lack of diversity. Stakeholders will be looking for evidence that your EDI policy is not just a tick-box exercise but understood, implemented, monitored – and part of the working culture. Equality, diversity and inclusion must be seen as more than an HR issue; it should be built into every organisation’s risk register, strategy and operational plans in the same way that every other reputational risk is.

Like attracts like

Recruitment also presents a challenge to a homogeneous team. To attract the very best talent you must offer them a diverse team where they can imagine themselves thriving. Leaders must understand the extent of diversity; looking beyond the obvious ‘differences’ to appraise a team’s diversity based on a blend of nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, faith/religion, physical ability, political leanings etc. Without promoting diversity across all these areas, you simply can’t broaden your talent pool.

And no matter the type of customer you want to attract, you can be sure that they’re either consciously or subconsciously looking to align with a representative organisation/institution.

Compromised performance

Researchers at the University of Michigan have proved that groups of diverse problem-solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem-solvers. Research has also shown that diversity boosts revenue.

With increased diversity comes different challenges, so it’s not enough to install a diverse team and sit back and wait for the benefits to arrive. It is inevitable that increased diversity will mean increased dissonance – and while that is a very healthy thing, it must be managed with a strategy that balances discord with cohesion.

If diversity and inclusion is the norm, then so too is discomfort and tension. But managed correctly, with common goals and open communication, this discomfort and tension is the key to progressive, exciting – perhaps even magical - teamwork.

We are looking to expand our own pool of talent and particularly welcome expressions of interest from underrepresented groups. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

An assessment of your organisation’s diversity is a great way to identify and address your particular areas of risk, arriving at effective solutions for maximum impact. If you’d like more information on Halpin’s EDI reviews get in touch.

Olivia Dunn is Head of Marketing and Communications for Halpin – the home of experts in higher education strategy, governance, fundraising and marketing.

UCL Effectiveness Review of Council

Feb 24, 2020

Halpin Partnership was appointed in January 2020 to conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of UCL’s Council and governance arrangements, following an invitation to provide a proposal and attend an interview.

Halpin is a specialist higher education consultancy, drawing on a team of Consulting Fellows who have a breadth of experience and expertise across diverse fields in the education, public and corporate sectors.

Following a period of open consultation, the review team will present its report and recommendations to the UCL Council on 18th June 2020.

Our response to frequently asked questions about the review can be found below.

Review Timeline


  • Introductory Meeting
  • Information Request
  • Council and Committee Observations

March – May

  • Desk review
  • Interviews
  • Council and Committee Observations
  • Focus Groups
  • Open Forum


  • Findings
  • Analysis
  • Report and recommendations
  • Presentation to Council


  • Publication of report (tbc)
  • Implementation of recommendations

Review Consultation

The review consultation period will remain open until the 30th May 2020.

Open Focus Group sessions for staff and students with be held at 11am and 3pm on the 18th and 24th March.

To attend a session please email your name to [email protected]

Refreshments will be provided and spaces are limited so we please ask that you only book a space on a session if you intend to attend.

If you would prefer to undertake a private consultation, please contact Halpin via the email address above.

Review Team

David Allen, Consulting Fellow

David is former university Registrar and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter. He has also held senior leadership roles in the universities of Birmingham, Nottingham, Southampton and Wales. At Halpin, David has worked on a governance reviews at University of Bath, the Royal College of Art and UUK. David is an acknowledged expert on corporate governance and risk management, having acted as Secretary to the Councils of three Russell Group universities. He was awarded an OBE in the 2012 New Year’s Honours list for services to higher education.

Susie Hills, Project Director

With an unrivalled depth of knowledge in higher education fundraising, leadership and governance, Susie has advised and supported leaders and teams at Universities across the UK, often during times of significant change. She led the review of the effectiveness of Council and its subcommittees at University at Bath, and also a review of governance effectiveness at Universities UK. Susie is highly skilled at undertaking reviews of strategy, performance and structures and is in demand as coach and mentor. In 2019 she was named as one of the Unilever Leading Lights in Kindness in the Financial Times. Susie is the Joint CEO and Co-founder of Halpin Partnership.

Rachel Killian, Senior Consultant

As a consultant with Halpin, Rachel has most recently worked on governance and strategic reviews with the universities of Kent, Sussex, Cumbria and Warwick Business School. With over 20 years of senior marketing and recruitment experience and works with clients to help them better understand their brand positioning and deliver on their strategic marketing campaigns. Rachel brings knowledge and understanding of higher education from experience in-house at a Russell Group university and business school before delivering on a range of marketing and recruitment consultancy projects across universities, colleges and schools.

Charlotte Stewart, Project Manager

Strategic, insightful, with a sharp eye for detail, Charlotte has more than 10 years’ experience in project delivery, management and research. Charlotte is one of the most experienced project managers in the UK higher education consultancy sector and her knowledge of project design and delivery – from large scale operations assessments to governance reviews – is unrivalled.

Ewart Wooldridge, Consulting Fellow

Ewart Wooldridge was the founding Chief Executive from 2003 to 2013 of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, set up to play a key role in developing UK and international HE leaders and their institutions. He has a well-established portfolio of consultancy, advisory and governance roles in the HE sector. He was previously Chief Executive of the Civil Service College, and a Chief Officer in Local Government. Before that he worked in HR and general management roles in the media, television, and the arts. He was Director of Operations at London’s South Bank Arts Centre in the mid-1990s.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How was Halpin Partnership selected?

Halpin Partnership was appointed in January 2020 to conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of UCL’s Council and governance arrangements, following an invitation to provide a proposal and attend an interview.

2. What experience does Halpin have of governance reviews?

Information on the review team and their experience can be found above.

3. What should I do if I have questions about the review and/or would like to share my views?

The review consultation period will remain open until the 30th May 2020. Consultation will include interviews, focus groups and a dedicated email address where you can send your comments and questions:

[email protected]

Focus Group sessions with be held at 11am and 3pm on the 18th and 24th March. To attend a session please send you name to [email protected]

Refreshments will be provided and spaces are limited so we ask you only book a space on a session if you intend to attend.

4. Is the review independent?

The Halpin review team is entirely independent from UCL. The review team have no conflicts of interest in undertaking this work and the senior management team at UCL is not involved in the review in any capacity, other than as interviewees.

The review team’s points of contact at UCL are Wendy Appleby, Secretary to Council, and Anne Marie O'Mullane, Governance and Secretariat Manager. The review team has complete access to relevant documentation and information will be provided as requested.

5. Is the report being published, and if so when?

The report will be presented to the UCL Council at its meeting on 18th June 2020 where they determine if the report is to be published.

6. Will the review consider governance practice from outside the sector?

The review team includes experts in governance and remuneration, with experience both in and outside of the higher education sector. This will inform the recommendations in the report.

7. Will the University senior management team see the report prior to its publication?

Only members of senior management who are also members or attendees at Council will see the report when it is received by Council on 18th June 2020 and prior to any publication of the report.

As stated above, the Halpin review team will provide draft copy to UCL for fact-checking in early June. This is to ensure that we had not inadvertently included factually incorrect information or missed any key points of information or evidence. Any changes made after that point will be made at the discretion of the Halpin review team based on the information and evidence provided and after full and careful consideration.

8. What is the process for the review?

The process for the review will be described in full in the report.

9. Will you share data and consultation findings with UCL during the review process?

Sharing consultation findings is not part of the review methodology. The final report includes analysis of the data collected but comments and notes will not be provided to the University. All data will be destroyed at the end of the contract between Halpin and UCL, in line with our Data Protection policy as detailed here.

10. How will you ensure anonymity and confidentiality?

We will record the names of interviewees and focus group attendees for the purposes of scheduling. In the final report, we will not attribute any comments to any names.

11. Why will staff and students be included in the process?

A typical governance review would not include focus groups open to all staff and students. However, given the size and level of interest in governance across the University, it it is entirely appropriate that as wide a consultation takes place as possible.

12. How can the Halpin review team be contacted?

The Halpin team can be contacted via [email protected]

Halpin Partnership has a trusted relationship with its clients and operates with sensitivity, discretion and confidentiality. We do not comment on client projects to third-parties and will not be making any comments on the review undertaken for UCL.

For any media enquiries, please contact UCL’s Media Relations team via https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/services-media/contact-us.

If you have questions regarding the Halpin Partnership and the services we offer please visit our main website at www.halpinpartnership.com or contact [email protected]

International student recruitment in a volatile landscape

Feb 12, 2020

Universities are inherently international institutions. Being able to collaborate and exchange ideas across national borders – whether for research purposes or as a way to enrich the educational experience of all – is an essential aspect of being a university (and one that we sometimes take for granted).

However, we operate in a volatile global landscape where geopolitical and related factors present risks to some of our core activities. Global events can have an impact – sometimes almost overnight – on international relationships, with the effects cascading rapidly to HEIs and their students.

Geo-political factors affecting international student mobility

There are numerous different factors, outside the control of individual HEIs, which can affect student mobility between countries. Sometimes they alter the volume of students flowing out of a particular country, or the volume flowing into another country. Sometimes the effects on global mobility are more widespread and complex.

National policies

Changes in national policy, especially those relating to immigration, work rights or fee status, can have a profound effect. We saw this in the UK when the number of Indian students plummeted after the 2012 abolition of the two-year post study work visa; followed by a surge in applications when the new post study work route was announced in 2019.

Negative incidents

It’s not just about policies. The mood music is important too. If stories of rising nationalism and racist incidents are reported in both traditional and social media, this makes it difficult for universities to convey convincing messages about the warm welcome that international students can expect.

Political tensions

Back in 2018, a Tweet by a Canadian politician led to the almost immediate withdrawal of scholarships for many Saudi Arabian students in Canada. The US / China trade war has affected flows of Chinese students to the US.

Economic instability

Economic instability, recession and currency fluctuations all have an impact too. The UK tends to benefit when Sterling is weak and tuition fees seem more affordable, but students can face financial challenges if the value of their own currency against the pound deteriorates during the course of their studies.

Then, of course, there are public health emergencies, such as SARS in the early 2000s and the current coronavirus. For higher education, the effect of the latter has been most marked in the southern hemisphere because it has coincided with the start of the new academic year, preventing tens of thousands of students in China from joining their classmates in Australia. Foreign universities with campuses in China also face a significant delay to the start of term.

How can universities mitigate the risks?

All of the above factors are outside the control of universities. However, there are things that HEIs can put in place to improve their resilience in the face of such challenges.

Market diversification

Putting all your eggs in one basket is rarely a good idea and the UK (like Australia) has known for some time that its HE sector is over-reliant on Chinese students and that this is a risky position to be in. That the bubble has the potential to burst at any time is a point driven home by the coronavirus crisis. HEIs need to make strenuous efforts to target a range of established and emerging markets outside China, recognising the importance of building up long-term relationships in strategic locations with future potential, rather than looking solely to those countries which will yield quick returns.

Delivery mode flexibility

As we have seen with coronavirus, Australian HEIs have had to think on their feet about ways they can support their students stranded in China. Many have provided the opportunity to switch to online delivery so that students will not fall behind. It is important not to wait for a crisis to strike before considering different ways of delivering programmes which could rapidly be brought into play in a situation where students cannot be present on campus. The investment is valuable not just for crisis situations, but in order to be responsive to other imperatives (e.g. expectations around inclusivity and reducing carbon emissions).

Agile behaviours and clear communications

Many universities are ponderous organisations with clunky processes for getting new developments or initiatives off the ground. They need to develop agility so that responses to crises (whether that is providing financial support to counter a currency slump or validating alternative delivery modes) are swift and effective. Another important ingredient is clear and open communication with key stakeholders. Universities must recognise that operating effectively in a volatile global context requires an adapted set of behaviours and processes.

Dr Vicky Lewis is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education

Board secretaries - the unsung heroes of institutional reputation

Feb 07, 2020

This article by Susie Hills was first published by AHUA in spring 2019, ahead of their Annual Conference.

It’s been a winter of VC departures, with worrying stories of bullying cultures and conflicts of interest. These stories are playing to background media music that is painting the sector in a poor light. In turn, it’s feeding political noise around the need for greater regulation.

How many institutions could be sure that if the media cast its light on them there wouldn’t be even a whiff of a negative story, which could grow under external gaze into a full-blown storm?

While it may be the job of communications directors to handle any negative stories that emerge, the true protectors of an institution may actually be the board secretaries. Their role is to help ensure the many issues that may emerge in a complex institution are properly handled through the right governance procedures. Each of the recent stories to hit particular institutions have a governance element in play. Have conflicts of interest been properly handled? Have serious issues been effectively escalated? Are the right processes in place for nominations?

Given the pressures on board secretaries, they need to use all the tools they have at their disposal to ensure they are diligently fulfilling their role in a sector facing unprecedented change and scrutiny. One of the most important tools at their disposal is the external review.

Guidance from the Committee of University Chairs and Office for Students points to the need to review every four to five years. However, it might be hard to be sure that governance is in truly good health if the review was as long ago as two or three years ago, and wasn’t conducted by an external reviewer. Indeed, it is surprising that many institutions have never had an external review given the changing expectations around governance in the sector.

An external review should be more than a compliance tick box exercise; it should help you to develop your governance practices to ensure that you are compliant: managing risk, monitoring performance, understanding culture and developing longer-term strategy. It may be one of the most powerful tools you may have in protecting your institution from reputational risk. After all, if a governance issue emerges and you have never undertaken a review, then you have no way to show how you have developed and improved your governance practice.

A good review will help you to answer questions such as:

  • Do you have the right minds around the table?
  • Do you have a diversity of views?
  • How are students, staff and other stakeholders’ voices heard?
  • Is the right information being considered at the right time?
  • Are the right benchmarks in place?
  • Are the meetings working?
  • Is the right committee structure in place?
  • Are there the right levels of consultation?
  • How good is communication?
  • Is there a culture of transparency?
  • Are there the right levels of accountability in place?
  • Is communication and consultation effective?
  • Are we monitoring performance effectively?
  • Do we have the right skills around the table?
  • Is our governance supporting the delivery of our strategy?
  • Do we have effective risk management?
  • Is our financial governance robust?
  • Is our remuneration policy and practice compliant?

The recommendations emerging from an external review should help to provide a framework for strengthening governance, managing risk and protecting the reputation of an institution. It should equip a secretary to fulfil their role with confidence and authority. Indeed, it may enable a secretary to raise issues and make changes which have previously proved ‘too difficult’ by providing supportive evidence and offering a practical way forward. It should also enable board members and senior leaders to feel assured that they are following best practice and help protect their reputations.

Seeking an external review should not be prompted by a fear of failure and noncompliance – most institutions will be compliant. It should be about aiming for best practice and governance that supports your institution to thrive in uncertain times, driven by the desire to spot issues early and protect the reputation of the institution. It is a powerful tool and is simple to deploy.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO of Halpin, the home of experts in higher education governance.

HE: Marketing & Fundraising Risks & Issues 2020 3/3

Feb 03, 2020

At the beginning of a new year, and indeed a new decade, one of my first priorities was to approach our Halpin Advisory Group and ask them their thoughts on key issues they think VCs, Chairs and COOs will need to think about for the coming year. This group is a senior, experienced and cross-sector one, and their various perspectives are helpful and useful.

We started by discussing political implications for higher education, and the changes we might see from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are summarised in a blog co-authored by Tim Melville Ross and myself – check it out here. We then went on to discuss the strategic challenges that may well lie ahead.

In our second instalment, we looked at issues facing strategy and governance. In this third and final article we focus on the fundraising and marketing challenges facing universities in the coming years.

Student Satisfaction/Value for Money

Students now expect a university education to help them into a better job. This is what they have been told will happen for many years, and too often the reality is not meeting the expectation. The thrust of government rhetoric is around education as a private good – it’s good for you as an individual, so it’s right that you should pay. The idea of it as a public good – it’s good for society to have educated people – seems long gone. So, value for money then comes to the forefront. Are universities doing enough around employability? Student satisfaction and dramatic campus expansion do not appear to go hand-in-hand – how can universities cope with increased expectations, rising estate costs and increased competition? Do they want to become factories for producing employees? Do they have any choice?


Universities, collectively and individually, must regain the initiative in defining their raisons (intentionally plural) d’etre. In recent years, the government has redefined both the nature and the purpose of universities – and universities may not much like the outcome. How can universities lead the conversation on what they stand for, regain public trust and retain an international reputation? How do they reconcile embeddedness in the local community with international impact?

Furthermore, how can universities maintain the “UK-ness” of the sector, while developments within the UK are diminishing the common interests of the four nations? Universities need to define their individual distinctiveness. While it would be naïve to suggest a disregard for league tables, individual institutions need to identify – and declare publicly – their distinctive character (beyond “top in…” in some carefully chosen league table).


Universities must embrace more explicitly their responsibilities, as well as their opportunities, on the international stage. For example, do international students (studying in the UK) get the full educational experience they deserve? Are appropriate quality controls applied to TNE activities? The reputations of individual institutions are at risk – but also the reputation of the UK sector.

UK universities also need to be careful about their continuing heavy dependence on recruiting students from China. It has been predicted for some time, but at some point those students may well start to choose their home market, and in fact UK students may want to go to China to be taught Chinese languages and culture for the commerce of the 21st Century.

The paradigm shift for distance learning has still not quite arrived but is getting ever closer as technology improves. UK universities have to be desirable destinations physically and virtually.

Fundraising and alumni relations

Working with alumni is about much more than seeking donations. Alumni (and those they are connected with) can help with mentoring, work placements, internships, and intelligence on the international stage. As the competition for students becomes ever fiercer, alumni could give some universities the edge. Fundraising is still too often something that is semi-detached in institutions, where it isn’t aligned to strategy and isn’t supported by leadership. It is always in danger of being a Cinderella function – overlooked for other areas that deliver more to the bottom line. But it’s a long-term game, and rewards patience and investment.

Happy 2020

We could go on; we have just touched on some of the key issues here. You will have more that you might want to suggest and please feel free to join the discussion.

What is for certain is that HE will continue to change, and as always it will be those institutions who see the future clearly and respond who will thrive.

The good news is, whichever area/s of marketing and fundraising you’re currently wrangling with, we can help. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

With grateful thanks to the Halpin Advisory Group for their input:

  • Tim Melville Ross CBE
  • Dame Angela Pedder DBE
  • David Allen OBE
  • Robert Dufton
  • Shakira Martin
  • Richard Taylor
  • Simon Gaskell

HE: Strategy & Governance Risks & Issues 2020 2/3

Jan 30, 2020

At the beginning of a new year, and indeed a new decade, one of my first priorities was to approach our Halpin Advisory Group and ask them their thoughts on key issues they think Vice-Chancellors, Chairs and COOs will need to think about for the coming year. This group is a senior, experienced and cross-sector one, and their various perspectives are helpful and useful.

We started by discussing political implications for higher education, and the changes we might see from Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are summarised in a blog co-authored by Tim Melville Ross and myself – check it out here.

Of course, there are many more issues than politics to consider (although politics affects them all), and this is our second article in a series of three. Here, we focus on governance and the strategic issues and challenges facing universities in the coming years. We’ll wrap up in a third article which will consider marketing and fundraising challenges – keep an eye on social media for that soon.

Income Decline

The lack of financial sustainability is a huge risk to all universities. Student fees now often account for over half of the income of a university (and sometimes a lot more). Recruitment numbers are very unstable due to the creation of a market by the introduction of fees and removal of the numbers cap, allowing some universities to grow while others contract. Add in demographic dips and expansions, a student body who have a wholly different set of expectations compared with the past, and universities who have expanded rapidly and are now finding the student experience falling as a result.

Pensions, salaries and energy costs all feed into this too. In the current climate, risk-averse institutions could experience decline, but those who take big risks that don’t work out could also find themselves in trouble, or worse.

Governance & Remuneration

Sound governance requires organisations to seek out differing views and avoid ‘group think’ from a narrow, “people like me”, perspective. Do universities now have effective boards with clear executive/non-executive role clarification and appropriate holding to account? If those charged with governance are not inclusive and diverse in their membership, they are unlikely to effectively set the right culture and environment for the organisations they seek to lead.

After 8 relatively good years the shoe is starting to pinch, and all the fiscal headroom is committed. Governors must have a clear line of sight to cash and challenge unrealistic growth forecasts which simply mask future deficits. Governance will come under pressure and chairs and senior governors might increasingly be paid.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

There will be an ever increasing (and highly welcome) focus on EDI, because of the push from regulators, students and staff, but more importantly because it’s the right thing to do. HE’s record in this area is very poor, and significant steps need to be taken to show where your institution is, and what it needs to do in order to look more like the society it is meant to serve.

Social Mobility

It seems that every week a new report comes out to show how poor the UK is at enabling social mobility, whether that is aimed at Russell Group universities, buying property in London, or challenges in the areas of the country that have voted Conservative for the first time. Progress is being made by universities in this area, but expect ever-increasing pressure here from the regulator, government, the media and students.

Recruitment & Retention of staff

The days when HEIs bet the house on REF have receded, and for most institutions we will not see them buying in big research teams wholesale on a regular basis just for the REF. But recruiting and retaining excellent academic and professional services colleagues, especially in the context of Brexit, is going to be increasingly challenging.

There is a concern about the academic pipeline for the future. Are people in their 20s and 30s thinking about academia as a career? Career pathways are unclear and very uncertain. There is a perceived culture of patronage. In non-STEM areas, particularly, it can be an isolated and lonely existence. Funding and employment are fixed-term or short-term. Lack of any security of tenure makes obtaining things like mortgages almost impossible (although that seems to be true for most young people whatever their profession). Consequently, many of the brightest and best choose other paths. Historic easy reliance on a European or overseas workforce is likely to change if the UK post-Brexit is less attractive to good candidates.


The English sector must come to terms with the fact that there is now an assertive regulator, which behaves in a very different way to the “partnering” approach of HEFCE. The notion of “co-regulation” is rejected by the OfS. The term should be abandoned by the sector and replaced by a closely argued case for the pursuit of shared (between regulator and regulatees) interests in educational quality and international quality research, both pure and applied.

Industrial action

Concerns on pensions and working conditions don’t have easy solutions, and disputes are likely to remain a feature of the first half of this decade. A number of universities blame strikes on a dip in their NSS scores. Staff say universities are not listening to them and that they have student support. Whatever the truth is, universities had better gear up their resilience to industrial action, and that will not be easy to achieve.

Sustainability & Zero Carbon

Universities have enormous estates, and a significant opportunity to contribute and lead in the “Green New Deal” agenda. However, old buildings are costly to maintain and often not fit for purpose. Is a technology that seems green now going to be found to be part of the problem in 10 years’ time (for which, see diesel cars)? Making the right estates decisions could be a real attraction point for the right places. The opposite is also true.

The challenges are myriad in a highly complex sector, and the solutions can only be worked out in collaborations and partnerships. We work in partnership with universities and we are here to help, in whatever areas of governance and strategy you’re currently wrangling with. We have senior-level experts who are specialists across all areas of university leadership. We understand universities like no other consultancy.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin – the home of experts in higher education.

With grateful thanks to the Halpin Advisory Group for their input:

  • Tim Melville Ross CBE
  • Dame Angela Pedder DBE
  • David Allen OBE
  • Robert Dufton
  • Shakira Martin
  • Richard Taylor
  • Simon Gaskell

Case Study: University of Strathclyde

Jan 28, 2020

Client: University of Strathclyde

Service: Fundraising Consultancy – Alumni and Development Services Review

What we did:

Halpin was engaged by University of Strathclyde (winners of THE’s University of the Year 2019) to undertake a review of fundraising performance. The university was also looking to formulate a future strategy. Strathclyde has an unusually distinctive, clear and important vision.

University of strathclyde.jpg

We found an Alumni & Development Services department which was well-led, working hard and doing the right things. Halpin’s team of fundraising experts analysed the many strengths of the existing fundraising function, and also identified areas for future focus. We met with the senior leadership team and key volunteers, enabling us to form a good overall picture.

Working in partnership with Strathclyde, we identified many opportunities for future growth and suggested some changes in order help the university realise its fundraising ambitions.

Our final report summarised our findings across principal gifts, corporate partnerships and foundations, prospect pipeline management, international fundraising, profile raising and projects, major gifts productivity, senior volunteers and the timelines and targets.

The University of Strathclyde now has a roadmap to a future campaign, or to increased fundraising potential, with 13 recommendations to implement.

What they said:

“Halpin undertook a full review of our fundraising function, at a time when the University of Strathclyde was ready to consider where it could increase its donor funding and its impact. Importantly, this review felt like a real partnership effort, led by consultants who had recently walked in our shoes, and one that enabled our fundraising team and our senior leadership to fully understand where Strathclyde’s fundraising opportunities and challenges now lay.

If you want to take your fundraising operation to the next level then I’d highly recommend Halpin to help you get there.”

Karen Boyle LLB, Head of Alumni & Development