SUMS Consulting has been talking to university leaders about managing the Covid-19 crisis and their visions for the future. With views gathered from a series of one-to-one interviews, SUMS’ Community of Practice Groups meeting virtually, along with student surveys, SUMS is able to take a service-by-service review of university operations. It has found a sector eager to change and seeing positives in adversity.
Here, David Becker, SUMS Principal Consultant, shares insight from the community of HR leaders on the sector response to the crisis – and its implications for the future.

HR departments at universities were feeling the squeeze even prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Many HR departments had also been deeply involved in the management of major business change programmes prior to the outbreak. Several universities were in the midst of cost reduction initiatives in an effort to ensure that projected levels of expenditure did not exceed income, a difficult ask given the challenges of the external climate in the form of challenging demographics, increased competition and Brexit.

Our conversations with HR leaders in higher education revealed a group of professionals who were equally tuned in to the perils of the coronavirus for their institution and the needs of their staff for flexible and adaptive leadership, clear messaging and a desire to be ‘treated like adults’. There was widespread recognition that the financial implications of Covid-19 will apply a set of pressures upon HR to play a leading role in organisational change, not merely through the legal and technical processes behind cost reduction but through involvement in sophisticated business design and configuration. As one HRD put it, “the time is swiftly coming where we need to abandon the message about doing more with less, to accept that it’s time to do less with less…that’s a difficult conversation for the university to have but if not now, when? For some of us, the coming years are going to more about survival than anything else and HR’s role is to make sure that we’re genuine partners to the business during that process”.

Read the full Rapid Response Briefing Paper here.


SUMS’ consultants are gathering in-depth views from university leaders across the full breadth of university operations. We’ll be publishing their service-by-service findings later this month. Register here to receive your copy of our full sector report.

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