Oxford’s professional services: taking a strategic view

registrar g aitken

I am often awed by the dedication of our professional services colleagues in supporting our academic mission. From an untiring commitment in support of classrooms and laboratories to running our back-office processes, they ensure that our world-leading teaching and research continues to function day in, day out. 

But I also share the frustration that professional services staff do not always have the right tools to do their jobs, that we do not always nurture their careers, and that there are limited opportunities for them to share best practice across the University. 

Professional Services Together

That is why a year ago we launched Professional Services Together – a new framework for supporting professional services staff, focusing on three key themes: People, Collaboration and Quality. 

We have made significant progress since the launch, providing continuous improvement tools, resources and events, as well as launching a network of communities of practice, a Careers Club and a professional leadership development programme. 

Our rolling programme of service reviews has also streamlined our processes in UAS Communications and HR Grading. Two ongoing reviews in IT infrastructure and research finance management (post-award) are set to do the same. A Service Review Guide for local reviews is also coming soon. 

These examples build on and complement existing activities across the University, including the myriad of process improvement and career development activities taking place at departmental and divisional level. 

It has been heartening to see staff embracing Professional Services Together principles. The 300+ nominations for the Vice-Chancellor’s Professional Services Awards were testament to our colleagues’ commitment to our ambitions, and I look forward to announcing the winners tomorrow (21 March). 

Ongoing challenges

Despite our best efforts, wherever they are in the University, professional services staff are still struggling with increased demand and workload, and there is broad consensus that our services are not as efficient as they need to be. 

Growing student numbers, increased research activity, a complex regulatory environment and acute financial pressures have conspired to mean that staff are working harder than ever, and there is a growing feeling that our system is creaking at the seams. 

So while local efforts and the support from Professional Services Together are improving things incrementally, they are not enough to tackle the root causes of these pressures. We do not have a complete picture of our services as a whole, and efficiencies are increasingly hard to find. 

Strategic Review of Professional Services

That is why, next term, we are launching a strategic review of the University’s services model. 

This additional strand of Professional Services Together will look across all our professional services. It will allow us to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current model, help us to understand where there is a case for change and suggest options for future arrangements. 

Evidence gathering will take place during Trinity term (taking care to minimise requests to busy people). This will be followed by discussion and consultation on the initial review findings and emerging conclusions, and then consultation with relevant committees. 

I should stress that the analysis phase will not propose changes to our professional services’ ways of working or structures. It will describe the current position and start exploring the strengths and weaknesses of alternative options. 

The review will complement existing programmes such as Digital Transformation (which itself will enable improvements and efficiencies), and future phases will be determined after the analysis and consultation has concluded. 

Further information

A new webpage with more information about the Strategic Review is now available, and more details will be made available in the near future. I will also be addressing this topic at the Registrar’s Update for Professional Services Staff, taking place 2–3pm tomorrow, 21 March. You can join online via Teams

At its core, this review is about how our professional services can best support our academic mission in the long term – offering the best value for money and providing the most effective foundations for the University. 

I am incredibly proud of what our professional services have achieved to date and am looking forward to working with them to ensure we have the right strategy in place for the future.