Guest blog: Dr Ian Pickup and the Operations network

This month’s Chair’s blog comes from Dr Ian Pickup, Pro Vice Chancellor (Education & Experience) & Chief Operating Officer, University of East London and Co-Chair of the London Higher Operations Network

It is a real pleasure to share news of the work of London Higher’s Operations Network. Formed in 2019, this network provides opportunities for colleagues from member institutions working within operational functions to share best practice. Our network includes colleagues from estates teams, COOs, health and safety leads and those occupying a range of professional service roles that are key to the successful functioning of our learning environments.

The network came together for the first time during one of the most challenging times for the sector, and our early meetings were dominated by shared experiences of navigating uncharted waters.  As we wrestled with the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic it became clear that we had so much to gain by working together, taking the opportunity to ‘think out loud’ and benefiting from collective wisdom.

Early discussions centred on practical measures to support the creation of ‘Covid-secure’ campuses, but quickly evolved to include a focus on the support of international students, our relationships with government departments and public health bodies, the importance of safe travel across the capital, and our practice in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our communities.  We produced the London Higher Covid Secure Charter as an outcome of this work, and have subsequently supported the development of operational plans to transition back to face-to-face delivery.

Without losing sight of the lessons learnt during the pandemic, we have more recently begun to explore wider issues of interest and best practice. For example, we have considered the impact of carefully designed campus environments on the student experience.  Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, Chief Operations Officer at Queen Mary University of London, and Chair of the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF), recently shared the work of the “Campus Spaces and Places: Impact on Student Outcomes” project.  This is a particular interest for my colleagues at the University of East London as we deliver transformation through the ‘connected campus’ project, creating inspiring and innovative spaces and places across our campuses that support students and staff to study, work and make the most of their time on campus.

Whilst we plan future agendas, the network’s activities have encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the interrelationships between academic and professional service teams. Perhaps many of my colleagues in professional services already consider themselves in the mould of what Celia Whitchurch characterises as ‘third-spacers’;  the Operations Network’s activity makes crystal clear the interdependencies between operations and academic endeavours, and in this regard I encourage us all to consider how we might most proactively occupy the same spaces –  physical and virtual spaces across our diverse institutions that are recognised as supporting  our students, staff and the wider communities we serve.

Dr Ian Pickup

Pro Vice Chancellor (Education & Experience) and Chief Operating Officer, University of East London

Co-Chair of the London Higher Operations Network