Donna Kendall: striving for success, the Coventry way

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Coventry University has been one of the star performers in recent university ranking tables. The university’s pro vice chancellor for strategic development, Donna Kendall, tells Rosie Niven the role she plays in building on this success for the future.

What projects are currently in your in-tray?

There are a variety of projects in my in-tray which will support the university to realise our ‘Creating Better Futures’ agenda.

We pride ourselves on taking calculated risks and have a dynamic approach, pushing the boundaries of higher education. We will continue to drive this agenda forward as part of our 2021 Corporate Plan and we will build on our achievements and transformation since 2010.

It sounds all a bit ‘secret squirrel’, but the projects I’m working on currently are ‘classified’. So all I can say, is that my projects are strategic pieces aligned to our ambitious plans to 2021; we are trying new things that we have never done before and at the same time, we are significantly improving things we currently do. It’s very exciting and forward thinking.

You are PVC for strategic development at Coventry University. What is the advantage of having a senior post dedicated to this kind of work?

We are very good at fast-paced delivery and implementation, something we refer to as ‘The Coventry Way’. However, we reached a tipping point at the end of our 2015 Plan, even though we had over-delivered against the majority of our targets.

We soon realised, that in order to sustain our achievements, as well as continue to innovate, we needed to ensure that we focused on ‘business as usual’, which is critical, as well as focusing on strategic development. Therefore, we had to build additional capacity to concentrate on our future innovations.

That’s where my role and my team come to the fore, by focusing on our future strategic developments in a rigorous, planned way. This allows us to continually drive for success, whilst not losing sight of ‘The Coventry Way’.

Until 2014, your focus as PVC was on continuous improvement. Do you feel it is an area that is gaining in importance in the sector?

Although many institutions have always had a strong continuous improvement ethos, I think a whole host of changes in HE have led to an absolute need to focus on quality improvement and efficiencies. Therefore, more recently, I’ve seen continuous improvement gaining more traction across the sector as a whole.

How has your HR background prepared you for being a PVC?

I could quote many transferable skills which have been very useful in transitioning to my PVC role. If I had to choose one, I would say organisational change. Organisational change is one of the major elements of my current role and one which is fundamental when operating in a strategic HR position – a definite transferable skill, which I rely upon in my PVC role.

What have been the main achievements at Coventry in terms of efficiency?

We had a major efficiency drive at Coventry University a few years ago and have ensured that we continue to operate efficiently ever since. We looked at our resources and ensured that we were running a lean, but efficient operation across all of our professional services.

We also reviewed our course offerings and streamlined our programmes in order to reflect the changing nature of the learning experience. We reviewed the use of our estate and continue to invest in new buildings and remodel existing buildings to deliver efficient use of space, alongside creating a contemporary feel and excellent services.

As well as focusing on efficiency, we have majored on our quality agenda across all aspects of our business. From investing heavily in improving our research quality, to continually improving our teaching and, of course, the experience our students have whilst studying with Coventry.

What do you like most about your role?

The breadth is just brilliant. I love working across all areas of our corporate plan and indeed our business. I am delighted to have played a part in our success thus far and to be part of creating our future.

My role enables me to use skill sets that I have honed in previous roles over the years, but also challenges me to develop a range of exciting new skills; one being developing a deeper knowledge across the whole of our business, I have found this can be called upon without warning and in the most unlikely situation!

I do relish the challenges I’m presented with and love working with a group of people who feel as passionate about higher education and the successes of Coventry University Group as I do.

What do you like to do outside work?

Life outside of work is busy. I am married with two young children; I adore my family and so spend most of my spare time with them – time is precious. I’m a big fan of the great outdoors and draw a sense of peacefulness from being out there. I enjoy travel, reading and, I must admit, I’m a bit of a foodie so enjoy entertaining and going to good restaurants.

Donna Kendall is pro vice chancellor for strategic development (business transformation) at Coventry University

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Rosie Niven
Rosie is the content editor at Efficiency Exchange