Malcolm Press: HE’s collaborative culture is the key to our success

Malcolm Press
As one of the biggest universities in the UK, Manchester Metropolitan University faces the challenge of making an impact regionally and beyond whilst feeling welcoming to students. The university’s vice-chancellor Malcolm Press tells Efficiency Exchange that it is all about engaging locally and thinking globally.

How is Manchester Met contributing to the development of the Northern Powerhouse?

We make a powerful contribution to the northern economy.

We’re an anchor institution supporting research and skills development in our home city, developing aspiration and attainment. We are a gateway for business and international partnerships and we provide strong support for our regional businesses.

We also pose a challenge. We offer a series of compelling examples of what can be achieved when organisations work together to find solutions to tricky problems. Alongside other universities, we believe there is capacity for us to increase the range and scale of the benefits we bring to the Northern Powerhouse, if we can broker more of these partnerships. The challenge is, how do we scale up?

We engage locally, think globally and focus on what we can deliver of real quality and impact. Projects like International Screen School Manchester won support through the Local Growth Fund because we successfully demonstrated we are part of the wider ecosystem of the creative industries in the city and the Northern Powerhouse.

We work hard on all opportunities to partner with local businesses to deliver productivity, investment and employability.

Tell us about some efficiency best practice you’ve learned from another university that you’ve used?

The university engages extensively with other higher education (HE) institutions, as well as organisations in other sectors, to ensure that we adopt best practice and are able to deliver efficiently and effectively.

When I joined Manchester Metropolitan in 2015 I was fortunate to inherit a superb estate, as a result of a programme that consolidated the university from seven to two campuses. This programme delivered savings that were reinvested in our facilities and support services for students, as well as contributing to better use of space, energy efficiency and an enhanced working environment.

we wouldn’t have been so successful had we not been operating in a sector with a culture of collaboration and cooperation

The programme was used as a case study of delivering value from the higher education estate in a HEFCE-Universities UK report as part of the Diamond Review (2015). I am certain that we wouldn’t have been so successful had we not been operating in a sector with a culture of collaboration and cooperation, that values learning from the experiences of others and adding to that learning by building on and sharing best practice.

You lead one of the biggest universities in the UK. When a student body is so large, how do you make it welcoming instead of overwhelming for new students so that the chances of them staying are increased?

That’s a very important question. There is lots of evidence to show that students thrive and survive best when they are part of a coherent community, so the challenge for us and other big universities is to create that sense of belonging to a community for all our students.

We plan throughout the year to ensure that our welcome for new and returning students is focused on giving them the best possible start, with lots of opportunities to meet each other, and our staff.

Find out how Manchester Met and other universities are getting more from their estates – READ MORE>

Our induction and transition steering group is chaired by a senior colleague and brings in academics, professional services staff and – of vital importance – the Students’ Union.
Activities begin early, using social media platforms like Facebook to connect students even before they get here and we also offer ‘step-up to study’ events for those students who might be feeling nervous about the transition to higher education. There’s a full programme of events across the university and in academic departments throughout welcome week.

And then once the excitement of welcome week is over, of course we want students to be successful, to be able to progress through their studies, benefiting from everything they can experience at university. We’ve looked carefully at our assessment processes and introduced greater flexibility to support students to succeed rather than setting them up to fail, and we’ve invested significantly in learner analytics.

As you so rightly say, size is a challenge, and technology helps us to spot in good time students who may be at risk of non-progression, and make personalised interventions. In fact, we have received HEFCE Catalyst funding to develop a learner tracker app that will take this one step further, supporting students in using independent study in a way that is more closely tied to contact hours.

What are you doing to bring in wider participation students?

We are passionately committed to our widening participation agenda. Some 40% of our full-time home undergraduates come from backgrounds where household income is £25,000 or less, and at least a third of our intake in 2015-16 came from ‘first generation’ backgrounds, where there was no- one in their immediate family who had experienced higher education.

We take a ‘whole life cycle’ approach to widening participation. We don’t just focus on outreach and access, but also on monitoring the progression and success of widening participation students who join the university. HE has a transformative impact on individual lives, and I believe it is incumbent on us all to ensure that everyone with the passion and ability to succeed can benefit from it.

Like all universities we have an active outreach programme, with activities aimed at age groups from primary upwards. A couple of highlights: through the Greater Manchester Higher Partnership we are leading the regional National Collaborative Outreach Programme, which is receiving £7.6m from HEFCE over two years. This programme is specifically aimed at increasing the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education by 2020.

And the other highlight, which is close to my heart as I’m from a first generation family myself, is our First Generation campaign. Aimed at local year 12 pupils, this is a scheme that will provide sustained support for high-achieving widening participation students into and through Manchester Metropolitan.

It’s also key to think about how open we are as universities to our communities, so that young people grow up being familiar with our campuses, with the expectation that what we offer is relevant to them, and with ambition and motivation. So our community engagement programme is just as important.

We are particularly proud of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, which was created and is led by the director of the Manchester Writing School, Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy. The event now reaches thousands of people through events and projects throughout the year. And our Community Learning Festival is delivered in partnership with community groups and organisations from Hulme and Moss Side, helping us to engage with our neighbours of all ages.

What is the most enterprising method of income generation that you’ve seen in HE?

Well, I have a slight hesitation in answering this question because, of course, income generation in itself should not be the barometer by which HE institutions should measure themselves. It’s more a question of how we use income generated to support our strategic aims.

A good example of income generation that adds value can be found in our relationship with INTO. INTO lease space from us to deliver their own foundation degrees; they use our facilities at a time when we’re not, paying a full economic rate for space that would otherwise be idle. We have added value to this arrangement by working with INTO to develop a number of pathways that would enable their students to progress directly onto our degree programmes: benefits for us, aligned with our goal of increasing the number of international students we have, and opportunities for students to gain access to our programmes.

How has the city of Manchester changed since Manchester Metropolitan University was awarded university status, and is that a positive change?

Manchester was a city under transition in 1992. The city submitted an Olympic bid, which demonstrated a readiness to emerge from the ravages of recession and develop a place firmly on the world stage, building on a global brand reputation in football and popular music.

In 1996 Manchester did what it always does so well: turned a catastrophe into a positive force for change and faced the future. The IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre proved to be the catalyst for a new masterplan in the city centre. It galvanised the city’s best asset – its people – into thinking big and directing their spirit and civic pride towards ambitious new projects in business, culture and sports, culminating in a successful Commonwealth Games in 2002, new infrastructure and a momentum that continues to this day.

Much of this has been achieved through unique private and public partnerships and under the leadership of council leaders Graham Stringer and Sir Richard Leese and chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein. Their unique ability to see opportunities, seize them and mobilise support in the city and beyond, has been inspirational.

What does a busy Manchester Met vice-chancellor do in his time off?

Walk the dog, try not to worry that I’m forgetting all the Spanish that I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to learn, and not to feel too anxious about the fact that my very basic piano playing is going backwards rather than forwards