Getting to grips with Council work: reflections of the new Head of Policy

2 March 2016

I’ve been in post now for two months. My role is a new one, created as part of the Council’s expansion, and my appointment certainly seems timely in view of the mountain of policy work facing us this year.

I came from the British Medical Association and am learning to adapt to a much smaller organisation. People working outside education and health policy are unlikely to have heard of us but, within the world in which we operate, it seems size really doesn’t matter. I have observed that the Council is nimble, well-regarded and dynamic with a huge network of contacts across our sectors. In these early weeks I have started building my own relationships with the many professional and public bodies with which we work. Never before have I met so many people in such a short period of time, all of whom are eager to share information and hear our views.

I have already been on member visits, something I intend to continue for as long as members will have me. As well as our AGM in Cardiff and a CoDH Scotland meeting in Dundee I have been privileged to visit Canterbury Christ Church University, the University of West London, the University of Derby and London South Bank University. Each has exposed me to unique perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing members. I have been left in no doubt that our faculties are an incredibly diverse group, each one understandably perceiving and experiencing policy developments differently. My job is to understand and reflect those differences while finding the common core interests binding our institutions and professions. I find myself returning to a point raised by a member right at the end of this year’s AGM – the need to focus on collaboration and common cause in an increasingly competitive higher education environment.

The whole office is working hard to prepare for the 17/18 funding reforms in England. Jon, our communications officer, is building a microsite full of information for members and students while Lizzie and I are braced for the consultation expected later this month. Once published we will be working harder than ever to collect and convey the views of our members. I look forward to the challenge of preparing our response over the consultation period, including organising the Council’s funding reform seminar on 3 May. The input of all our member institutions, both individually and collectively through the Council, will be crucial if the reforms are to work.

However huge the 17/18 reforms (and you can see them from space), we cannot lose sight of our other objectives. In the last few weeks I have been working with Patrick Callaghan, our executive lead for research, to set up our own advisory group to ensure that supporting our members’ valuable research remains central to our agenda. The group has already met by phone to shape our response to Lord Stern’s review of the REF. Next week I will be at a Professional Standards Authority conference on regulation – another crucial strand of our ongoing policy work, particularly with the ongoing NMC review of pre-registration standards. Also firmly on my radar is the ongoing review of student support in Scotland, which I will be working on with my Scottish colleague Neil and CoDH Scotland members.

I look forward to meeting many more members over the coming months. Please feel free to email me at any time about policy matters. The better we understand the issues facing your faculties, the better we will be able to represent you.

Fleur Nielsen, Head of Policy

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