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Planting People – Building Managerial Capacity – Review of IMUA Conference Beijing 2004 Old Chinese saying: if you’re planning for a year, plant a corn seed; if you’re planning for a decade, plant a tree; if you’re planning for a lifetime, plant people. This was the most memorable th adage from a most remarkable visit to the 15 IMUA (International Meeting of University Administrators) conference in Beijing, 22-26 August (www.imua2004beijing.pku.edu.cn). Thanks to an AUA travel award, I received funding to match City University’s support to run a workshop on performance coaching in China. The sheer scale and vibrancy of China’s metropolis, the beautiful back street hutongs and the immense hospitality of our Peking University (PKU) hosts made the experience invaluable – climbing the Great Wall with Vice Chancellors and Heads of Administration from top UK and other international universities was a great networking opportunity. Clearly, China is the UK’s top recruitment market for overseas university students. The numbers of main land Chinese studying in UK higher education have increased dramatically in the last five years to 32,000 in 2002-03. It has probably risen to 40-45,000 for the 2003-04 academic year, with additional Chinese students studying English and taking courses at non-university institutions. A Chatham House survey indicates the top one hundred UK universities received an estimated £223m from Chinese students. (http://www.riia.org/pdf/research/asia/BNJul04.pdf). PKU which hosted the conference was founded in 1898, it has 31,000 students and 1,206 professors with the largest collegiate library in Asia with 7 million books. Over 20 foreign leaders and 40 Nobel laureates have spoken at PKU since 2000. IMUA was established in 1981 by Richard Mawditt, former Secretary and Registrar at the University of Bath, and is overseen by a UK based committee jointly established by the Association of Heads of University Administrators and the Association of University Administrators. It is advised on the choice of venues and topics for the meetings by an international advisory board. The meetings are held every eighteen months to two years and provide senior administrators with an opportunity to discuss the key issues for higher education in an international context. Previous meetings have been held in Bath; Hong Kong; Canada; India; Australia; USA; Netherlands; Singapore; Czech Republic; South Africa; New Zealand; Edinburgh, Finland; and Jamaica. IMUA is not a membership organisation; meetings are open to anyone, subject to availability of space and the receipt of the appropriate fee. While the IMUA was in Beijing, three other major international educational activities were taking place: the Education Forum for Asia 2004 met to discuss mutual recognition of educational qualifications and starting scholarships for Asian students and founding management schools in the region; more than 300 educational institutions from home and abroad, including more than 100 foreign institutions, attended the Beijing International Education Exposition 2004; and the first Academy Beijing Forum met to promote social research in Asia-Pacific regions. An opening ceremony was hosted in the Great Hall of the People for all four meetings. The theme of the 15th International Meeting of University Administrators was “Managerial Capacity Building in Universities: Taking Opportunities and Managing Risks”. There were around 180 participants. The workshop I ran in Beijing for 60 conference participants, with Keith Willis and Elaine Robinson from Nottingham Trent University, was based on a pilot project run by HESDA (now subsumed into the Leadership Foundation), the Learning Skills Council London Central and LeadingCoaches.com (an organisation run by Julia Houghton that has supported LSE’s Coaching Academy). The pilot study offered twenty-two participants on the Preparing for Strategic Leadership programme four one-to-one coaching sessions of ninety minutes over six months in 2003 in person or by telephone. In the pilot, coaching was promoted as a sufficiency, rather than a deficiency model (unlike counselling) for successful people who are given customised, real-time individualised support to find their own solutions to their own issues in a safe environment. In the project, members of leadingcoaches.com provided the coaching. Initially there were fears about the possible awkwardness of telephone coaching, some participants took a while to find time for the first meeting and raised issues of confidentiality and how to exit from the activity after four sessions. It was important to establish clear boundaries and responsibilities in an agreed contract and to define clearly the nature of coaching. It is an intervention that enables people to perform new tasks, develop new skills, solve problems for themselves and


build up self-confidence while reframing their life. There are different forms, e.g. life coaching, career coaching, performance coaching and executive/corporate coaching. A useful model of coaching is: performance = potential – interference, i.e. the coach’s role is to minimise the noise that is interfering with the client’s potential. Coaching draws on models such as psychometric assessment, neurolinguistic programming (NLP), spiral dynamics (hidden codes, diversities). Coaching is client focused, supportive, developmental, exploratory and goal-directed. The tasks of the coach are to be totally committed to the client, to ensure a safe environment, a process that is goal-directed and to listen and provide feedback for the client to make sense of their ideas and to reframe situations. The coaching client has to take responsibility for their own development, to increase their self-awareness, explore their own potential and to work hard to acknowledge what can and cannot be done while they are finding the solution within themselves. By contrast, mentoring is based more on the master apprentice model of giving advice and counselling as a broad term that covers a wide range of approaches from simple advice-giving to psychotherapy. In the pilot project we certainly did not want to get in the position of the Woody Allen model of lifetime therapy! Typical topics participants chose to be coached on were: identifying priorities and building confidence in taking a break from unrewarding demands, learning to deal with high maintenance colleagues, conflict resolution, career development and improved networking, delegation and team communications. Feedback from coaches/clients on this pilot programme included: “it made me more effective at a strategic level”; “after each session I felt calmer and more focused. My performance improved accordingly”; it enabled me to take time out, consider options and return confident that all bases were covered”. Clearly, coaching is not a panacea, however it is a useful tool for people to use for their own development one-to-one and when interacting with their staff and running meetings and even corridor conversations. Feedback from the pilot study participants noted how the process helped them to clarify goals and values, evaluate options, generate creative ideas and new perspectives, stretch themselves, build sustainable self-belief, gain encouragement in tough circumstances. It was important to match coaches to clients so that each felt challenged and to ensure the coaches had key skills of active listening, allowing for silence, gaining rapport and powerful questioning techniques to allow the person being coached to work through their chosen issues to get ownership of their own solutions, using coaching models like GROW (goals, reality, options, will/wrap up). The coaches had to unlearn a command and control approach to people development or a temptation to offer solutions or to interrupt their clients. The project findings suggested 1-1 coaching is a valuable tool to develop professional and personal goals. Recommendations from the project are to embed performance coaching in leadership development activities and make coaching more generally available in the higher education sector. At the Beijing workshop, Keith was coached by Elaine, in a demonstration for the participants, on his time management issues and resolved to discuss with key stakeholders how he could give them more meaningful time while protecting himself from being overstretched. Then in small groups, one person was coached on an issue while the others took turns in asking questions relating to the GROW model with a different role of questions assigned to each. The conference delegates seemed to have some fun and coaching topics like how to deal with your Australian boss in the UK were useful areas for discussion. From the IMUA conference as a whole I was impressed by the PKU presentation on the smashing of the iron rice bowl now that tenure is available only for full professorships and even then at least half of their total salary is merit pay based on performance reviews, administrative staff are reviewed every four years, including comprehensive evaluation from academic staff. Reverse brain drain funding is offered with flexibility for academic staff to remain abroad but visit PKU for a couple of courses. The university’s policy is for two thirds of PhD students to come from outside PKU to allow diversity, reduce inbreeding and encourage academic debate and interdisciplinary research. In his keynote speech, Peter Mackinnon, President of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, talked of the increasing privatisation of public education; increasing government funding awarded to private institutions; scrutiny of the social contract with HEIs; the greater recognition of the economic role of universities; clusters of experts and the rise of creativity which may be stifled in a country like Canada that has considerable natural resources


where people may feel too comfortable. He referred to Richard Florida’s groundbreaking book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How Its Transforming Work, Leisure Community and Everyday Life which focuses on the rise of creativity as an economic force: creative people cluster in cities which offer them the kinds of lifestyle and diversity that they are seeking. Mackinnon noted the three Ts needed by successful universities: technology, talent, tolerance. He highlighted key trends that face the stewards of universities who must lead within difficult dimensions and a network of fragile complex relationships: more explicit competition and differentiation; questioning the self-governance of the professoriat. David Allen, University of Exeter, referred to higher education as a huge growth industry as demand exceeds supply in Asia (OECD). He argued it is unattractive to be dependant on a low price culture and questioned the existing paradigm in state universities. He advocated the Scandinavian model of coaches rather than managers and stressed the importance of two-way listening, PRP and questioned the tenure of professors. He also emphasized the importance of alumni for maintaining the brand of their degree. He concisely summed up the qualities of leadership: external facing, not micromanagement, credibility in senior world-wide forum, energetic and energising, delegating, reaching beyond their grasp, focusing on quality, rewarding success, removing failure, extracting more from the core business, making what we can sell – being demand lead, concentrating on measurable data rather than mere opinion. He said the key questions universities should be asking themselves include: are we part of the local community, are we worthy of our students and the sacrifices they are making? He argued that we need to save ourselves from ourselves by shooting outwards not inwards to sustain capacity in our fragile institutions. Tom Gregg of ATEM (AUA’s Australian counterpart) stressed the importance of taking opportunities and stimulating innovation, accepting a residual risk and integrating immigrants and those not currently engaged in tertiary education. He recognised that private capital from fee paying students will lead to greater demands for investment, e.g. mobile phone technology for teaching materials. He stressed the need for innovation and professional managers in a climate of decreased government expenditure, at the same time as increased student numbers, rising needs for capital resources and compliance costs and government expectations/imperatives. Finally, to mention the short but intensive social programme at the conference. We were treated to visits to world cultural heritage sites at the truly unforgettable Forbidden City and Great Wall of China, as well as special showings of superb acrobatic and Chinese opera performances to suit our hectic schedule and meals of endless dishes including the obligatory Peking duck. The Forbidden City is over 600 years’ old, it housed the reign of 24 emperors and has 9,999 rooms, as well as ponds, pavilions, an imperial garden and now a tastefully presented Starbucks (where the Chinese drink tea and anything but coffee). One emperor had over 1,000 concubines. We also visited the Great Wall at Badaling at its highest point 800m above sea level. 1m people were involved in building the wall over a decade. During our stay in the capital, the grey haze of the Beijing skies meant it was also a pleasant climate. All in all, it was a highly positive experience. At the very least, we learned in Beijing that if you’re ever stuck for anything to say, find a Chinese saying!


Beijing (2004 study tour)