Vice-chancellors are unlikely to succeed with a “hero leader” approach

I gave the Chairman’s address at the Advance HE leadership summit on 29 June 2018, arguing that the consensual model of leadership works best in higher education. The model of heroic leadership by a charismatic figurehead grips the public imagination, but tends to alienate academics, who need to believe you tap into their values and are able to interpret them. 

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Nigel Carrington – Our One World – An Arts Leader’s Vision

Art is a window into something else…it has the ability to transport people almost magically.

In a far-reaching interview – our Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington has been talking to online channel TV Apex about creativity, art and life as a businessman and lawyer.

Nigel explores the arts, the iPhone, digital, diversity, mindfulness and mental health.

And explains “I’m happiest in the creative world.”

“Art is a window into something else…it has the ability to transport people almost magically.”

He adds: “Our students have a state of mind that enables them to look at the world differently… we help students unlock their creativity, and take away the fear.”

And in an absorbing conversation held at Central St Martins, UAL –  interviewer Feroze Dada asks: What does art mean? Is creativity innate?

Dada also talks to students and staff for their take on creativity and the challenges facing future artists.


UAL helps bring mental health support into spotlight

UAL has been recognised for the extra lengths we go to in order to support the mental health of our students and staff. This came in the form of being asked to contribute to The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers, entitled ‘Thriving at work’.

I followed this up this request by writing to Lord Stevenson, outlining the importance of protecting mental health and explaining what we are doing to lead the way in the higher education sector.

As well as a significant increase in financial resources, we have worked with the Arts Students’ Union to develop a Mental Health Action plan from 2016–2020 to help our staff and students work to the best of their ability and crucially maintain a healthy lifestyle. We also have other measures, including training mental health first aid training for staff, which I believe outline our commitment to student welfare.

I was quoted in the report as follows:

Everyone is somewhere on the mental health spectrum, so this is a business productivity issue which should be dealt with alongside other health and safety considerations. Creating a positive environment for mental health demonstrably costs less than failing to do so.”

To read the full report, please click the link here.


Below, you can read the information I supplied to Lord Stevenson:

UAL was asked to contribute to the investigation into mental health in the workplace. UAL is a workplace for students as well as staff – measures which support student mental health also support staff mental health. UAL works with our Arts Students’ Union on mental health, and we have put in place a Mental Health Action plan 2016–2020.

Age-related factors in mental health
Mental health issues typically surface by the mid-20s, exactly when people are setting out in their career. If a business recruits young people in any significant number, it faces the same issues as a university and has the same responsibilities. Traditionally, young people are expected to prove themselves when they enter employment. As such it is important that employers focus on outcomes rather than proxies such as long hours which may exacerbate mental health problems.

Managing mental health as an environmental issue, not just at the individual level
Mental health issues are experienced by the individual but shaped by their environment, in this case the workplace. Employers therefore need to create the right environment in advance rather than tackling this when individuals display problems. Everyone is somewhere on the mental health spectrum, so this is a business productivity issue which should be dealt with alongside other health and safety considerations. Creating a positive environment for mental health is likely to cost less than failing to do so.

Trust increases disclosure rates
While not everyone will choose to disclose, staff are encouraged to inform us of any ongoing condition when they start work at UAL. We then assess their support needs, aiming to avoid a situation where they might not be able to cope at work.

To increase disclosure rates during their time here, staff need to know that their declaration of illness will be received with respect, taken in confidence, and acted upon appropriately. To achieve this, UAL has in place:

  • A mental health awareness campaign, emphasising that staff will be supported if they have a mental health issue. This includes mental health awareness training and four films targeted at existing staff and during recruitment
  • Access to 24/7 advice through the Employee Assistance Programme run by a third party expert provider

Earlier intervention and mental health first aid
Starting in academic year 2013-14, UAL has put support in place much earlier when staff report illness related to stress debility and depression. At the same time, we increased our focus on managing long-term sickness more effectively. By the following academic year, stress debility and depression as a percentage of total absence had already fallen from 26.96% to 23.38%. Mental health absence improved most as a subset of this — from 3.69% of total absence to 1.54%.

In 2016-17, we rolled out a staff development programme on student well-being, training a number of mental health first aiders at almost all sites. These staff are mainly administrators as they need to be able to leave their work to deal with an incident. This initiative focuses on students, and it has increased perceptions of mental health support generally.

Supported managers
Managers are supported directly by HR and through a Manager Support service which provides advice on managing staff with mental health issues. Our coaching scheme is also designed to support managers on this issue.

Policies to support people with ongoing conditions and disability
UAL aims to ensure our policies work effectively to support people with an ongoing condition to return to work and stay in work. To achieve this, our main policies include flexible working and sickness absence, including return to work support; the staff charter; the Occupational Health team; and the Access to Work scheme.

Staff with a mental health condition that is considered a disability are encouraged to contact Access to Work, as part of making reasonable adjustments. Through this, they have access to services designed to support them to stay in work. The assessor will suggest support and adjustments and help an employee to have a conversation with their manager or others about their needs.

There are two notable considerations in the management of mental health.

The biggest problem is the absence of reliable data or an accepted common definition of mental health. This may make it difficult for businesses to assess workplace mental health, understand their responsibilities and benchmark the level of support they should put in place.

The second problem is an emerging generational gap in understanding of mental health. The stigma has been reduced among young people through secondary school teaching focusing on earlier disclosure. They are therefore more likely to recognise and disclose mental health needs when they get to university and into the workplace. Mental health awareness needs to improve among the whole working population not only to increase recognition and propensity to disclose needs, but also to forestall intergenerational misunderstanding in the workplace.

UAL on track for target of 100% green energy

Image: Tara Baoth Mooney, MA Fashion and the Environment 2011. Photography: Sean Michael. Image courtesy of Centre for Sustainable Fashion

As an organisation, we couldn’t agree more that sustainability and climate change are not someone else’s problem. That’s why I’m happy to outline the steps we’re taking to tackle the issue.

UAL has just switched to a new electricity tariff, which means 100% of the electricity we consume is now provided by solar, wind or hydro power, taking us closer to achieving 100% green energy in line with the government’s Clean Growth Strategy. The switch in October is part of a continuing initiative that’s seen carbon emissions from utility consumption fall by 34% since 2013.

But as UAL is more focused on consuming less, rather than just better –  we are going beyond simply meeting our HEFCE target of a 43% reduction in emissions by 2020. We have taken notable steps forward with the rolling out of new energy efficiency measures to lower usage, as well as new processes for waste disposal designed to increase recycling while eliminating landfill.

UAL aims to create a culture of environmental responsibility to develop and integrate sustainable and ethical practice throughout all aspects of our operations. We believe art, design and communication education can play a vital role in the development of a more sustainable future and recognise the global implications of our activities and responsibilities. UAL leads major projects on environmentally sustainable fashion, arts, design, developing research, teaching, and industry collaborations.

 Our success stories

  • We are the fastest improving HEI with regard to sustainability, based on the University Green League, and our carbon emissions are lower than the sector median.
  • We are the first HEI in England to become a signatory to the UN-backed Principles of Responsible Investing (UNPRI) initiative, which encourages investors to use responsible investment.
  • Since 2015, LCF has been signed up to Principles for Responsible Management (PRME), which engages with academic institutions to develop future leaders who can balance economic and sustainability goals. This progress report shows how LCF has been embedding the principles into the workings of the college.
  • For the fourth year running, UAL has been shortlisted for the Green Gown Awards, which recognise sustainability initiatives undertaken by universities, colleges and the learning and skills sectors across the UK and Ireland. Winners are announced next month.

We’ll be launching a new Sustainability Manifesto on 3 November, a five-year sustainable business programme designed to address the key environmental, social and ethical challenges facing UAL. You can find up-to-date energy consumption information for each UAL building by visiting We also have a UAL Sustainability Working Group, which I encourage you to join to contribute to environmental stewardship at UAL.

I hope these success stories demonstrate how seriously we take sustainability at UAL.

Thinking big. Megacities and education in 21st Century urbanism

Last week I spoke at the British Council’s ‘Megacities: education in 21st century urbanism’ roundtable event.

In the last forty years the world has seen cities grow in size and autonomy with only three megacities in 1976 soaring to more than thirty in 2016. Megacities account for 13% of the world’s urban inhabitants and 7% of the world’s total population.

Living, working and leading these cities presents opportunities but also challenges. Higher education is suffering from a failure of the imagination when it comes to really big cities. We understand them academically, but we don’t understand them as well as we should from our perspective as individual institutions, as landlords, as export businesses and as corporate citizens. This diminishes our impact. It risks making universities ordinary in places where we should be extraordinary. We need to think on a more ambitious scale.

We need to reap the benefits of the intellectual, social and industrial capital we create in our students. Universities help form the character, population and fortune wherever they are and especially in great cities. They are instruments of social cohesion and social mobility. They create knowledge which shapes industries and political thinking.

These effects in part arise naturally from graduate activity, which we cannot consciously direct. But universities can and should create the conditions for success. We can and should set out to entwine ourselves in our cities. We can and should work with local government to ensure that our students remain in the area after graduation.

You can listen to all of the speeches in full, including mine, on the British Council website.

Why UK higher education sector must direct its energy to send our students abroad

I was approached to write a blog post on why the UK higher education sector must direct its energy to send our students abroad.

Inward mobility is the great urgent theme of our time. We call it migration and it shapes our politics, changes how we manage our borders, underpins our economies and changes our culture. At the national and institutional levels, we are determined to plan for it, even if our plans may sometimes seem rather extraordinary.

By contrast, outward mobility is not an urgent theme, although it is the reflection of inward mobility and makes an important contribution to international competitiveness. According to the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility, just 6% of university students travel abroad as part of their degree. Comparative figures are hard to come by for other countries, but we know the UK receives twice as many Erasmus students as we send abroad.

Read the full blog on the Universities UK website


Can Creativity Be Learned – And Should Normal People Bother?

To celebrate the launch of The creative Stance, I wrote on my Huffington Post blog page why there has never been a more important time to understand the creative process and why it should become a normal part of how we teach.

The Creative Stance

The Creative Stance, a book co-published by UAL and Common-Editions, has been released to coincide with UAL 30 Years On – a year of events and activity marking three decades since the London Institute, now UAL, formed to save London’s prestigious art and design colleges.

With new essays and creative conversations with artists such as Sonia Boyce (Artist, RA and UAL Professor), artist Bob and Roberta Smith, and award winning artist and writer Edmund de Waal OBE (author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes), The Creative Stance is essential reading for anyone involved in the creative arts.

Read the full Huffington Post blog post, order The Creative Stance or find out more about UAL 30 Years On here.

UAL responses to Government inquiries on immigration and exiting the EU

Over the past couple of months, UAL has responded to two Government inquiries; one into immigration and one into the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education. Both of these issues have a considerable impact on UAL and it’s important our voice is heard.

Read UAL’s written evidence on the impact of exiting the European Union on higher education here and find out more about the Immigration Inquiry here.

Commenting on the importance of international students in the media

International students are a vital part of higher education in the UK. The ideas we generate, our research, our global networks, and the business opportunities create are all reliant on international students.

As a result, I am always pleased to comment in the media on this subject. I spoke to the Guardian about the impact of the Brexit vote on the number of EU/international students accepting places at UK universities.

I was pleased to be invited by Dazed magazine to give my thoughts on the Government’s proposals to cut international student numbers and the knock-on impact that could have on the fashion industry. I was quoted alongside a number of colleagues from Central Saint Martins. The article was also picked up by GQ in their round-up of ‘must-read’ articles on fashion business.

UAL 30 Years On – looking back and looking forward

Exactly 30 years ago, seven art and design colleges came together as the institution which later became UAL. This visionary decision ensured that they survived the radical restructuring imposed on local government in London at that time. Other art schools fell by the wayside. Our unification strengthened the colleges, and the university has become a global leader as a result.

The last year has again shown our influence. The QS World University Rankings place us in the Top 5 universities in the world for art and design. HEFCE judged UAL’s teaching to be world leading in its latest funding round, and gave us access to additional funding.

Our new research partnership with King’s College London combines our design thinking and their policy expertise in the emerging field of policy innovation. Our two-year project with the International Curators Forum will address the under-representation of curators from minority ethnic backgrounds. We curated the largest ever exhibition of European performance design, touring to cities in China.

Meanwhile, our students, alumni and staff continue to rock the world. They formed over half the designers at London Fashion Week AW16, with four colleges represented. The 2015 Turner Prize Winner was a collective that includes three UAL tutors; three out of four nominees for the Turner Prize in 2016 are UAL alumni. Amidst six Oscar nominees, alumna Jenny Beavan won an Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Costume Design for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road, which starred alumnus Tom Hardy.

And alumna Stella McCartney designed the Team GB kit for Rio 2016. But UAL has rarely operated in a more uncertain and turbulent environment than now, at our 30th anniversary as an institution.

Leaving the EU could have a profound impact on UAL in the longer-term, particularly to our research partnerships and in recruitment – we draw 15% of our students from the EU. Nevertheless, our plans will continue to be based on the conviction that knowledge and art are borderless, and will reflect our ongoing commitment to international collaboration.

At the same time, the Government’s new higher education legislation – launched at UAL – is the biggest shake-up for a generation. UAL has led a partnership with the Creative Industries Federation to ensure our sector’s voice is heard in the preparation of this legislation. The most financially significant change is the proposal to use the new Teaching Excellence Framework to determine future fee increases.

I regret to report that the Government’s manifesto commitment to promote STEM subjects at secondary school has been achieved at the expense of arts subjects.

This Summer’s GCSE entries saw a further fall of 7.7% in the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects, reducing the pipeline of prospective UK students into creative education. Again, we have worked with others to ensure the Government understands the impact on the creative economy.

In this context, we have further increased the involvement of college based staff in the way we run the University. Each Pro Vice-Chancellor now has an institution-wide remit.

These include the student experience, research, digital, and international strategy. And we have created a new University Operating Board which includes all Directors of College Administration.

We are now well underway with our estates plans, which will improve the learning and the social experience for students. These will put UAL at the heart of creative enterprise zones at Stratford, Elephant & Castle and Camberwell, just as we have achieved at King’s Cross. We have already topped-out at Camberwell with a new hall of residence and additional teaching space.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for Olympicopolis – final designs will be revealed later this year.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for the Stratford Development

I am confident that UAL will continue to meet its challenges, and deliver our strategy 2015–22, Transformative education for a creative world. While we will be tested, we can rely on our financial robustness, the direction of our strategy, and the stellar quality of our students, as we prepare for the next 30 years.