Future of HR in post-covid world explored during ACU HR in HE Community Conference   

Future of HR in post-covid world explored during ACU HR in HE Community Conference   

The final session on ‘Transforming technology, transforming people: the future of HR in the digital age’ explored how HR in universities have been using digital technologies

A two-day virtual HR in HE Community Conference deliberating on the issues “Universities in a Changing World: HR’s response to the COVID-19 Crisis’ was organised by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) in partnership with Amity University to maximise learning from good practice in HR in higher education institutions from around the world.  
Participants gained valuable insights into how other HR professionals are responding to COVID-19 in their institutions, covering a range of timely issues such as mental health and well-being, remote working, higher education strategists, shifting priorities in HR; diversity, inclusion and belonging and HR in a digital age.   

Inaugurating the conference Dr Joanna Newman, Chief Executive and Secretary General, ACU spoke of how the pandemic has magnified the importance of HR to universities and made the strategic positioning of HR in HE institutions even more pressing in order to respond in the times of crisis. Dr. Atul Chauhan, Chancellor, Amity University Uttar Pradesh gave a panoramic view of the challenges faced by universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also shared the strategies adopted to leverage resources and optimise  the university’s ability to support student learning, research, internationalization and effective governance.    

Professor Ian O Williamson, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand shared an important message on ‘Thriving through Disruption: The Critical Role of HR’. He stated that HR becomes critical while translating the goals of the organisation into behaviours. The inaugural session looked at the role of HR in responding to remote work and ensuring stability, the need to hire to bridge the skill gap, strengthening the digital capabilities and building a learning culture.   

The second session of the day looked at ‘Leading in the time of COVID-19’ and explored the role of leadership in dealing with the crisis through strategic decisions and building resilience. Sharing views on how university associations have been dealing with the crisis, Dr Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities (AIU), India talked about the need for universities to salvage opportunities for internationalisation and collaboration so that universities and students don’t suffer. She shared how the AIU held online cultural competitions with music and dance to engage students.   

The session on ‘Mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19 and beyond’ looked at how HR plans to support staff and university leaders as they re-adjust to the new normal as universities re-open. Abel Caine, Head of the Rethinking Youth Programme, UNESCO MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development) shared how post COVID-19 mental health, emotional intelligence and resilience has acquired new-found recognition. The panelists strongly advocated for the importance of emotional well-being and the value of employee assistance and capacity building programmes.   

Day two of the conference looked at issues surrounding diversity, inclusion and belonging and how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed pre-existing inequalities. The discussion explored how the higher education sector internationally can seize this moment to tackle inequality. The panelists reflected on the importance of inclusive leadership, emotional intelligence and maintaining an active commitment to promote diversity, inclusion and a sense of belonging among staff and students.   
Chair of the session, Professor Shaun Ewen, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Indigenous) University of Melbourne, Australia; Visiting Professor of Indigenous Health & Leadership, King’s College London, UK stated that change now is harder than before as people feel vulnerable and threatened, and how there are parallel conversations going around to fight the pandemic of racism.  
The final session on ‘Transforming technology, transforming people: the future of HR in the digital age’ explored how HR in universities have been using digital technologies to solve the challenges arising from the pandemic and remote working. Panelists shared how they have been using technology to communicate and carry out HR functions. Dr Sujaya Banerjee, CEO, Capstone Consulting, India shared that working from home has been the biggest transition and how this adversity has created opportunities. She called for a human-centric approach and the need for HR to be the voice of compassion for an organisation. Expert speakers concurred on providing constructive feedback to faculty and staff and to conduct fact-based, data driven performance reviews.  By sharing lessons learned from universities and organisations across the Commonwealth, the conference celebrated the resilience and adaptability of HR in higher education in responding to COVID-19.