From Sri Lanka to Canada: my HR work shadowing experience

ACU HR in HE Community member Rajendram Logendra, Deputy Registrar at the University of Colombo, has just returned from an enriching work shadowing visit to various ACU member universities in Canada, hosted by the University of Waterloo. Georgina Nicoli, ACU Member Engagement Coordinator, spoke to Mr Logendra following these visits to find out what he has learnt and gained from this unique cross-cultural experience.

Logendra

Tell us about your current role

I am the Deputy Registrar at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. My role involves serving as Secretary to the Faculty Board and Research & Higher Degrees Committee, and being responsible for the overall general administration of the Faculty.

Examples of this include: managing correspondence and maintenance of records; initiating actions regarding administrative and students matters; scheduling of examinations, space allocation and management, preparation of the schedule of examination supervisors and invigilators and obtaining necessary approvals; serving in the Faculty Committees; handling Faculty procurement; serving as a member in Technical Evaluation Committees and overseeing rehabilitation works and improvements to buildings and fixed assets.

How did these visits to ACU member universities in Canada come about?

Having served in a regional campus (the Trincomalee Campus of the Eastern University of Sri Lanka) for ten months during my year of sabbatical leave, I wanted to visit an international university to gain some work shadowing experience. When I was looking for placements, I thought ‘why not give the ACU HR in HE Community a try?’

The ACU put a call out to the HR in HE Community Steering Committee members to see if any member universities could host me. Both the University of Waterloo in Canada and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa offered to host my visits. I decided upon the University of Waterloo, as they were able to arrange visits to other neighbouring universities in Toronto.

What did your visits involve?

During my two-week stay in Canada, I visited Wilfred Laurier University, University of Guelph and York University, as well as the University of Waterloo. My objectives for these visits were to learn best practices in higher education administration, meet peers who experience similar challenges, and to network, exchange ideas, gain advice and share experiences.

My contact at the University of Waterloo – Nancy Collins, Strategic Initiatives Advisor, Office of the Associate Provost – put together an excellent itinerary covering a range of teams, departments and meetings, with all the details, including maps of locations, building and room numbers, etc., so I didn’t have any difficulty in locating places.

I spent a week in Waterloo visiting various departments at the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University, such as the Registrar’s Office, the Office of the Associate Provost,  and the Cooperative Education and Career Action Centre. I also met with members of staff in charge and involved in handling day-to-day administration and HR (e.g. Registrar teams), who briefed me about their roles, responsibilities and functions.

This included meeting with Nitish Khiria and Danielle Scholtz from the University of Waterloo’s Human Resources Department, who walked me through their Human Resource Management System and Workday project. Their Human Resource Management System, called iCIMS, is a staff recruiting platform. It is sophisticated and facilitates many HR functions from advertising vacancies, application processes, shortlisting, interviewing, up to recruiting and on boarding, making these tasks easy and reducing paperwork. Workday is a new electronic human resources system and is expected to put control into the hands of managers and employees, replacing PeopleSoft. Workday is designed to facilitate a transition to fewer paper processes, which allows for self-service on any device.

What did you learn from this experience?

I learnt so many new things! From the effective use of information systems for HR functions, to scheduling examinations and courses, and space management. Many of the departments took me through their systems to help me understand how they work efficiently in different dimensions.

What were the highlights?

The biggest highlight for me was getting to meet and network with so many passionate HR professionals. It was inspirational to be able to meet with important people – being able to talk and listen to them, share ideas and learn about how they approach HR and the role of Registrar within their institutions was very valuable. I believe I’ve made some invaluable connections for the future – and have been able to build my network.

How do the universities you visited in Canada compare with your university, including the HR function?

As in Sri Lanka, most universities in Canada are public universities, and therefore heavily dependent on state grants.

Undergraduate education in Sri Lankan public universities is free for native students who qualify for university education, but in Canada all university programmes of study are fee levying. The Canadian Government or state body approves all programmes of study for funding and at the same time ensures students have access to student funding. Through this arrangement, Canadian universities seem able to generate sufficient funding to run the universities and maintain the infrastructure and laboratories. Furthermore, access to higher education in Canada is high.

It is quite different in Sri Lanka. Here, public universities are heavily dependent on state grants. World Bank funding for Improving the Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education (IRQUE) and the Higher Education for the Twentieth Century (HETC) quality of programmes of studies, ICT service, management and administration are undergoing massive reforms. The public universities are encouraged to generate funds by admitting a portion of international students and through fee levying postgraduate and extension programmes. Several initiatives have been taken by the government to increase access to higher education.

There is also a big difference between the HR function in Canada compared to Sri Lanka, but I could note some similarities in the efforts in workday and absence tracking. A significant difference I observed in Canada is that payroll is in HR. All the universities I visited have well documented policies, staff training and induction programmes for new recruits. The Canadian universities heavily rely on information systems to manage HR functions, which seems to be very easy, and reduces duplication, paper handling and paper record keeping significantly. These software solutions and systems really fascinated me and I hope I will be able to introduce something similar in my home institution.

The Co-operative Education Programme with a study semester/work terms mix, experiential education and work integrated learning, are other areas that fascinated me. Overall, I observed that Canadian universities, and Canada itself, have a culture of diversity and inclusion.

How do you see this experience assisting you in your current role and for the future?

Naturally, this experience and exposure will have an impact on my current role, and will continue to in the future, and will help me improve the quality of my service. Further, I hope the network and contacts I developed through this experience will always help me clarify many of the issues I come across in my chosen profession.


ACU HR in HE CommunityMembers of the HR in HE Community are part of a Commonwealth-wide network of professionals working in HR and related fields (e.g. registrars, heads of department etc.). Through this network, the ACU is able to facilitate opportunities such as the one described above by Rajendram Logendra. If you’re interested in joining the HR in HE Community, please email HRinHE@acu.ac.uk

The University of Waterloo will be hosting the next ACU HR in HE Community conference, taking place on 23-27 September 2018, in Toronto, Canada. Register your interest at: Canada2018@acu.ac.uk

Last modified on 13/09/2017
Tags: ACU HR in HE Community, Member Communities, Canada, Human Resources