Lancaster thrives globally in a post EU-referendum world (but not without HR having to step up to support!)

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This case study reviews the approach taken by the Lancaster University (LU) in adapting its HR practices to support a new partnership in China.

A global university

LU is in the Times Higher Education (THE) top 50 most international universities and has partner universities in more than 25 countries including the US, China, Ghana, Malaysia and India.
As part of its strategic goals, the University seeks to further establish itself as a global university and, by 2020, aims to be listed within the THE World University Rankings top 100.
LU-BJTU opened in September 2016 and from September 2017 will offer a dual degree scheme in business and social sciences.

Staffing model

Staff at the joint institute will be drawn from a mix of LU and BJTU employed staff. In order for BJTU staff to learn how LU is run and how courses are taught, academic teaching staff from BJTU are currently on secondment at Lancaster. There are also several LU staff already at the joint institute including five English tutors, who have been in China since September 2016, ensuring that the students have the necessary English language skills. The tutors, based in China for 16 week periods, have been joined by an academic dean who will be based permanently in China and eight academic staff will join the joint institute in September 2017, staying for 8 to 10 week periods.

Cultural comparisons

Once the HR team had established the staffing model for the joint institute, it began to learn more about the Chinese culture. In preparation for  the cultural differences, the HR team examined the drivers of Chinese culture using Geert Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture[1] as a guide and found challenges in the dimensions of power distance, uncertainy and indulgence.


The most common challenges faced by the University in the overseas deployment of staff have been compliance with visa and immigration policies, personal and corporate taxation liability, and payroll and tax equalisation. Visa compliance has been a complex and lengthy process with a range of staff on different visas. In terms of tax libaility, the University pays for all additional tax incurred for staff in China. To ensure this is done, the University has made it a contractual obligation to engage in the tax equalisation process.
The location has been an issue when trying to recruit existing LU staff to travel over from the UK. Not only can the travel time make recruitment difficult, it is harder to contact and manage staff due to time zone differences and differing national holidays.
In ensuring that its existing health and safety and wellbeing policies were applicable and applied correctly at the joint institute, the HR team visited both the joint insitutute as well as the proposed staff accommodation. The University also asks staff for regular feedback on any health and safety issues which occur both in or outside the joint institute to capture all aspects of staff wellbeing.

International assignment frameworks and guidance

The University created two international assignment frameworks (short and long term). The frameworks set out the instutitional goals as well the support avaliable for staff and aim to reduce as much of the burden on staff in China, as well as their line managers in Lancaster, as possible.


[1] For further information on Hofestede’s six dimensions of national culture see

Author: Paul Boustead, Lancaster University