Project Description

… Big Picture Thinking | Collaborative Working | Joined-up Thinking | Behavioural Change | Strategic Decision Making …

Understanding How Universities Work

sim-uni is a computer-based collaborative learning simulation (resource management game) that is used as a training aid within an interactive workshop. It has been developed in a partnership between pixelfountain and The University of Manchester.

sim-uni promotes big picture thinking, understanding of cause & effect, breaks down silos and develops soft skills & effective decision making. These skills have lasting benefits – transforming people & processes, student experience and reputation.

The innovative learning simulation allows delegates to experience a virtual university where they have to negotiate, work together and think strategically. The delegates are divided into teams that take on different roles in the game, i.e. different functions of a university: research, teaching, admin and support. Delegates see how the successful integration of the different functions of a university means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


  • Induction and interns.
  • Leadership development.
  • Away days.
  • Staff training.
  • Teaching.
  • Collaborative working.
  • Strategic Planning



95% of participants rated the learning event excellent or good. Audience made up of staff training and development professionals at a Midland Staff Development Partnership event.


All but one participant rated the overall experience as excellent at a pilot in the University of Worcester.  One member felt it was the equivalent of ‘very good’.


Facilitation (at a pilot in the University of Worcester ) was carried out by the representative from Pixel Fountain and Julian Bancroft-Martin (Course Leader:  Academic Course Leadership & University Leadership Certificate programmes).  One member felt it was the equivalent of ‘very good’, the rest said it was excellent.


Sim-Uni Walkthrough

Client Feedback

The University of Manchester were attracted to working with pixelfountain on their particular style of business simulation as it doesn’t become an exercise in mastering the technology or reducing the learning experience to all huddling around a PC. Instead sim-uni facilitates a rich experiential learning experience and can be used flexibly to achieve a variety of learning outcomes as dictated by the user – be it planning and strategy appreciation, teamwork and communications or decision making. Our early experience of sim-uni suggests it can be used effectively as a learning vehicle in its own right or as an adjunct to leadership and management development programmes.

Paul Dixon, Former Head of Staff Training and Development, University of Manchester

On behalf of the OD Team, just a short message to thank you very much for delivering the Sim-Uni event for us at University of Liverpool yesterday.

From my observation, and hands on experience through taking part in the simulation, I was very impressed by the range of skills that can be developed/applied by working through the stages of the “game” and it seemed that, from the level of engagement, that participants really enjoyed the activity.

The particular benefits I felt were gained by the participants are:

  • Realisation of the value that departments in the university bring to the mix.
  • Importance of understanding the objectives of other departments so that you are able to influence based on supporting their priorities.
  • Understanding of the different types of power that exist – especially through position, reward, respect.
  • How transparency can speed up decision making process – when teams work in isolation in first stage their limited information constrains decision making.
  • Implications of not thinking strategically – first phase there was a lot of assumption rather than planning about future direction.
  • Understanding how powerful personalities can change the dynamics of a team.
  • Recognition of how useful negotiating is – there seemed to be just an acceptance in first round that what people were asking for was the ‘right’ amount.

Tracy Ellis, Organisational Development Advisor, University of Liverpool.

I think the event/the simulation provided a fun way to learn about the different elements that impact on the running of the University (particularly in raising awareness of areas not directly related to those you may have worked in), and could also be used as a team building event (irrespective of the actual content of the simulation). It really got you thinking and talking about the issues, and also about the importance of communication (networking and negotiation)
E-Learning Manager
The ‘Sim-Uni’ event was very engaging and an excellent way for managers (new and established) to learn more about managing and being responsible for budgets. Through the use of simulated ‘Report Screens’ you could see the impact of your budgetary decisions made year on year, that as a manager can be an invaluable tool helping you to steer the direction of your purchasing decisions and areas of work that impacts on and feeds into the overall achievement of the University’s strategic goals.
HR Manager
We stepped out of our silos. It was a great opportunity to view the University operation from a different perspective and to appreciate the value of collaborative working across the organisation.
Head of Student Operations
The day was a lot of fun. I enjoyed working with a range of colleagues from across the University (some of whom I had never met before) and once we got a handle on what we were doing, we were able to bring some creativity and ingenuity to the exercise! The facilitator was engaging and knowledgeable and the whole event definitely got me thinking about how Universities work.

I would definitely recommend the exercise to anyone who is interested in taking part.

Head of School Operations
Taking part in the sim-uni event gave me an interesting insight into the way different decisions about admissions policy, budgeting, staffing, research, resources etc are linked and have an effect on a university’s reputation as well as its ability to do its job. The sim could provide value to the whole range of university personnel, to show how they fit in to the big picture, and how the big picture depends on the smaller details.
Divisional Manager
  • University of Manchester – Staff training 
  • University of Liverpool – Leadership Development
  • University of Sheffield – Interns training / faculty away day
  • Manchester Metropolitan University – Staff training
  • University of Loughborough – Staff training
  • London Metropolitan University – Interns training
  • University of Worcester – Staff training
  • University of Newcastle – Staff training
  • University of Durham – Staff training
  • York St John University – Staff training
  • University of Bristol – Leadership development
  • University of Nottingham – Senior Management Team away day

Pilot session at the University of Manchester.

Independent Evaluation

Learning Approach

The game is structured around PLAN > DO > REVIEW.

The learning simulation plays over a number of rounds (simulated years), sub-divided into three phases. The rounds progressively speed up, as the learners get to grips with the task at hand.

The delegates are divided into teams. Each team is presented with a mission outlining their objectives. Ultimately, the teams work as one team with one score.

Investigate the main graphic; this acts as a mood board giving a colour coded (red, amber, green) view on key aspects of the model. The background photo and graphic students may also alter.

Investigate the report screens to help learners to make decisions. The reports show cause and effect and will enable the learners to see the impact their decisions.

Learners consider cross linkages with other teams and understand that they can achieve more if they work together.

Having looked at their reports and developed a plan, the teams can invest their budgets by making purchase decisions.

Negotiate with other teams and choose win-wins to develop the virtual university.

After all the budget decisions have been made, the teams present their decisions to the whole group explaining what they have bought and why.

The purchases are input into the game by the trainer.

The round is updated to three years, hence.

The learners consider the impact of their decisions:

  • The main graphic mood is altered.
  • The sub-team reports change.
  • Consider incidents that may have occurred.

The score shows how the teams have performed as a whole group. The trainer gives feedback on their performance, and the learners can then reflect on the decisions they have made.

Training Guide