Learning to lead: Experiences from Aurora

Note from Identity, Impact and Voice written by Dr Elaine Toomey, posted to her after the end of Aurora Dublin 2017.

Dr Elaine Toomey is a post-doctoral research fellow based at National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG). She took part in Aurora in Dublin during 2016-17. Here she reflects on her experience of the programme and her key learnings from each one of the four days and her action learning set day.

Fresh into my first ever postdoc (Health Research Board Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement (ICE) fellowship) in August 2016, I originally saw Aurora advertised through the university mailing list. I knew that a colleague had taken part in it the previous year and had found it valuable, so in my ‘apply for everything’, new postdoc mode, I decided to pop in an application. To my surprise, I was chosen along with about 20 other wonderful women from NUIG, including academic, administrative and research staff (but only one other postdoc!), to take part in Aurora and represent our university.

Before the first workshop, the vice president for Student Experience Dr Pat Morgan, who has been an Aurora role model, hosted an informal gathering (with some wonderfully festive mince pies) for the NUIG representatives. This was a chance to meet and get to know one another before heading to Dublin in December for the first workshop entitled ‘Identity, Impact and Voice’.

Identity, Impact and Voice.

This first day gave us a sense of what to expect from the coming weeks and also to help us clarify what we wanted to take from the programme. As well as an enthralling keynote from Lynn Scarff (director of the Science Gallery Dublin), the day facilitated us to begin reflecting on our leadership styles and our own identity – who are you, who do you want to be and how can you build the leadership you would like? With these questions in my mind, the key tips I took from this day that still stay with me were:

  • The importance of being relentless in the pursuit of opportunities, but not reckless (Lynn Scarff)
  • Looking at those who inspire you and their qualities that you would like to emulate, and having them ‘on your shoulder’ to influence how you work

Power and Politics

Power and Politics focused on personal goals and how to achieve these, through discussion and debate with other Aurorans. We received another engaging keynote, this time from Professor Anne Sinnott (the executive dean of DCU Business School) who spoke to us about the importance of understanding what motivates others and how to communicate effectively. This session also introduced our Action Learning Set.

The key take-homes for me from this session were:

  • The importance of ‘authenticity’ – identifying your beliefs and values and staying true to these.
  • Developing a three minute elevator pitch to influence how other people perceive you and the importance of your work from the outset.

Action Learning Set

My action learning set was with five other women from a mixture of Irish universities. The Action Learning set chose to meet at NUIG. For this, each of us chose a specific issue or goal relevant to our own careers and development. We confidentially discussed our issues within the group, and were challenged by the group through questioning to reflect on these issues, providing different perspectives and opinions.

For me, this session was particularly valuable as it allowed me to get to know five amazing women in very different areas to me, and for my issue highlighted the value of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to develop your career.

Core Leadership Skills

This day focussed on ‘storytelling’, and being aware of the influence of bias and stereotyping in work situations. Again, there were exceptional keynotes from NUIG’s own Professor Anne Byrne (head of Political Science and Sociology), Sara Doherty (director of Eve consultation) on the power of telling your story, and how to do this well.

Key learnings from this session were in relation to improving negotiation skills using the four following tips:

  • Assess – think about whether the benefits outweigh the costs of the proposal
  • Prepare – think about what motivates the other person, and what your own interests are
  • Ask – be open and upfront, share information with the other person and engage with them
  • Package – try to demonstrate what could be achieved as a whole set of things, and think about alternative proposals

Adaptive Leadership Skills

To conclude the programme the keynote was from game designer and developer Brenda Romero, who delivered a really engaging talk to wrap up the programme. Brenda had an interesting way of looking at imposter syndrome as ‘still learning syndrome’, so recognising that you always have more to learn, not to be afraid of failure, and knowing that what matters most is what you think of yourself.

My key take-home message from this session was around taking the ‘balcony view’, i.e. the value of viewing problems from above to see inter-relationships and patterns of change, and understanding that change doesn’t have to happen in my area, but that I can still have an impact via these connected pathways.

Finally

Aurora has helped me learn a lot about myself, my future career and leadership styles. While the programme learning was definitely not gender-specific, it was lovely to take part in something aiming to improve the impact of women in higher education. A consistent highlight of the programme for me was the keynotes from five amazing, successful and inspiring women. In particular, aside from anything gender-specific, I learned a lot from these women about good communication styles and the value of engaging your audience and stakeholders fully, which I want to continue to work on.

Another massive benefit of the programme has been the mentor it provided me with, who has been invaluable to date in terms of guidance and advice.

At the start of the programme, despite being selected, I didn’t really think I was a leader – that I was too junior, too early on in my career for the programme. However, by the end of it I learned that it’s never too soon to start learning how to lead well, and that everyone can display leadership – working within a team on a project, supervising students, or even through peer mentorship. It has helped me develop connections in institutions all over Ireland, and really importantly for someone new to NUIG, has introduced me to a great bunch of women and it’s great to be able to recognise more people across the campus. I also recently received an unusual letter from someone with identical handwriting to my own – until I opened it I had forgotten that during Identity, Impact and Voice we were asked to write our future selves a note about key things to remember, which would be posted to us at the end of the programme. Embarrassingly, I’ll post it here J It’s nice to know that past Elaine is in my corner!

This is an edited version of a post originally published on the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) Health Psychology blog on 17 August 2017. The original version is available here.

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Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identifies actions that could be taken to change this. 

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here

8 ways to be a better role model

As bookings for role models are now open we asked our Aurora facilitation team: Vijaya Nath, Phyllida Hancock, Rosemary Stamp, Rebecca Nestor, Jenny Garrett and Maeve Lankford how to be a good role model. Based on their experience of facilitating Aurora these insights will help you make the most of your experience and be the best role model you can be.

“Role models make a unique and integral contribution to the Aurora programme. The majority of LFHE’s role models are Aurora alumnae or senior women from higher education institutions and related bodies who are committed to enabling women in HEIs achieve their potential and gain maximum benefit from participating in Aurora. The time that role models are willing to volunteer demonstrates their commitment to addressing the under-representation of women in leadership positions in higher education. This volunteerism is itself an act of leadership.” –Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development and course director.

1. Provide a safe space for (sometimes) challenging conversations

“Imagine you’re hosting a meal with friends. You want people to talk to each other and have a good time”- Rebecca Nestor

Enjoyment is a key element of Aurora so make sure that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion. If someone doesn’t engage in one activity, encourage them to engage in the next. Or when the facilitators ask for feedback encourage each member of the table to speak up at one point. Do not feel afraid to ask participants from your institution or who you know to go to another table as it will enable them to meet new role models, and provide them with a safe space to speak without fear of judgement. During Power and Politics (Day 2) tables will be pre-allocated for role models and participants.

2. Ensure all opinions are valued

“Make sure all opinions are respected”- Rosemary Stamp

Last year there were over one thousand Aurora participants from both academic and professional services backgrounds so it is no surprise that opinions vary. Try to facilitate so that no one person, or opinion dominates. As future leaders Aurorans will be faced with numerous perspectives in their professional lives, some they may not agree with, that will have to be managed with diplomacy.

3. Listen carefully

All of our facilitators agree that being a good listener is a vital trait in a role model, encouraging conversations with questions rather than dominating them. This will help you ensure everyone is heard, that people on your table are encouraged to speak up and that you are able to pick up on any areas where you can help aid the learning of the table.

4. Share your own experiences and knowledge

“Feel open to sharing any relevant experience or advice that others at the table might not have- it is very much an added bonus” – Phyllida Hancock

Even if you have only very recently completed Aurora yourself, everyone’s experiences professionally are different. Think back to your own time at Aurora, you may have seen a different speaker who had a particularly relevant message or be able to draw on learnings from days that happen later in the programme to stimulate the discussion.

5. Take the opportunity to learn

“Use this opportunity to practice all the skills you learnt during the programme and step out of your comfort zone”- Jenny Garrett.

If you are not an Aurora alumnae then still take the opportunity to learn. The guest speakers throughout the programme bring valuable insights from both within and outside of the sector.

6. Read through the tasks

“The best role models have read the role model guidance” – Maeve Lankford

4-5 weeks prior to each event the Aurora team will send out joining instructions which will include insights into the tasks you can expect on the day, set out by each facilitator. This preparation enables you to think about the tasks, feel confident in the task, and start to think of ways your own experiences and learning can help enhance the learning of the participants on your table.

“The tasks vary depending on the session, for Identity, Impact and Voice it’s really about reassurance and helping participants feel at ease but during the later sessions it is increasingly important to help participants stick to the task”- Rebecca Nestor

Be prepared that every day is different so the task changes each time. It is therefore essential to read through the tasks prior to each event. 

7. Be confident

“Remember that we only need to be one step ahead of another person to be able to give them some support and encouragement.  We are not experts”- Maeve Lankford

Know that you have knowledge and experience that will be useful to the Aurora participants and take comfort in having examples and pre-work sent to you before the event. You don’t need to have all the answers, just encourage and facilitate the discussions and learning.

8. Enjoy the day

“Most importantly, enjoy helping others learn. We’re so grateful to our role models for giving their time, energy and wisdom and hope that they enjoy the days as much as the participants.” – Phyllida Hancock

If you are considering being an Aurora role model and have a question, please do get in touch.


The Facilitation Team

Vijaya Nath is the Director of Leadership Development at Leadership Foundation and Aurora course director. She leads a team who work on Leadership Development and related interventions and projects.

Phyllida Hancock has a background as an actress and singer who now runs training and development programmes specialising in leadership, team building and creativity. She is the facilitator of Identity, Impact and Voice

Rosemary Stamp specialises in strategic management, leadership, stakeholder engagement and competitive strategy as both an academic and a consultant. She is the facilitator of Power and Politics and programme director of the Top Management Programme.

Rebecca Nestor has worked in higher education since 1992, and was both head of equality and head of staff development at the University of Oxford. Since 2010 she has been the director of her own consultancy. Rebecca is the facilitator of Core Leadership Skills and a programme director for Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership.

Jenny Garrett is an executive coach and trainer, author of Rocking Your Role, speaker, mentor, and consultant with a passion for empowering female breadwinners. Jenny is the facilitator of Adaptive Leadership Skills.

Maeve Lankford, joined the Leadership Foundation in 2015 as Aurora Ambassador to promote Aurora in the UK and Ireland, having formerly been Aurora Champion for University College Cork.


Bookings for Aurora role models are now open.

The Aurora programme dates for 2017-18 are open for booking

 

5 thoughts on Powerbrokers by Dr David Llewellyn

Harper Adams University and DL

Dr David Llewellyn, vice-chancellor, Harper Adams University answers 5 questions on his experiences of the Leadership Foundation’s unique development programme; ‘Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience’.

What attracted you to Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience?

I hoped that I could learn a little more about how to connect with and influence politicians and Government officials on issues of importance to my institution’s subject base.

When you returned to your office after completing the programme, did you do anything differently?

I made a particular effort to follow up with key people in several Government departments and, after the General Election, I was in a position to put into effect some of the lessons learned on the programme when contacting new Ministers.

If you could tell one person something about the programme, what would it be?

The role playing exercise on the second day is hectic, but good fun.  It gives a glimpse of the wide variety of issues facing Ministerial teams and, hence, why your priorities might not always be theirs!

How would you compare this programme to other development programmes that you have taken part in?

I enjoyed the pace of this programme, as well as the opportunity to talk to politicians about their role and the issues we are all having to address in higher education.

Is there anything else that you would like to say about Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience?

It was good to have a programme in which there was time to think about the way in which senior higher education staff can help promote the work of their institution within Government. This was not really a feature of the earlier version of the Top Management Programme that I had attended, so it provided a different dimension to leadership development within the sector.

Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster experience will be taking place on Wednesday 13 – Thursday 14 December 2017 in London. To find out more and book your place, please click here.

Dr David Llewellyn is Vice-Chancellor of Harper Adams University. David held positions at Queen Mary, University of London, King’s College London and the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital, London before moving to Harper Adams in 1998 as Director of Corporate Affairs. David took over as the head of institution at Harper Adams in September 2009.

David is an alumnus of the Leadership Foundation’s Top Management Programme.

Reflections from Leadership Matters: supporting senior women in higher education

Rachael Ross is the course director of Leadership Matters, the Leadership Foundation programme for senior women in higher education. Two years on from its inception, Rachael reflects on why the programme is needed and how it was developed.

Why Leadership Matters?

Just 18%  – or 36 – of the top 200 universities in the world have a female leader, according to the latest THE 2016-17 world university rankings, and men still overwhelmingly dominate the top leadership roles in 166 higher education institutions across the UK (Women Count: Leaders in Education 2016).

Higher education leaders work in a world where rapid cultural change is the norm rather than the exception. Understanding how our institutions are financed and governed, combined with the political savviness needed to navigate them, is essential, and the wider economic and social waves of change require a firmly grounded leadership purpose and resilience.

Women leaders have a huge amount to bring to the higher education sector and fully releasing that potential is, I believe, essential to the long-term health and sustainability of the sector.  But research shows that gender bias in organisations continues to “disrupt the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader”. (Harvard Business Review)

In the development process of Leadership Matters we listened to feedback from leaders across the sector, from our alumni and from the Aurora community. Crucially, the course had to be a safe space where women leaders could develop their own unique authentic leadership and navigate the cultural challenges they face.

As course director of Leadership Matters, the programme created two years ago to meet that need, I feel it is timely to take stock and share some thoughts about my approach and what I believe makes Leadership Matters so suited to senior women leaders.

Clear direction

Leadership Matters is a five-day programme that addresses both technical and personal leadership aims. Participants have a clear goal from the beginning, with each day serving a defined purpose. For example, day one demystifies the financial frameworks of higher education while day two focuses on governance and legal requirements. Day three tackles the cultural and political challenges that all leaders face, working to build participants’ confidence to navigate these in the context of a higher education institution. Finally, on day four, the focus is on participants identifying their true purpose as a leader, and confirming their own leadership identity and “narrative” or story.

As a whole, the programme provides a mix of technical and development skills, ensuring that participants leave feeling more confident in their own leadership, prepared to navigate their organisations’ culture, and equipped with real insights into their organisations’ financial and governance system.

A network of female leaders for continued learning

The programme supports learning groups that live powerfully, well beyond the limits of the programme itself, providing women with continued support as they work towards reaching the highest executive levels. At the heart of this are the Leadership Matters action learning sets, which provide women with the opportunity to build strong ties with a network of peers.

A personal learning environment

As the programme is designed for senior leaders who are striving to reach the very top tier of higher education, the cohort sizes reflect this. While the Aurora programme now attracts up to 250 women per cohort, Leadership Matters is designed to provide participants with a much more intimate training in cohorts of around 20 women.

Active, sustainable learning

Our job as facilitators is to find a balance between introducing some key concepts and models, allowing time to reflect, and encouraging delegates to experiment by applying the learning to their own personal and organisation context, which makes the learning sustainable well beyond the five days of the programme itself. As a result, Leadership Matters draws particularly on Kolb’s Learning Cycle, which emphasises an active learning style in which we learn from our experiences of life, and reflection is an integral part of such learning.

Learning from the experts

I’m proud to have brought together a multidisciplinary team of facilitators and speakers to work on Leadership Matters. Each is an expert in her own field, with deep experience in the academic world, and we all share an ambition to truly equip delegates for senior leadership. You can read more about myself and my fellow 3 facilitators here.

Leadership matters – now more than ever

“As a result of attending the programme I understand my own impact better and the action learning sets I’ve attended with other members have continued on past the programme itself, and have been invaluable.”  – Kirsteen Coupar, director of student support and employment at London Southbank University

I believe that Leadership Matters has shown itself to be an essential programme – for both women leaders and for the higher education sector as a whole. It is critical that the sector draws on all the talent and potential within its realm, to nurture and develop leaders with the vision and confidence to guide higher education through the turbulent economic and social change it is facing. Leadership Matters is helping to meet this urgent need, supporting women to strive for the highest possible levels of leadership so that they can play their part in steering their institutions to greater success.


Rachael Ross has a background in industrial relations and change management in the energy sector. She is now a leadership and diversity consultant and coach for senior leaders across all sectors. She is the course director for Leadership Matters.

Leadership Matters will be taking place in Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol in Autumn, Winter, and Spring respectively in the next academic year. For more information and to book a place please click here.

5 things every newly appointed student governor needs to know

StuGov

Student as Governor Conference 2014

Rita Walters, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Leadership Foundation shares the collective insights from previous participants of the Student as Governor Conference over the years, and their top 5 tips for their successors.

1 (2)

This will give you a greater awareness of how you can make changes or influence the board in your role and help you prioritise your goals as a governor. What most student governors need to understand is what are the role and responsibilities of a governor, and how the governing body makes decisions. It is worth remembering that the all governors have collective responsibility for any decision made by the governing body, so don’t think of yourself as a second-class citizen. Most student governors will receive information about their role in an induction pack. However, if you haven’t received the information you need, details of the governance structure can often be found on your university’s website. It is usually found on the ‘about us’ page.

2.It’s important to be an informed trustee so get as prepared as you possibly can before the meeting, including reading through the board papers carefully, learning about your fellow board members, and getting an understanding on what is going on at your university. It is worth identifying items on the agenda you want to comment on, and thinking about how best to contribute to any discussion.

3.

Making change happen at any level or organisation is a challenge. This is an opportunity to develop the trust and confidence of other board members in you and, subsequently, support your views on the matters you raise. If you do this then your views are more likely to have greater weight in board meetings.

4.

Your role of a governor includes ensuring that the student perspective is taken into account when key decisions are made so it is crucial that your voice is heard. It is important to balance the challenge and support you give the university’s executive team. Do not be afraid to offer your views and the student perspective. Most governing bodies will want to hear from its student governors, and if they have confidence in them, will pay close attention to what they say.

5.

Higher education is in the midst of some of the most radical changes the sector has ever faced and it is important to keep updated on the wider context Times Higher Education, WonkHE, MediaFHE and the Guardian (especially on Tuesdays) are excellent sources of all news relating to higher education in the UK and across the world. Most offer a weekly digest with all the top stories for the week which will help you become well-informed and able to contribute to the development of board decisions and the policy of the university.

Rita Walters is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Leadership Foundation. She is the marketing lead for the Student as Governor Conference 2017 and a specialist in social media management. Her work includes spreading awareness on the Leadership Foundation’s latest research and leadership development opportunities for new and aspiring higher education leaders.

If you would like to develop your knowledge about being an effective student governor sign up to the Student as Governor Conference 2017 taking place on Wednesday 20 September 2017 at Woburn House Conference Centre in London. Click here to find out more.

To find out more about our work on governance please visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

 

Our mentorship journey: Karen Twomey and Val Cummins

Karen Twomey is a Researcher at Tyndall National Institute, Cork who took part in Aurora in Dublin in 2014-15. Karen chose, Val Cummins, Senior Lecturer at University College Cork to be her mentor for the duration of the programme and the relationship continues to this day. We asked Karen and Val to reflect on their relationship as a mentee and mentor.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself

Karen: My name is Karen Twomey, and I participated in the Aurora Course in 2014-2015. I’m a mother to one year old boy/girl twins and, I’m a researcher in autonomous chemical sensing systems at Tyndall National Institute, Cork, Ireland. My research activity encompasses sensors, mixed-signal instrumentation, and signal processing and data interpretation algorithms.

Val: My name is Val Cummins. I had the pleasure of being invited to work with Karen on her Aurora Programme. My background and track record is in leading research with impact, including fostering innovation for the sustainable development of the global ocean economy. The sea has been a focal point for most of my career; from the formative years as a zoologist working on the humble periwinkle, to managing a large research centre, directing a maritime and energy cluster, and most recently as an academic in UCC. My leadership in the Blue Economy was recognised by a number of awards, including an Eisenhower Fellowship in 2012. I am married to Ken and we have three, beautiful young daughters.

How did you approach the process of mentorship?

Karen: I went into the mentorship process not fully knowing what I wanted to get out of it. However, I did know that I wanted a mentor who was a great public speaker and who understood the R&D environment. Val was suggested to me as a suitable mentor by the UCC Aurora Champion. I contacted Val over email and after our initial meeting, we agreed to meet face-to-face once a month with contact in between over email or text message.

Val: When I was contacted directly by Karen, I was struck by her commitment to the Aurora programme, and it was a no-brainer for me to agree to a mentoring relationship. I was fascinated by her work and achievements to date. We arranged to meet regularly. Our initial meetings were well structured, with clear objectives and actions to pursue. At the same time, it was natural for us to be very informal, which helped us to get to know each other better.

What has been your biggest learning from the process?

Karen: I think the biggest learning for me has been the realisation of how powerful having an outside perspective can be. You can start to get tunnel vision, especially when working in the same workplace for 15 years.  Having the right mentor can show you your potential, can give you a push to try new things. For instance, with Val’s help and encouragement, I applied for a Science Foundation Ireland Industry fellowship, which allows an exchange between academia and industry. I’m now on a one year secondment from Tyndall and am working in a corporate R&D environment.

Val: My learning from the process is that you can never underestimate the importance of mutual support between women in the work place. It is not a linear process flowing from mentor to mentee. It works both ways. Karen’s focus and capability inspires me.

Val, what inspired you to become a mentor?

Val: I was inspired by Karen, in her approach to me, which encouraged me to believe that this would be a valuable process. I was also inspired by my experience with my own personal mentors, who have been generous to a fault with their time and advice which they have provided unconditionally.

I had my head in the sand for many years in relation to the need to advocate for equality in the workplace. Through personal experiences I have come to appreciate the importance of this issue. Mentorship provides an important mechanism for women to provide the support needed to encourage their counterparts to break through the many glass ceiling that prevail in working environments.

Karen, have you ever been a mentor yourself?

Karen: I haven’t previously been a mentor but I would like to pay it forward to other women pursuing a career in STEM by passing on what I have learnt from Val and from my own experiences as a research scientist.

Karen, what was the best piece of advice you received from Val?

Karen: The best piece of advice that I got from Val was to have a can-do attitude and to give new things a shot.

Val, what piece of advice would you give an aspiring woman leader?

Val: My advice is that what constitutes ‘success’ is personal to every individual. Capability, intellect, talent, and good luck are all factors that can help an aspiring leader to achieve successful outcomes. However, ultimately, success, or if you like, a sense of fulfilment and wellbeing, are contingent on relationships. Taking the time to relate to others, and to value your colleagues, is an imperative. It’s a cliché, but there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.  Aspiring leaders need to understand how to build and maintain vibrant teams.

Finally, for you both: do you have an inspiring woman leader, and if so, who

Karen: I am very inspired by Professor Linda Doyle, who is Director of CONNECT/CTVR Research Centre in Dublin and Professor of Engineering and The Arts in Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin. She is a wonderfully passionate speaker and is an expert in her field yet is completely unassuming.

Val: It is hard to single out any one individual, as there are many characteristics among many female leaders that are inspiring. For example, Ellen MacArthur, is an amazing example of someone with vision and an indefatigable determination to succeed. As a professional sailor, she broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. Her autobiography, which I just re-read, is incredibly compelling. Since she retired from professional sailing, she founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to promote the Circular Economy, prompted, in part, by her acute awareness of debris in the ocean. In business, Sheryl Sandberg stands out, for her communication skills. I admire her for her honesty, and in her ability to use her influence to tackle the issue of gender equality in the workplace. Angela Merkel also deserves a mention, as a political leader committed to stability in a difficult time for the European project.

 


Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research which highlighted women’s under-representation in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to address this.

Dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18 are available here.

We need to talk about risk

Chris Taylor, senior consultant, Uniac shares insight into the increasing presence of risk in higher education and invites providers to take part in their benchmarking exercise on risk management. 

What does risk management look like in your institution? Be honest. Do eyes roll and gazes shift when the annual review of the risk register rolls around? Are the risks on the page the risks you are really dealing with every day? Is risk management the preserve of one individual, buried away in central admin and dusted off only to meet the ever predictable demands of the committee cycle? Do you only do it because Hefce says so in the Memorandum of Assurance?

Chances are, if we are honest, that ‘Yes’ will be the answer to at least one of these questions some of the time.

But we are clearly entering an era when the previously ‘high impact/low likelihood’ risk event seems to be a more present danger; from terrorism and fire to the challenges of Brexit and changing immigration requirements. At the very least we have been reminded of the need to ensure we effectively mitigate key risks across all areas. In that context, are we in the higher education sector really doing enough to ensure highly effective risk management processes that genuinely add value and protect the interests of everyone in higher education? We’d like your help to find out.

In all institutions that we interact with the main risk management tool that is used is a risk register; however, even the form of a corporate risk register can vary widely. Different institutions have significantly varying risk frameworks, with some requiring risk registers for all functional units to a fairly low level within the institution, or others where the only requirement is for there to be a corporate register. Additional elements such as risk appetite are implicit in some institutions, whereas others have built up complex matrices to assess the appetite for a particular type of risk.

Now, there is no right or wrong answer to how risk is managed – it is about ensuring that the process supports the institution in delivering its strategic aims and adds the value that Hefce and others, like the Financial Reporting Council, wish to see. Clearly, it must also be in keeping with the institutional culture and fit with other management practices. So, the purpose of our benchmarking exercise is to understand how and where institutions gain most value from risk management, and to set this alongside a review of the frameworks, processes and templates that are used.

The exercise will be based on discussions with interested parties, including non-executives on university boards, the chairs of audit committees, senior managers within institutions, and those who have operational responsibility for risk management. There will also be some desk-based work looking at different institutions’ risk policies and practices. We will also be looking outside of the higher education sector to draw in practices that could add value.

The work will result in a comprehensive report which will provide an overview of the findings of the work and will be of value to institutions in assessing their current practices and providing food for thought with respect to ways in which they can optimise the value gained from risk management within their organisation.

We are keen to involve as many providers as possible. We know how diverse the sector is and that the strength of such an exercise will be enhanced the more participants we have and the better able we are to reflect and account for that diversity.

Jean Brown (jbrown@uniac.co.uk 0161 247 2851) and Richard Young (ryoung@uniac.co.uk) from Uniac will be leading on the benchmarking exercise. Please do get in touch with them if you would like to take part.

Join us at the Leadership Foundation’s first national conference for governors of HEIs and members of the professional support teams who work with governors on Thursday 30 November 2017, Central London. To find out more, click here

Uniac is a shared internal audit and assurance service for universities – some of whom own Uniac and some who are clients. To find out more please visit their website: www.uniac.co.uk