Tackling the gender gap – a champion’s tale

wordle FINALLynne Howlett, Aurora champion at Newcastle University, reflects on how Aurora has impacted her institution, from the women who took part to changes at the very top. Here’s her story.

Newcastle University’s engagement with Aurora has grown slowly and carefully over the last three years. When it was launched in 2013 we were already facilitating a range of development initiatives and networks specifically for women and had to be sure that Aurora would add to, rather than detract from our own efforts.

Subsequent feedback from Aurora participants has been resoundingly positive. Our Aurora role models and mentors have enjoyed and seen personal benefits, and so our commitment has grown in response. 2016 will see our 12th participant, our 12th mentor and our 9th role model taking part in the programme. The numbers are not large but all have been carefully selected, briefed and mentored. It was essential for us to do this well if we were to maximise the benefits for our aspiring women.

As the Aurora champion I have personally enjoyed meeting and briefing our participants. I have heard about their challenges, their barriers and aspirations and have been able to set them all up with some excellent mentors. My post-Aurora programme evaluation meetings have often been inspiring and revealed stories of increased confidence, seeing things from different perspectives, greater levels of determination, actual promotions and even a personal request for a pay rise!

Our role models have hosted tables at programme days and helped able women to think beyond their own horizons, find their voice and question their assumptions. They have encouraged them to “step up to the plate”.

As an Aurora mentor myself, I particularly enjoyed working with an excellent Aurora participant. She felt stuck career-wise and has subsequently been promoted to a more senior university-level role where she works on a key strategic priority that will have lasting cultural and financial impact on the institution. She is now highly motivated and has achieved her career goals.

At year 3 we are starting to see a critical mass of Aurorans who are keen to continue to promote the “women’s career agenda theme” here at Newcastle. Currently they are thinking about running an annual conference (using some of the Aurora methodologies), continuing with action learning sets and are setting about writing an Aurora feedback report with recommendations for our Executive Board and Diversity Committee.

Another real measure of commitment came when we saw the original Aurora participants becoming Aurora role models or undertaking training so that they could step into the Aurora mentor role with skill and confidence. They clearly want to continue to be engaged with the initiative and be part of its growing impact.

At university-level we are finding that having started by funding a very small number of Aurora places centrally, our faculties are now funding and mentoring participants locally in support of their Athena Swan commitments.

At a more senior level, and as part of our leadership talent and succession efforts, we are monitoring and reporting on the gender balance of our leadership appointments. We are offering coaching for aspiring women and to those who move into more strategic roles. Our university has also recently joined the national 30% Club which pledges us to strive to have 30% of our senior appointments female, with the aim of more gender-balanced committees and boards working even more effectively together for the future.

Lynne Howlett is the Leadership and Management Development Manager at Newcastle University

To find out more about Aurora please visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/aurora

Poland’s rapid response to change in higher education makes it a hidden gem

Author: Dr. Andrew Tuson MAUA,
Study Tour Coordinator, Consultant and Interim Manager,
Association of University Administrators

The Association of University Administrators conducts Study Tours annually to investigate an overseas higher education system. A report is written of the team’s findings. We are grateful to the Leadership Foundation for their support of the forthcoming report.

This year, the Study Tour was in Poland and like previous tours it had the following objectives:

  • To undertake a fact finding mission and produce a report on the Polish higher education system which incorporates analysis of similarities and differences and considers ways of sharing best practise;
  • To enable participants to gain an international perspective on aspects of higher education decision making, policy and practise;
  • To allow tour participants the opportunity to challenge their existing notions about higher education and undertake research in a non-UK environment.

Poland is a hidden gem in Europe, with more history, science and culture to offer than is commonly realised. For example, Polish mathematicians originally broke the Enigma cipher, work that shortened the war and saved countless lives. (Bletchley Park extended their work to later versions of the cipher and made it work on an industrial scale).

Initial desk research revealed a number of interesting and distinctive features of Polish higher education. For example. Polish higher education has a large recent private higher education sector that has played an important role in widening participation. Poland’s system has also undergone vast change in recent years. The system has played a key role in supporting Poland’s transition towards democracy, entry to the European Union and alignment with the Bologna Process. As such the focus was on three overarching themes:

  • Quality assurance;
  • Student demand, including internationalisation and the rise of the Private Sector;
  • Governance, including the student voice.

Three cities were the focus during our visit on the 10-17 May 2015: Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow. We visited between a number of public (Warsaw University of Technology, Adam Mickelwicz University and the Jageillonian University) as well as private providers (TEB/WSB, Vistula, Collegium Da Vinci and Kozminski). We were also received by the Polish higher education ministry and the PKA (the Polish Accreditation Committee).

The report will likely be published by November, but for now here are some initial impressions.

  • There is a clear and pressing issue of demographics in the sector. Since 2006 the student population has declined from about 2 million to just under 1.5 million. The situation will bottom out in 2025.
  • The Polish QA body, the PKA, runs about 1000 reviews a year. Unlike the UK, external examiners are not used by HEIs; rather external academics look at samples of work as part of the PKA review process.
  • Internationalisation is a recent consideration (there are only about 45,000 non-Polish students in the system), and the drivers appear to be not as commercial as would be the case in the publically funded UK HEIs. There are a lot of students from the Former Soviet Union in Polish universities (Ukraine and Belarus account for half of their non-Polish students).
  • The democratisation of public university governance with key officers (e.g. Rector) being elected; in the communist era the post-holders were appointed. Students are required to be represented in key governance committees including some that make financial decisions, by law. This applies in both private and public universities.

From a leadership perspective, it is remarkable how Polish higher education has responded to so much change. It had to expand rapidly, introduce and regulate a large private sector and upgrade its infrastructure. How Poland builds its capacity to respond to future challenges will be of interest going forward.

For more information on the team and where we visited. Please read our tour blog which can be found at auapoland2015.blogspot.co.uk.

Our next Study Tour will take place in the Netherlands on Tuesday 10 – Friday 13 November 2015. To find our more please visit AUA’s website www.aua.ac.uk.