Book Review: Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities


David Williams the Leadership Foundation’s web editor on governance reviews Stefan Collini’s Speaking of Universities.

Stefan Collini’s latest book, Speaking of Universities (Verso, 2017), is a collection of talks, lectures and articles, delivered and written between 2013 and 2016.

Much of the book’s content has not previously been published. This said, readers familiar with Collini’s previous book, What are Universities for? (Penguin 2012), or his articles published in, for example, the London Review of Books will not be surprised with many of the arguments presented in his latest book.

A summary of some of Collini’s main arguments are set out below. Although role of governors and government bodies receives only a rare mention, their period of stewardship should take account of the accumulated intellectual heritage of the university, and the role of each generation in building on the work that went before, and on laying the foundations for the next generation. This reminds governors that during their period of stewardship they should seek to achieve an appropriate balance between the immediate and longer-term needs and positioning of the institution.

An academic working in the field of humanities, Collini’s perspective is informed by his own personal experience and observations. He questions both the growing power within higher education institutions of professional managers (previously known as administrators) and the focus of successive governments on the direct links between higher education and economic prosperity. He argues strongly that an adequate case for universities cannot simply be made on the basis of their contribution to economic prosperity. However, he accepts it is difficult to change the public discourse.

Examining the role of higher education, a fundamental tension is between intellectual, open-end, inquiry and the more immediate instrumental (economic) aims. Both academic research and the education of students should not be overly focussed on narrow economic outcomes: ultimately such a focus does not serve the needs of the state or individuals.

Collini strongly challenges the arguments put forward by government to justify the reform of higher education in England and the introduction of income-contingent loans. He believes the introduction of the latter was poorly conceived and managed, and may well end-up being more-costly to the public purse, than the system they replaced.

The rationale for the government’s actions in seeking to reform higher education is that there was something wrong with the system, and that the proposed changes will put them right. However, it is not clear what was wrong with a system that many judged to have been successful, or that the changes will lead to improvements.

Seeking to create ‘a market’ for higher education is ill-conceived, and the suggestion that the student is a ‘customer’ at the heart of the system disingenuous. Higher education is a ‘post-experience’ good, the full benefits of which cannot be known in advanced by the prospective student. Consequently, how can a student judge the value of the product they are buying? Equally, HEIs choose who they accept onto to their courses; as much as the other way around.

While acknowledging that it is important that universities provide good teaching, and that there has long been anecdotal evidence that this is always the case, Collini does not believe the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will improve the quality of teaching. Attempts to make judgements about quality, using quantitative indicators as proxies for quality are doomed to failure. There is every likelihood that the selected proxies (indicators) will prove to be largely irrelevant and become ends in themselves. Citing the experience of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), evidence submitted in support of their TEF assessment by institutions is likely to create the opportunity for ‘systematic boasting’.

Collini rejects the idea there is a necessarily reliable link between student satisfaction and education quality. Nor does he believe that students are necessarily in the best position to make an informed judgement. While this may be true, Collini fails to acknowledge the possibility that traditional routes for gaining the views of student about their course are not always effective and that low levels of satisfaction shown by a student survey may offer a further avenue to bring about change. To Collini, if teaching is undervalued by universities, it is a consequence of the distorting effects of the REF and of underfunding the expansion of student numbers that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s (i.e. a permanent reduction in the unit of resource). While there is some merit in both of these points, it does risk the suggestion that universities bear no responsibility for ensuring they provide consistently good teaching.

As institutions (particularly those that Collini is likely to have in mind) typically in their marketing literature and at open days heavily promote the idea of research-informed teaching: what steps should institutions be expected to take to ensure the quality of the student experience is high? This question does not receive much, if any, of Collini’s attention, leading to a risk that the reader gains the impression that research matters more, and that any research-active member of staff will automatically be an effective teacher?

At the core of an institution’s quality is its intellectual quality and creativity. The primary focus of universities should be on extending and deepening human understanding: this results in the greatest long-term benefits to society. Universities’ longer-term cultural and intellectual role needs acknowledgement alongside a focus on supporting economic growth.

Collini notes in passing that what is needed in the UK is a world-class system of higher education, rather than more world-class universities. This is a crucial point, but one which is not developed.

Collini accepts that universities cannot just criticise the proposed changes initiated by government, but must be pro-active in making their case. With this in mind, the idea of ‘publics’ is introduced. Publics are constituted by participation – even if only passively – and this is reflected in their discourse. As there is more than one public, there is no such thing as the public view of higher education. To reach and influence different publics, the form and message needs to be tailored accordingly.

From the perspective of governance, Collini asks on whose behalf do the trustees who form an institution’s governing body exercise their responsibilities: ‘who are they holding their institution in trust for.’ He suggests the need to recognise both the inter-generational nature of knowledge accumulation and the time required for a university to build its reputation. The accumulated and collective knowledge base of the higher education system reflects past, as well as current investment. Each generation through investing in higher education helps to build the base of knowledge for the next. Today’s students of higher education benefit from past investments. By implication the stewardship of trustees should recognise not just the immediate institutional needs, but the need to sustain the intellectual inheritance of the institution.

Such has been the pace of change in the higher education policy environment, not surprising some of the pieces contained in Collini’s book appear dated. That said Collini makes many valuable points, and exposes and refutes a number of key assumptions underlying current public policy. He offers a strong and powerful defensive of role of (traditional?) universities and the importance of academic staff in directing their own affairs; although acknowledges the tension between professional autonomy and public accountability. He, himself, is clearly uncomfortable with the direction of change, and recognises that a new way forward needs to be found.

Collini is at this best in pointing out what he sees as unhelpful changes in the policy environment for higher education, and their anticipated impacts. He is less helpful or clear, in offering an alternative and better way forward (assuming the movement back to an earlier era is not possible). Although he expects the system of higher education will continue to evolve in the 21st century he does not offer a view as to how the policy environment might be reconfigured to ensure this exerts a strong and positive influence on the future shape of the higher education sector.

David Williams has worked with governing bodies in higher education for the past 15 years. He manages the governance section of The Leadership Foundation provides resources and development for members of governing bodies and those working in governance throughout higher education. Visit

Leading People is Leading Diversity

‘Reality is diverse; therefore a true reflection of reality includes diversity.’  Nancy Kline

Shirley Wardell, programme director of our research leadership development programmes discusses the importance of encouraging diverse thinking and insight into the valuable skills every leader should prioritise.

I have come to think of the skills leaders need to understand the diversity issues as mainstream leadership skills.  To my mind managing people is managing diversity. Diversity goes beyond minority groups and the obvious power imbalances.  Diversity extends to the subtle depth of how we think, which has a direct impact on how well we perform in our jobs.

Diversity grows when people have the ability to hear, openly, what everybody thinks.  Having practised that skill, with people we believe are similar to us, we may be better prepared to listen to those we assume are more different to us.  The charming surprise is; that as Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more similar than we are different.’ Once we have accepted that we are more likely to be similar in a broad way, appreciating the specific differences seems to be the key.  So how can we be sure that we are able to allow, or even encourage, different ways of thinking?

I choose the Thinking Environment® to help me, and my clients, to create the conditions for diverse thinking to flourish. When you run an event in a Thinking Environment®; everyone has a turn. That means; you go round the group and ask everyone what they think.  Sometimes people tell me it takes too long, but they are really stumped when I ask them who they would leave out of the round.

In an event such as this no-one interrupts and participant say; ‘If I don’t interrupt, I might forget my idea?’ And again, they look a bit blank when I ask, ‘What if the person you interrupt forgets theirs?’ Giving turns, not interrupting, appreciating each other, asking how to make things better and a positive philosophy are a few of the ways to get everyone involved in a productive way.

The Thinking Environment® has ten components; however there are a few principles that sum it up for me:

  • The way we listen to someone has an impact on the quality of their thinking.  If we are able focus on them, stop judging and create a time and space for them; the quality of their thinking improves.  At a recent workshop I asked how it feels to be listened to really well and people said they felt valued, important, as if their ideas matter, that they have a contribution to make, happy, it improved their self esteem, relaxed and intelligent.  Well, if all those things can be achieved by, ‘just listening’ we should perhaps put listening at the top of the leadership skills list.
  • When you think on behalf of someone else you are disempowering them.  When you think your ideas are better, or you are simply too busy for them to find their own answer, you are stopping them from thinking and therefore stopping them from learning and growing.  Being able to develop staff has become one of the most valuable assets to Institutions and leaders who can do this will have the evidence of their success in their research output.
  • A positive philosophy is required to help people perform well.  Our expectations will have an impact on the outcomes.  Those expectations include what I expect from the person and what my prejudices are about that person. I need to be able to see there are numerous and unknown possibilities yet to be achieved for every individual.
  • We also need to examine our assumptions about the world.  What we expect to be possible in this office, this organisation, this market, this country and this world; will have an impact on our own and our team’s thinking.  Leadership training needs to explore the assumptions we make and the impact that has on performance; and then show how to, pragmatically, choose assumptions that will help us perform better.

Research Team Leadership and Leading Research Leaders are run in a Thinking Environment® and include many of the reliable principles and actions that help research leaders to think. They are then able to pass that favour on to their teams and collaborators.

The Thinking Environment® was developed by Nancy Kline of Time to Think

Find out more about Shirley Wardell by visiting our website

Top 11 things those new to higher education need to know

Rita Walters, marketing and communications coordinator, Leadership Foundation shares the insights from colleagues at the Leadership Foundation on what they believe are the key messages for those new to higher education.

1. Higher education is complex
Higher education is a complex operational and regulatory environment with an assortment of constituencies, sector bodies, missions and competing agendas. It will take you time to navigate your way around it.

2. Higher education is diverse
There is no ‘one’ higher education – it’s a highly diverse and broad sector both across and within institutions. You might think that higher education is incredibly behind or incredibly ahead, depending on your role.

3. But higher education does have key core values
It is proud to produce new knowledge and intellectual capital for the public benefit AND contribute to the economy! Higher education institutions contribute £73 billion a year to the UK economy.

4. You will be expected to collaborate
Higher education is an innovative sector that succeeds through collaboration at both the micro and macro level.

5. There is freedom
There are opportunities for progression however you must be proactive. Development takes many forms and up isn’t necessarily the only direction of travel.

6. Get involved
Don’t hide behind your role. Push upwards, ask questions (and be prepared to be questioned), be nosy, offer to participate, reach out, challenge the silo, look for opportunities and value them.

7. And you need to get networked
Network across the sector and across your professional area. Given the complexity and diversity of higher education you will only ‘get it’ by getting out. Be prepared to demonstrate and be confident and credible to get people to listen.

8. Don’t forget the customer
That’s the students, parents and higher education stakeholders e.g. The newly formed Office for Students and the government.

9. Don’t underestimate government and governance
The implications and impact of government policies can be immense, and the landscape of governance is changing – getting this right is key.

10. It takes time to understand the mysteries and magic of higher education
Be ready for a bit of a culture shock but hang on in there, it’s worth it. Be open to change and don’t give up, even though it may not feel very organised or stable.

11. And accept that you will never know all the acronyms
That’s not a bad thing as we have got the full guide on higher education acronyms on our website: Click here to download your copy. If you notice an acronym is missing from the list, please contact me, E: 

Want to learn more about higher education?
If you are new to the sector and would like to understand the context you are working in, then take a look at our Higher Education Insights programme:


Fortune Befriends the Bold

SP - flickr

Photograph: Nationaal Archief/Flickr: Sylvia Pankhurst protesting in London in 1932.

Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation, reflects on the work the higher education sector has ahead of it to close the gender leadership gap.

As we come to the end of Women’s History month I and colleagues have reflected on the now established annual campaign for equality and ask what more do we need to do to make the changes still needed in 2017?

On 8 March 1977 the United Nations (UN) general assembly invited member states to make this date the UN day for women’s rights (and world peace). Fast forward to 2017, forty years on from that date we are still fighting for 50:50 recognition and economic empowerment – a goal set to be realised by 2030. The UN tasked all member states to work across all sectors to a common goal –where gender inequality no longer exists. Reflecting on how this movement can be tracked back to events from 1909 in New York to 1913 in Russia and to 8 March 1914 in London, when Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charring Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square, I realise that this documented fight for equality has gone on for over one hundred years.

Like many, I have lived the past 40 years believing that our work and contribution as women would be recognised and given parity. I feel the frustration of another generation of girls, daughters, sisters, women, facing a world in which objects and emotions are still gendered. A world in which our gender is still seen as barriers to progression as opposed to being celebrated for the gifts it brings. In the words of Harriet Minter, writer on women in leadership, a world where ‘Speaking out is still an act of courage…’.

The glacial pace of change on women achieving equality continues to be met by marches and marching and recently to a number of symbolic and quiet protests. As I and hundreds of thousands more participated in Global marches like @Womensmarch, #BridgesNotWalls and as I think back on the recent honouring of suffragettes by the Democratic women who staged a quiet protest wearing white outfits to the newly elected President’s first formal address to congress #WomenWearWhite, I wonder how much longer we will have to march before we achieve equality? My colleagues in America ask when will a woman be the leader of ‘the free world?’

This month we saw the publication of Tom Schuller’s book that provokes a discussion focused on ‘The Paula Principle’ (converse to ‘The Peter Principle’ a term coined in the 60s to describe people rising to leadership roles – who are judged to be less than competent but who keep on rising until they are found out – many of us have witnessed this in our working life). Schuller reinforces the well-rehearsed and identified barriers to women progressing; straight discrimination on basis of gender; structural barriers such as affordability and access to child care; the lower self-belief and confidence that some women identify as barriers to progressing; women lacking ‘vertical’ networks including mentors and sponsors higher up organisations or systems. Schuller’s fifth factor that women may be exercising a ‘positive choice’ in not opting to choose leadership will be the area that prompts most discussion. The hypothesis that ‘working women tend to stick at a level below that of their full competence and qualification’ is one that requires us women to speak up whether we go for the top or not!

Throughout my career I have witnessed and have been privileged to be part of organisations where supporting women to achieve their potential has been a core value. I have seen the Royal College of Surgeons elect its first female President in its 214 year history, and we have seen the appointment of a woman as this nation’s top Police officer. Both Clare Marx and Cressida Dick have ‘shattered ceilings’. There are many other notable breakthroughs which reinforce that we can break with past traditions and create cultures in which women at all ages thrive and are able to bring the gifts that their gender brings to the culture and leadership of our organisations, institutions and the world. None, in my opinion, more valuable than the cultures in which we are educating the future generations of women and men. Universities are a way off achieving the 50:50 by the 2030 goal.  However the movement created and awareness raised through over 6000 women’s participation in our Aurora programme has produced a large ripple. These 6000 have each in turn impacted on at least a further 10 colleagues – enabling over 60,000 men and women to have conversations on making change happen and encouraging women in higher education to find their way to leadership should this be their goal. Featured in the Times Higher Education and The Guardian, the need for positive, progressive action like Aurora is a mission that we all must share, starting with these 6000.

Let us make 2017 a year in which we realise tangible outcomes from being bold.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, colleagues and I encouraged and tried to influence wherever possible using the theme #BeBoldForChange to continue the march towards achieving equality. I hope that 8 March 2017 and Women’s History month in particular ushers in and invites boldness, risk taking and moving beyond marches. As Emily Dickinson wrote ‘Fortune befriends the bold’. Let us make 2017 a year in which we realise tangible outcomes from being bold. Please share your acts of Boldness in higher education with us by leaving comments on our blog pages and through the #LFAurora hashtag.

Vijaya Nath is the director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation. She leads the Aurora programme, a women-only leadership development initiative created to proactively address the under-representation of women in leadership in higher education.

Dates for Aurora year 5 will be released shortly. If you would like to be the first to know please email the Aurora team, e:

Turbulence, growth and wicked issues

Andy Shenstone, director of consultancy and business development at the Leadership Foundation, looks at the key trends and challenges higher education leader’s face this year, and offers some advice for executive teams looking to steer a calmer path

Setting out long-term plans in the face of sector-wide turbulence is a challenge for every executive team with which we are working and it is clear that many of the assumptions underpinning institutional strategies have to be revisited, even if they were written as recently as twelve months ago.

The complex interaction between changing government policy, the new regulatory environment (and, for Scotland, the new governance environment and student number controls), Brexit, immigration policy, REF, TEF, pensions and national demographics, to name but a few meta factors, is demanding continuous and close assessment by executive teams.

A core assumption that has underpinned many institutional strategies was an ambition for absolute ‘growth’ in student numbers. Clearly some institutions will grow on these terms, (Bristol and Coventry are two notable examples) but the headwinds that must be overcome to achieve this are significant. In both the examples cited above growth has been allied to a much broader (and bolder) reconfiguration of the institution’s strategy. Aiming for growth without making such a fundamental reappraisal has repeatedly been shown as highly unlikely to succeed.

An effective strategy needs to speak to delivering a sustainable and resilient outcome that is aligned with the institution’s educational character, culture and risk appetite. This might mean managed growth in certain areas, a rebalancing of the portfolio or a significant new venture. But absolute growth and institutional sustainability should not be conflated. For some institutions, a managed reduction in scale and breadth in provision is both a legitimate and necessary course to take and should release resources to drive up quality and improve learning outcomes (London Metropolitan’s plans for moving to a single campus is one example).

This speaks to one of the sectors ‘wicked issues’ – the fundamental resilience of an institution’s portfolio. There is now a lot more attention being given to this by executives. Yet it remains an issue of such sensitivity that it is not always addressed with the objectivity it demands and some governing bodies remain under-equipped to provide the necessary assurance on this key topic. Probing sometimes long term, systemic instances of weak performance is crucial, as is establishing clear plans for their resolution.

This highlights the importance of being clear about where you are starting from and why the status quo is unacceptable.  A historic weakness in many universities, albeit one that is being gradually overcome, has been the use of timely information to establish a shared understanding of current and projected performance.

Our experience has been that too much emphasis has been placed on making use of analysis that explains what has already happened – when it’s evidently too late to do anything about the issues being examined. Leaders need information that assists them in making sense of a complex world and the direction of travel the institution is likely to take. Higher education is now placing much greater emphasis on developing capabilities that can deliver genuine insight into projected performance – and in a world where old assumptions are dying hard, this is very much needed.

It’s one thing to define the challenges but how is the Leadership Foundation supporting institutions in dealing with them?

As a dedicated higher education specialist agency, one of our distinctive qualities is the sheer breadth and depth of experience which means we understand both the fundamentals of higher education and ‘what works’ when it comes to devising real world solutions.

Allying this experience to an understanding of institutional context is pivotal. Size is but one factor, to be put alongside mission, the balance of research and teaching, the shape (and health) of the overall portfolio and underlying resilience. Superseding everything is the distinctive educational character of the institution, which speaks to its core purpose, values and ethos.

In shaping our interaction, we focus upon the value we must add and the outcomes we must deliver. What must a successful intervention look and feel like to the university’s executive?  How will they recognise it and what form must it take? What benefits they are seeking from our involvement?  What skills and capabilities do they require of our team?

In giving any form of advice we work through a process of co-design and solution development and the support we provide takes a wide variety of forms. In the last few months this has included facilitating executive and or governing body strategic planning events, acting as an external critical friend as new strategies are being created, conducting targeted market and competitor research through to wider evaluations of institutional operating models that explore issues as fundamental as shared services, and institutional merger.

Andy Shenstone has worked in higher education for more than 19 years with a personal focus on executive teams and governing bodies and strategically critical transformation initiatives. In addition to working in the UK, Andy’s international experience includes working for, and advising governments and universities in, Egypt, Myanmar, the Gulf States, China, Malaysia and the Caribbean.

For more information on our Consultancy work, visit:

Innovations in postgraduate education

Kim Ansell asks whether recent Hefce statistics about the rise in taught postgraduate student numbers will trigger some development and innovation in the postgraduate offering. 

Last week Hefce reported that the numbers of UK and other European Union students starting full-time and part-time postgraduate (PG) taught courses increased substantially in 2016-17. A 22% increase in full-time entrants to taught PG courses, and an 8.6 per cent increase in part-time entrants to postgraduate taught (PGT) courses.

While Hefce suggests that “The increases in entrants are likely to be attributable to the introduction of postgraduate loans”, it is possible that there other factors at play here and perhaps the introduction of loans is only part of the story. Putting money into the system will clearly make a difference, but we suspect that one should look further afield for a more holistic explanation, indeed an explanation for which universities themselves can take some of the credit.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the higher education sector is driving some of this change and responding to demand with foresight and creativity. There is a sense that PG education could be a game changer for UK higher education creating a strong economic value proposition in changing times.

A 2014 report Masters with a purpose by UUK and Hecsu reported that ‘Employers’ requirements for Masters-level qualifications are linked to their requirements for specific skills, abilities and knowledge. Employers emphasise the value of practical, work-related experience during Masters courses’.

It goes on to assert that in many areas, e.g. sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, for PGT graduates, employment prospects are good – and better than for undergraduates, with generally higher rates of employment at six months after qualification.

The report also indicates that, those who have a Master’s degree combined with some sort of ‘hands on’ experience, stand out to employers. They see them as more employable and so it is in the interests of the university to understand how they can incorporate those skills into their Masters programmes and understand where their PG fit into the market.

There are other benefits for the university as well as the direct employability of their graduates, tapping into affordable research and development environments being an obvious one for some disciplines.

A number of innovative programmes have appeared in recent years, and it isn’t just student loans which is stimulating this. The rather overused but still very relevant issue of employability is the main one, as graduates look to demonstrate a competitive edge over their peers and move up the career ladder more quickly. Along with career imperatives, advances in technology have made Masters degrees more accessible as they are no longer geographically constrained in many cases.

The Aston University MSc in Professional Engineering and  UCL’s Professional Accountancy Msc, are just two examples of innovation and collaboration in this area.

Beyond the Masters landscape, The provision of professional doctorates in English HE (2016) published by Hefce, is unlikely to have reached the radar of most employers or professional associations, possibly not even all universities. Originally in engineering, education, business psychology and health, Professional Doctorates (PD) have been growing over the last five years and while still extremely modest in volume and in a limited number of disciplines, they are targeted at experienced professionals and practitioners working in a professional context. Professional training and/or development of practitioners is traditionally the domain of professional associations and yet PDs are now moving into new areas such as social sciences, science and technology and the arts.

There does not seem to have been a strong demand from employers at the time the Hefce study was done, with one exception: the NHS funds a PD in Clinical Psychology as an entry route and licence to practise.

The Hefce report recommends that professional sector bodies and institutions develop a more strategic basis for provision of PDs. I personally see great opportunities for such collaboration and encourage universities, professional associations and employers to join forces to take these initiatives forward while the PG education trend is on the up.

Some challenges to be addressed are:

  • PDs thus far have provided little evidence of impact on professional practice, something that professional bodies might be well placed to evidence and measure;
  • Development of PD provision is not a strategic priority for most HEIs, but a partnership approach could address such issues as reach, relevance, return on investment, efficient use of expertise and resource to deliver. The list goes on.

The combined experience of research, teaching, professional expertise and current practice could bring quality and reputation to new products in this arena, and to the stakeholders involved.

Of course there is still the issue of demand but if PDs really have the potential to make a significant contribution to professional practice then it must be in the interests of employers, professional associations and the higher education sector to make it work.

There is undoubtedly this level of collaboration, along with a frenzy of post budget ‘noise’, on Level 6 apprenticeship degrees. For example the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship has been developed by a group of employers, in partnership with a number of universities as ‘providers’ and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). Level 7 Degree Apprenticeships are clearly on the horizon but the prospect of a Level 8 Apprenticeship is probably still some way off, although clearly in the mix when considering the future of PG education.

I wonder how this will impact on PDs and their potential development or demise. Mature students undertaking PG study might opt for high level apprenticeship schemes that speak to the attractive employability criteria mentioned above. The alternative is that universities focus their PG provision on more academic pathways while developing apprenticeship schemes in partnership. A similar question has been asked in open forums about PGT and degree apprenticeships. Where universities have existing programmes with large employers, will new degree apprenticeships programmes ‘cannibalise’ places on these existing programmes?…

So, apprenticeship degrees might not encroach, as such, on PDs, but there will be a delicate strategic planning exercise to ensure that the pipeline of PG products which universities develop fits with the supply of postgraduate students that the university is able to access or attract.

Some of the questions they might need to ask themselves are:

  • Can we better support suitably qualified graduates or experienced professionals?
  • Which of our strategic partners could offer the best chance of success in product development, (however you choose to measure success)?
  • What does our employer network want?

The rise in PG taught student numbers in the UK is very welcome by all stakeholders and I applaud our universities for innovating in this territory but more must be done to harness this success and collaboration is key!

It is a complex landscape and for leaders thinking about the challenges discussed above, and in making these strategic moves/decisions, some assistance in analysing and evaluating the blockages, the enablers, the options and learning from good practice might be required.

Kim Ansell is managing consultant in the Consultancy team of the Leadership Foundation.  Additional research – Will Wade, research and policy analyst.

Leadership and management in Myanmar higher education

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Leadership Foundation working with higher education leaders in Myanmar in March 2017

Andy Shenstone director of consultancy at the Leadership Foundation reports on the British Council led project supporting higher education leaders in Myanmar. Which is part of a fundamental change programme that affects the entirety of  higher education in the South East Asian nation.

Higher education in Myanmar, like many of the country’s public services, is planning major reform under the new government. It’s seen as a high priority in a nation that, in higher education terms, languishes in the bottom group of “countries with a high incidence of pre-modern un-development” (Marginson). In preparation for this higher education revolution, the Leadership Foundation was recently commissioned by the British Council in Myanmar to produce a comprehensive needs analysis for higher education leadership training.

The new government has recently published a five-year National Education Sector Plan (2016-2021) which sets out a transformational agenda, priorities and approaches to education reform, including higher education.

Developing a more autonomous sector is a key feature of the government’s vision for sectoral reform. It encompasses consolidation of higher education policy under a single ministry, establishing autonomous national HEIs and regional HEIs with a faculty system, industry links, joint research programmes and opening up opportunities for private investment.

These plans would result in Myanmar’s higher education system undergoing a transformation that will create a wide range of significant demands upon, and challenges for, leaders in universities and ministry officials.

This is where the Leadership Foundation comes in. Working closely with the British Council we recently completed a comprehensive leadership training needs analysis. This focusses on the need to build leadership capacity and capability in a context of change that is both system-wide and institutional. Evidence gathering involved in-country consultation with ministry officials and 67 university leaders and a comprehensive survey of leaders in a further 60 Myanmar universities.

Our work has:

  • Ascertained the prioritised training and development requirements of the university leaders and key officials, requirements that fully reflected the policy context and objectives for system-wide reform.
  • Devised recommendations for a programme of work that would significantly contribute towards meeting these needs.
  • Set out an action plan for implementing the recommendations.

The leadership challenges are many and varied. At a system-level, transformation requires funding, quality assurance, institutional accountability, information management, planning and reporting. At the institutional level, there must be quality systems to drive improvement in research, teaching and assessment along with institutional strategy development, KPIs and delivery including ‘business’ planning.

Staff in the institutions need training and development in teaching and research skills, while managers need support with leading and managing change; motivational skills; stakeholder management with potential international partners; analysis and critical thinking; effective decision making; and communications skills.

It may seem like a challenging task but, in Myanmar, strong values underpin a spirit of cautious optimism and appetite for external engagement. An underlying ethos of service, combined with personal resilience, energy and enthusiasm, and a strong intellectual drive, augur well for the future of higher education in the country. It promises to be an exciting time of transformation in which UK higher education can play a crucially supportive role.

Andy Shenstone is the director of consultancy and business development, the Leadership Foundation has led or participated in projects in over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East.