10 things we learned about the experiences of women working in higher education

10 imag

Examining the conclusions from a recent report by the Leadership Foundation, Louise Clifton reviews the 10 key things we’ve learned about about women’s leadership journeys.

Across the world, it will be 170 years until we achieve gender parity.

For higher education, women continue to be under-represented in senior leadership roles. To understand how to create a more equal, diverse, leadership, and how we can get there quicker, we need to know more about the experiences of women working in the sector right now.

Over the last 18 months we have been in contact with over 1500 women about their experiences of working in higher education – from work-life balance to leadership capabilities and opportunities for development. We reached 10 key conclusions that will help the sector understand the opportunities and challenges that women face, and to start to make progressive, positive, action.

Led by an expert research team at Loughborough University, here’s what we know so far:

Message 1 – Above and beyond

86% of women indicate that their job requires them to influence over others over whom they have no authority. Many women have an appetite for leadership and seek it out, but there is a danger that asking women to go ‘above and beyond’ will mean they continue to go, and feel, unrecognised.

Message 2 – We do have the skills

Many women are confident that they possess the relevant leadership skills but more could be done to support women to implement their skills in a political workplace, which in turn could help women overcome structural inhibitors.

Message 3 – The workplace

Promotion and development opportunities are believed to be opaque and poorly run. Real and perceived barriers are prevalent, and the sector needs to do more to communicate a transparent, fair, process for career advancement.

Message 4 – Keep giving us your support

Respondents told us that there are supportive managers, leaders and mentors working in higher education, and team-work and co-operation are often encouraged. Continuing to invest in these practices will help institutions navigate experienced and perceived negative workplace practices.

Message 5 – Diverse motives

It’s a mixed bag whether respondents seek skill development with the intention of progressing their career. Being an expert in one’s domain, to be of service to the organisation and a desire for job security ranked higher than seeking out top leadership positions.  (This doesn’t mean women are uninterested in leadership activities within their work roles, however)

Message 6 – Flexible flexibility

Survey data suggest that some women believe flexible working is taken as a sign that they are not serious about their career. Cultivating a sense that working non-traditional hours does not indicate someone is less committed will be key to unlocking potential for those with commitments outside of the traditional 9-5 work practices.

Message 7 – More career management, please

On the whole, women seek out opportunities to build their skills, increase their visibility and maintain their networks. However institutions could do more to encourage women to go beyond their ‘norm’ and really get under the skin of where they want their career to go, and to support them to get there.

Message 8 – Aurora is clearly helping

Although there is still a long way to go, Aurora, a women-only leadership development programme, has given women more confidence and they report that their leadership skillsets have increased. On the whole, Aurorans seek out and ‘do’ more leadership.

Message 9 – The divide

Women working in professional services are generally more positive than their academic colleagues about workplace culture and practices. They have a more positive sense that they are better prepared for leadership roles and report greater confidence in their knowledge of how their organisation runs.

Message 10 – what’s in ethnicity?

BAME respondents reported less positive views of the culture of their workplace. However, these groups consider themselves ambitious, highly work-centered and focused on skills development. There is huge potential here to nurture this ambition.

Why wait 170 years when we could be pushing harder for greater equality, diversity and inclusion?

Insights like these will be instrumental to bring about positive change, faster.

These 10 conclusions are drawn from the first year report of a five-year longitudinal study. The largest of its kind, this study will continue to track women’s experiences and journeys over the next four years, and will identify the impact of Aurora, the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership programme.

Read the summary report here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Y1aurorasummary

And the long report with data analysis here: www.lfhe.ac.uk/Y1aurorareport

To discover more about the study, visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/aurorastudy

Louise Clifton is the senior marketing coordinator at the Leadership Foundation. An Aurora alumna, she works closely with the research team at Loughborough University to communicate the findings from this five-year longitudinal study.

Can the HE sector address the issue of impact for the future REF?


Kim Ansell, considers how thinking about research and teaching is a leadership issue and a path to achieving resilient impact.

The jury is out on the question of whether higher education is having an impact on our economy, our industries, and employability of our graduates. To assess impact from a broad versus narrow, international versus local and internal versus external are just some of the current deliberations which HEFCE need to consider and which the HE community need to respond on.  Matthew Guest’s article sums up the debate on this issue in relation to the REF.

Only a few weeks ago David Morris was also asking the question can a university excel both in teaching and in research, with an interesting comparison to the banking sector.

For me, having spent much of my early career treading the fine line between making academic research palatable and valuable for practice, while still meeting the needs of the academic community for rigour and reputation. I feel sure that there is a link worth pursuing if we are to achieve that nirvana of excellent teaching and academic rankings.

My experience suggests that separation of teaching and research is just the tip of the iceberg, and the underlying culture of a non-holistic approach to work is a hidden trap which has implications for staff to be able to thrive, collaborate and to ensure that research inspires and enriches teaching, so that students benefit from learning in a research rich culture.  The separation extends from issues such as contracts, right through to strategy, performance measurement/management, reward and recognition, and leadership.

Like the RAE before it, the REF is grappling with how much and what type of impact it should assess, how it should be articulated and what emphasis it should get in the great scheme of things.  I agree with Matthew, that “REF proposals around impact do not go far enough. They do not provide enough of an incentive for institutions to address such challenges …” If HEFCE decide to be brave about this it could very well solve some wider issues.

I have no doubt that HEFCE would welcome input from University leaders on this issue and my call to action is just that. Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, quite rightly asserts that “At its best, higher education provides cognitive and practical skills that help our young people and our economy to thrive”. The Leadership Foundation has done work on the Impact of Leadership, Governance and Management, analysing REF 2014 case studies and there is currently no incentive for academics to evaluate internal interventions as they are not counted for impact. There are many ways this could apply, not least in the ‘research environment’, engagement of undergraduates in civic activities, or interdisciplinary opportunities.  So my “call to action” is that universities respond on this issue and look for rules to be changed to include research impact in the academy as well as beyond in wider society.  This way institutions will start to recognise and reward research that is directed at improvement of institutional teaching practice.

Understandably HEFCE is focussed on implementation of the REF, issues such as whether previous submissions can be re-submitted where there is further impact to demonstrate from older research, whether creating an exhibition catalogue from your research is admissible to demonstrate impact, how incoming grants will be assessed, what ‘open access’ really means.

While concerns have already been raised with Hefce on such implementation and operational issues, I wonder how many senior leaders have engaged with this at a strategic level.  Of course universities are equally concerned about submission clarity, criteria and weightings, but is it time for the leadership teams in universities to take a step back and think about their own strategic aims and ambitions? Is it time for the sector to determine how it should be assessed and demonstrate exactly how higher education has an impact on young people and the economy?

How can universities responding to the consultation from a strategic perspective make sure that they can demonstrate diverse outcomes from their research programmes, not just outputs in the narrow sense?  Surely one way is to demonstrate that their valuable research is being used in its teaching and helping graduates to be leading edge as they enter the workforce.  Surely it is showing how its own alumni are taking the learning from research and changing the economy, changing the outcomes of medical intervention, business practice or technological development.

As David Morris reminds us, asking how research and teaching can be more symbiotic assumes that it is a co-dependent relationship. Evidence shows that research and teaching only improve each other in certain circumstances, but in this time of increasing student expectations and the need to demonstrate value, isn’t it the duty of university leaders to ensure that their infrastructure, strategy and policy making enables this to happen and furthermore is it not their responsibility to ensure that it does not drift further apart?

The Leadership Foundation can provide practical solutions and facilitation to design strategies which embrace research and teaching. We also support institutions with staff development and performance measurement strategies that recognise flexible career pathways.  Teaching quality and research excellence are not operational issues and the sooner universities can harness their assets in a more strategic way the better informed the REF will be and the more “impact” UK higher education will continue to have on the world.

Kim Ansell, is the managing consultant at the Leadership Foundation, a specialist in professional membership organisations and higher education she advices on strategic transformation interventions.  

Up for a challenge: self-directed group learning for leaders


If our role as educators of adults is to enhance their capacity for self-directed learning, how does that apply to leadership development training? Doug Parkin, director of the Leadership Foundation’s Future Professional Directors programme, reflects on his experience of designing transformational self-directed group learning activities for leaders.

From work with a thousand students in a thousand lecture halls, we all know how easy it can be to leave learning at the classroom door. The lesson may have been interesting, insightful, even entertaining – but if nothing changes in the learner, their thinking, action or beliefs, then was it learning at all?  Consider the difference between these two statements:

  • I taught them how to tie their shoes, but they still can’t do it!
  • I helped them learn how to tie their shoes and they’ve been doing it ever since.

There is a fascinating idea from social development theory that it is the appreciation, use and application of something by another that gives it true definition. So, if they “still can’t” tie their shoes, then was it really teaching?

Leadership development needs to be transformational in its impact. Whether that is a complete reinvention by someone of their identity as a leader, arising from intense self-reflection, or a new perspective on just one aspect of how to lead, the transformation needs to be fully committed and sustainable. A multi-faceted, experiential learning environment is the basis for such transformations, combining variety, examples, appropriate models, challenging experiences, reflection, individualised feedback, strong opportunities for professional and social exchange, and, critically, opportunities for self-directed learning.

When we designed the Future Professional Directors (FPD) programme we set ourselves the goal of including, among a variety of innovative elements, an entirely self-directed group activity.  We came up with Challenge Groups: groups of three or four participants from different higher education institutions working together on a common area of leadership challenge. Step one would involve each Challenge Group identifying a question of high current relevance to all group members that could become the basis for an active enquiry process. The Challenge Groups would then work independently alongside the eight months of the programme itself to explore the question from multiple perspectives using their own institutional contexts as a resource, and also looking more widely, possibly at other sectors. While we did not have a formal assessment mechanism, we built in the use of feedback. This came from tutors on the original question and proposal (including a tailored stimulus webinar for each group), from peers through a mid-point review, and then from peers and tutors through online comments on the finished work.

As part of their application to join the FPD programme, all participants were asked to identify three leadership challenges: a people challenge, a change challenge and a stakeholder challenge. The information provided formed the basis for deciding the Challenge Groups, clustering participants so far as we could around common themes or areas of interest. It was then a delight to see the questions which emerged as the groups identified their area for shared, collaborative enquiry.

Three of the areas explored by the first cohort of FPD included:

  • Leading potential and performance – particularly the difference between leading performance and managing performance, and the role of personal inspiration.
  • Achieving common goals with influential stakeholders where there may be conflicting priorities – and developing as part of this a model of influence specifically tailored for the higher education context and its values.
  • How to achieve change through a collaborative approach – based on survey responses, a set of overarching recommendations were produced for collaborative, cross-boundary leadership.

Other groups looked at the role of trust and values in authentic leadership, developing a template communication strategy for leading change, and managing the needs of diverse stakeholders through complex change.

As well as the impressive outputs, and the sharing of these, we also invited participants to reflect on the process of engaging in the Challenge Group activity, particularly the group development, the sharing of leadership, and the cross-institutional/cross-service working.  These reflections showed how strongly participants had valued sharing different perspectives, building relationships, working through the uncertainty of defining the task, seeing roles and strengths emerge, and the opportunity for independent working and research.  There was also high value in delivering a tangible outcome, with both group and individual benefits firmly linked to real work-based leadership challenges.

Through self-direction, within the framework of a fully supported programme, the participants found a new gateway to both personal discovery and lasting professional friendships.

In his ambitious model of Vertical Leadership Development, Nick Petrie argues for the importance of ‘colliding perspectives’ (the who), ‘heat experiences’ (the what) and ‘elevated sensemaking’ (the how), and it was rewarding to see how some of the FPD Challenge Group work, alongside other experiential elements on FPD such as live case studies, business simulations and strategic dialogues, went a long way towards achieving this.  As Malcolm Gladwell powerfully observed “we learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction”.

As the quote below highlights, one of the other clear benefits of an extended leadership programme with a variety of types of learner engagement, including significant self-directed elements and action learning, is the relationships that form, with a life beyond the programme itself.

“The Future Professional Directors programme content and people were amazing and challenging. Having so many like-minded people in one room gave us the ability to talk freely and openly about the opportunities and challenges we face in the sector. We will remain a close network for years to come. With its mix of presentations, live case studies and visiting externals from academic and professional services, the programme gave us personal confidence and practical insight into what it takes to be an authentic leader in our large complex organisations in the 21st century.”

Chris Parry, University of Nottingham, head of global IT change delivery – academic portfolio

Doug Parkin is programme director of Future Professional Directors, working alongside Tracy Bell Reeves, both at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Doug is also the author of ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The key guide to designing and delivering courses’.  The book explores contemporary ideas on leadership, engagement and student learning into a practical solutions-based resource designed for those undertaking the challenge of leading a university-level teaching module, programme or suite of programmes, particularly through periods of transformation or change. 

Find out more: Future Professional Directors

Powerbrokers: HE leaders understanding Westminster


Vijaya Nath, shares insights from the first Powerbrokers: lifting the lid on the Westminster village programme, which took place earlier this month.

‘So were you for Brexit or not?’ This question raised an eyebrow or two as we observed select committee hearings on the implications of Brexit for the justice system. The witnesses ‘on the spike’ included Professor Tim Wilson, professor of criminal justice policy at Northumbria University. This brief, but timely look at the world of parliamentary select committee hearings provided valuable stimulus during our recent Powerbrokers programme.

Powerbrokers: lifting the lid on the Westminster village emerged from a conversation and formal exploration with over 40 senior leaders in higher education on the skillset, mind-set and toolset they believed they needed as leaders to take their institution forward. Over the duration of this new two-day programme participants were exposed to the workings of Westminster gaining along the way a more intimate understanding of how they could, as leaders exert more influence politically for the benefit of their institutions and student populations.

Observing the interactions between leaders of both HEIs and sector agencies and the selection of MPs, peers and civil servants who worked with us on this programme – three key insights struck me as instrumental in their individual and collective leadership going forward.

Insight 1: Seeking first to understand and then be understood

Critical to gaining this insight was deepening participants understanding of where higher education sits in the priority list of our political leaders at Westminster. Through frank and intimate discussion with existing peers and MPs; leaders it was quickly established that whilst higher education did not have the column inches or status ‘enjoyed’ by the NHS and health it was as a sector, important to the UK’s future and in a post Brexit world even more important. At the same time higher education leaders heard the importance of higher education leadership needing to be relevant and pragmatic, as opposed to idealistic or theoretical. In the words of one peer “leaders who bring solutions and not problems” would as expected be listened to over those who sought to “bang on about depleting student numbers post Brexit” for example.

Understanding what keeps your MP awake at night with regards to any issues in the university, whether it be about student or staff welfare issues, and communicating with them in advance of a crisis was also viewed as being appreciated. In addition to this was the plea to build more transformational relationships with local political leaders – not just view them as great to wheel out for opening a new department, but looking at what local challenges they are trying to tackle and what the university, college or specialist institution could do to help.

Insight 2: Communication skills matter

During both days of the programme higher education leaders consistently worked to understand and respond to the pace and intensity of questioning and the full range of communication skills needed to be effective at local, national and international government level. Developing the language of influence was seen to be as important as the content. Being able to move from demonstrating Intelligence Quotient (IQ) to Emotional Quotient (EQ) is an area that all those participating on the programme agreed was vital.

Insight 3: Build relationships of trust

Like all interactions between leaders we go much further when we are able to demonstrate that most basic and foundation of leadership – trust.

Often when pressed political and higher education leaders said to give trust they needed to get trust. Interestingly this takes me back to the first sentence in this blog post, which was asked by an MP, in a real select committee evidence session. Whether we believe this was the right question to ask or whether it breaks protocol – it asks individuals to reveal their personal decision in a manner that suggests that this would impact on the credibility of their evidence. Credibility – an interpersonal construct is something that we use to determine the quality of our political leaders, on Powerbrokers we heard that this was also a quality that political leaders were looking for from higher education.

This look at how higher education interacted with Westminster on this our newest programme reinforces that our decision to co-create (a much used  phrase at present in higher education) was the right one and more than this, the diagnosis higher education leaders made of their development requirements was accurate.

I look forward to facilitating the next run of Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster village  which runs on Tuesday 25 – Wednesday 26 April 2017, when once more we will begin the process of supporting our leaders in higher education to exert the influence we know that our students and staff deserve, so that the UK’s higher education sector builds on its considerable achievements in challenging times.

To find out more or book a place on the spring 2017 run of  Powerbrokers: Lifting the lid on the Westminster village  please click here

Is HE governance the best there is?


Mary Joyce, Leadership Foundation governance and leadership associate, considers the dynamics and impact of good governance and whether boards should be looking beyond compliance.

What were your experiences of what it was like working with your board this year? How did you manage those strategic discussions before and after the vote to leave the European Union? Are you changing the composition of your board and its ways of working? These are live questions for many boards at the present time, in all sectors across the UK. They represent factors that are an additional disruption to the already delicate and largely unseen dynamics of work on boards.

A glance at the past year’s news stories reveals the extent to which ethics, unchecked egos, financial constraints and increased regulation dominate much of the anxiety felt by non-executives as they discharge their responsibilities on boards. Interest in good governance and its importance in organisational life is only set to increase as the pace and scale of change in the public, private and charitable sectors gathers momentum. And, as more stories of failing and dysfunctional boards appear in news stories and official reports, the typical response is to produce even more formal guidance and codes of conduct.

Yet, in 2009 when Sir David Walker published his findings on corporate governance in banks and other financial industry entities (BOFIs), he found that:

“the principal deficiencies in BOFI boards related much more to patterns of behaviour than to organisation.”

While the focus of the Walker Review was on the financial sector, many of its insights and recommendations for good governance and apply to all sectors. The best strategy for developing the capacity of your board to work well together and use all its talents in decision-making is one that focuses not only on technical know-how (legal, financial and sectoral), but also on boardroom behaviour and leadership. This will ensure you achieve more than simply compliance in the stewardship of your organisation.

Just over two years ago the Leadership Foundation designed a series of developmental workshop sessions on boardroom dynamics for higher education governors. They were well received, and we built on those foundations to design a special programme for university secretaries and clerks in recognition of their leadership role at the interface between the board and the executive – a difficult role for which there is generally less developmental support. In its launch year 28 people from 25 institutions attended this innovative programme from roles that included not only university secretaries, clerks and registrars but also, directors of strategic planning; the vice-chancellor’s chiefs of staff; and heads of governance.

The programme uses a psychodynamic approach to develop an awareness and understanding of group behaviour and its potential to either hinder or help the board’s capacity to work effectively. Facilitated learning sets offer a unique opportunity for clerks, university secretaries and those working in the governance field to work on their own organisational issues in confidence, and to apply new theories to their practice.

Participants on the programme commented that they were able to make sense of their experiences in a way that helped them to be more effective both in their role and with colleagues. They said:

“A valuable, thought-provoking, supportive and informative programme, putting the role into a wider context.”
Head of Executive Services

“(The action learning experience was) very supportive while being rigorous. It has helped me reflect on my approaches and practice which has been a very valuable element of the programme.”
Director of Strategic Operations and University Secretary

“Great course content and I’ve made great contacts. I would definitely recommend this to all clerks, whether they are new in post or have been appointed for some time.”
Clerk to the Board and Head of Governance

The Leadership Foundation is running the Clerks and Secretaries Programme again in 2017, starting in February, offering another opportunity for governance professionals to develop their skills and leadership. This higher education specific programme consists of three one-day sessions, which will include action learning set meetings, and two additional half-day action learning set meetings.

Join us as we take a look at how higher education governance’s behaviours, roles and remit compare to those of other sectors, and take the opportunity to consider whether higher education is at the forefront of governance as it continuously explores what good governance means and how it can be improved to meet the changing world.

Mary Joyce specialises in leadership development, group dynamics and organisational behaviour, and executive coaching. Her reputation for working ‘beneath the surface’ has developed through a variety of leadership and consultancy commissions in the public and private sectors.

Read our latest Governance Briefing Note – 25: The factors that influence whether governance is effective?

In addition to our highly regarded Governor Development Programme, the Leadership Foundation has a wealth of information, tools and tips on its Governance website, tailored to the specific needs of Governors of Higher Education institutions and colleges. Find out more at: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

Why is HE like a Travelling Circus?


Doug Parkin, Leadership Foundation Programme Director reflects on why developing leadership in learning and teaching is critical.

After falling on hard times two brothers went their separate ways.

Ivan said to his brother “you can keep the big top, the caravans, the animals and the cages, and I wish you well with them”. 

Orlov took them and aimed to keep the great traditions alive. Visiting the towns his family had always visited, he had animals doing tricks, stupid clowns being cruel to each other, strong men lifting weights, and lots and lots of dancing girls… and fewer and fewer people came. 

Ivan went to new cities and entertained in venues never visited by a circus before. Humans performed instead of animals, incredible acrobats, jugglers and gymnasts, and in his circus clever clowns created magic and told new stories.

The Travelling Circus – which university are you?

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching: never more important!

When the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching (LTLT) programme began the landscape of radical change surrounding learning and teaching in Higher Education appeared significant, and indeed it was, but in the short period of three-years that has elapsed since then the challenges relating to student engagement, transforming curricula, and quality enhancement have become profound. Not just because of the Teaching Excellence Framework, but further catalysed by it and the debate it has fuelled, striving for teaching excellence has become an imperative on all institutional agendas.  And the relationship with students, as partners in not just the learning process but also the on-going development of the institution itself, has created new dialogues, challenges and expectations.  Linked to this there are many other agendas that could be mentioned such as social mobility and fair access, internationalisation, marketisation, technology enhanced learning, employability, expressing learning gain, and needless to say the colossal uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

LTLT is a programme very much of its time. It is aimed at a constituency of academic colleagues whose needs have not been fully recognised by staff development in the past – namely, course and programme leaders, senior course tutors, associate deans and those in similar roles.  A key acknowledgement (and celebration!) this programme makes both explicitly and, perhaps, symbolically is that programme directors and course leaders have become some of the most important people in our universities: if they don’t succeed then neither do their institutions – the traditional travelling circus fades away and is replaced by the nouveau cirque.

The overall aim of LTLT is:

To support participants to develop the skills, approaches and insights needed to lead course and programme teams through processes of transformation and innovation.

LTLT is an inspirational programme in itself. Not because of its content or its pedagogy, although there is much to be appreciated there, but because of the community of practitioners it brings together from across the sector and the quality of dialogue, interaction and exchange it promotes.  This rich thinking environment, with a focus on transformation, innovation and new approaches, helps participants to develop the energy for change in an ever-evolving learning and teaching environment.

Reflecting on the LTLT experience and its impact, the following is some participant feedback:

  • I learned a very great deal about investment by stakeholders, partnership with students, and the crucial importance of negotiation in relation to the curriculum and much else besides. This is the most exciting (and exacting) leadership course I have ever undertaken.
  • I used one of the tools within days of returning to work.
  • I feel empowered to be a consultant/critical friend (in learning, teaching and assessment) within the workplace. This role is essential.
  • I have found this programme to be extremely useful, extremely enjoyable, an excellent networking opportunity, a great way of sharing best practice, crammed full of useful information, and at all times run by experts who are incredibly helpful and supportive. I cannot recommend this programme highly enough.
  • An excellent programme for which I am grateful.
  • The sessions were quite simply the best example of CPD I’ve been on and perfectly pitched, thoroughly prepared and delivered in an engaging manner.

Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching is a development programme offered by a sector partnership between the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Higher Education Academy. It has been running very successfully since 2013 and the next cohort begins in March 2017.

Delivered through three modules and two-on-line action learning sets over a period of 6 months, the structure of LTLT is simple. The first module called ‘Getting Started’ is a two-day residential focussed on firstly leading change and enhancement and secondly leading through inquiry and influence. The second one-day module called ‘Getting Going’ is centred around leading engagement and challenge. The final one-day module, ‘Going Forward’, uses action learning to focus fully on the participants’ own transformation pilots, initiatives they are leading in their own institutions, and how to plan for sustainable impact. To continue discussion around progress of the transformation pilots there are then two further on-line action learning set meetings. Key features of the programme include:

  • A Strategic Toolkit of organisational development tools to help support and facilitate transformational change, some of which have been developed uniquely for the programme;
  • A live case study involving a university team part way through a significant change initiative;
  • Engaging with key perspectives on leadership in an academic context, and linked to this a range of relevant change theory;
  • Considering how to lead with influence rather than through authority;
  • Opportunities to develop the skills necessary to become an effective internal consultant;
  • Exploring new approaches to curriculum design;
  • Sessions on quality and pedagogic innovation; bringing students to the centre of the transformation process; the use of narrative for change; and building communities of practice;
  • The opportunity for participants to work on and develop a current transformation initiative, with further support through action learning;
  • Use of Yammer as a social site to provide resources and allow for on-line discussion;
  • Gaining evidence towards professional recognition against either level 3 of level 4 of the UK Professional Standard Framework.

The programme espouses a number of important values and principles including working to a non-deficit model of academic development, the importance of mutual learning through the live case study and working with an appreciative spirit of inquiry. The importance of open, collaborative working and engagement is emphasised throughout.  And above all the programme illustrates how leadership is generative and endorses the notion that transformational change is iterative, emergent and intensely negotiated.

So, the travelling circus must reinvent itself to survive. Why?  Because the world is changing and audiences move on.  To change the course of history we must change the course of leadership, and if universities are to play their role in answering the big questions of tomorrow, then transformational leadership needs our full support.

Those that are excellently inspired have the capacity to inspire excellence. 

Doug Parkin is co-programme director of the Leading Transformation in Learning and Teaching programme, working alongside Steve Outram from the Higher Education Academy. Find out more and book your place here. Doug is also the author of ‘Leading Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: The key guide to designing and delivering courses’.  The book explores contemporary ideas on leadership, engagement and student learning into a practical solutions-based resource designed for those undertaking the challenge of leading a university-level teaching module, programme or suite of programmes, particularly through periods of transformation or change. 

A future focus for higher education


Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development reflects upon leadership, the future and working with influencers in higher education.

While 9 November 2016 will forever be associated with tumultuous political change in the US, it also brought into stark relief the change process that political decisions unleash across all sectors – and the relationship between our two higher education sectors. In such circumstances, leadership and the ability to think interdependently becomes increasingly important.  On 9 November I was with colleagues from across HEIs – my first formal engagement with the higher education community – at the annual Staff Development Conference. My session was on Higher Education: Future Focus, which fitted with the theme of the conference, Future Fit, and the commitment to developing excellent practice that staff developers share with those of us from external development organisations.

Exploring the five main forces driving change globally “now and next” (using the ideas of futurologist and personal colleague Richard Watson), we first looked at the potential impact of demographic change, including an aging population and aging workforce, for the UK and the challenges and opportunities this brings to higher education. Just hours after Trump’s election victory, the next of the five forces – power shifts east – was also a stimulus in a post-Brexit world that most staff developer colleagues agreed was in sharper focus. The impact caused through being better connected globally (the third force) and sustainability (the fourth force) were concepts that most colleagues found familiar. The last of the five forces, GRIN technologies (genetic prophesy, robotics, intuitive internet, nano materials and artificial intelligence), was found to be of topical relevance as many staff developers were focused on new learning technologies and the impact of these on teaching and learning in HEIs.

When hypothesising about the impact of two of the five forces – demographics and GRIN technologies – staff development colleagues expressed the importance of up-skilling themselves. They also recognised the need to extend their influence to enable a greater number of academic and non-academic colleagues to appreciate the change process necessary for HEIs to face the future with confidence and maximise the potential benefits and challenges.

This session, in tandem with the following session, enabled staff development colleagues to focus on a future that gives priority to growing a learning culture within their organisations and enabling their HEIs to foster cultures which are responsive to changes in their domain and in which innovation will thrive. This is Future Focus.

More recently, following the SDF Conference, I was pleased to facilitate a morning with Richard Watson for senior strategic leaders in HEIs. With Richard’s expert input, it was an opportunity to initiate a conversation with a group of senior leaders on how the five forces Richard associates with global change will impact higher education in the four countries of the United Kingdom.

Richard reminded us of the challenge that leaders in higher education face, contrasting the pace of volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity that characterise this current period with the mindset, tool set and agility needed to tackle the issues this period brings. This is sometimes matched by a cohort of leaders who are anxious and who may appear slow to react as events unfold.

Richard set out the process he follows for building an exploration of the future. This begins with identifying the big questions you believe you might face as leaders in your sector. From these ‘‘burning questions” come a series of trends and patterns related to the questions.  These trends and patterns lend themselves to scenario planning (an activity with which many sectors engage but to which few give enough time). The generation of these future scenarios is often predicated on leaders being able to look at what would need to disappear and, conversely, what new innovative practices and mindsets may be needed for the new possibility to become a reality.

We applied this process to a short guided exploration of the future for higher education from the perspective of this senior leadership group. Reflecting on the burning questions generated by the senior leaders, a number of these were focused on the impact of future demographic trends on higher education. These questions included the impact of declining fertility rates, and an ageing population. In the ensuing discussion, the opportunities and challenges of demographic change led to a possible future trend of growing higher education provision targeting the silver surfer generation and an explosion of concepts such as the University of the Third Age alongside more catastrophic predictions eg university closures due to falling UK student numbers.

Leaders were keen to explore the impact of technology and innovation made possible through the growth of artificial intelligence and the “industrialisation” of learning via enhanced smart technology, as Richard referred to a blurring between digital and physical. This leadership activity requires the strategic change leaders to take a step back and engage in bold thinking. Higher education leaders may not be able to predict all that the future holds in the next 30 years but they can and should be able to influence it.

As the minutes ended on my second interaction with leaders in my new sector, I recalled and shared a philosophy I have held as a developer of leaders for 26 years and across a number of sectors: if we can understand how we learn, then we can understand how we lead.

We are committed to using the insights that this senior leadership group produced in co-creating new innovative leadership development interventions. The graphic above demonstrates the possibilities of working in new ways as we continue to support the Future Focus for higher education.


Vijaya Nath leads the Leadership Development operation at the Leadership Foundation. The portfolio of development for higher education institutions include options that are delivered face-to-face, online only and also in a mix of both formats (blended learning). They are designed for leaders, managers and those that aspire to such roles from across all disciplines and types of institutions. Programmes and events include one-day events for governors; the flagship Top Management Programme, that has over 700 of the most senior people in higher education in in its alumni including 60 current vice-chancellors. There is also Aurora, the women-only development scheme that has already seen almost 2,500 participants in its first three years.

Watch Vijaya Nath discuss the future of higher education and the need to create political powerbrokers on our YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVUzlTtfCUI