Lessons from Higher Education Insights

On her second day at the Leadership Foundation, Alice Hargreaves, senior marketing and communications coordinator attended our Higher Education Insights programme for leaders new to the sector. In the run up to the April 2018 cohort of the programme, she reflects on the impact the programme had on her as a participant. 

When I joined the Leadership Foundation last May I had only worked in a university briefly while overseas, so had little understanding of the context in which higher education sat here in the UK. As well as meeting new colleagues who I would be working alongside, Higher Education Insights provided me with the opportunity to better understand the complexities, nuances, and politics in the UK.

Start with why

In order to understand where the sector is now and where it is going it is of course vital to know where we have come from. One of the first sessions of the day summarised the history of higher education and how this history has shaped it in a way that is different in other parts of the world.

I like the analogy that Christine Abbott recently used in her blog post about this sector being much like a tube system where sometimes it is hard to know how we got to where we are and feel that this session really went some way towards answering this.

Learning from others

I’m a natural networker so found the opportunity to sit and work with a small table of new faces really exciting. I learnt about roles in the sector I didn’t even know existed and also learnt about private universities which I must admit I had been unaware of previously. I was sat with someone from Regent’s University and found the opportunity to ask direct questions about the differences in their student body and how they operated fascinating.

Having the opportunity to get to know the challenges colleagues are also new to the sector faced was a fantastic way of better understanding how a range of universities worked (including pre and post 1992 as well as private universities), and how different the experiences were for professional services staff vs academic staff. It struck me how open my table were to discussion and it spurred me on to apply to take part in Aurora.

The shape of the sector, right here, right now

I found the talk hosted by Nicky Old, director of communications and external relations at Universities UK a fantastic way to understand policy changes. Nicky explained who Universities UK were, who the sector is, and who the key decision makers are. In May 2017, we were just a month away from a general election, and the big issue facing UK universities was the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as well as the ongoing repercussions following Brexit. Gaining information so relevant and of the time was invaluable. When the TEF results were released some six weeks later I could much better understand the context and how this might impact universities.

Now, having worked in the sector a bit longer I am able to see how things develop over time but this really put me into the here and now, or rather the then and there.

The many faces of higher education

Knowing much more about the Leadership Foundation and our programmes and events now than I did last May, Higher Education Insights truly is a unique opportunity to meet the many faces of the sector. As well as the range of participants it attracts the speakers had a huge range of perspectives and experiences. As well as voices from the Leadership Foundation and Universities UK I was lucky enough to hear from; a futurist from JISC, a dean from Canterbury Christchurch, a student engagement consultant from The Student Engagement Partnership and an ex NUS president.

The day really buoyed up my enthusiasm for my new role and it was reassuring to know I was not the only person so new to the sector. The day I think is equally as valuable for someone brand new to the sector, as someone who has simply been stuck underground in the tube system of higher education for two long and needs to reconnect and get up to date with the ever changing environment that we are faced with.

Higher Education Insights will take place on Tuesday 17 April 2018 in London. Nicky Old, director of communications and external relations, Universities UK and Ellie Russell, student engagement consultant, National Union of Students will return as contributors to this year’s programme. Find out more: www.lfhe.ac.uk/heinsights

Alice Hargreaves is a senior marketing and communications coordinator specialising in promoting our programmes for senior leaders and equality and diversity, including our acclaimed Aurora programme. 

How effective are simulation experiences for leadership development?

One of the most effective techniques we use in our leadership development interventions is to provide leaders with a simulated environment. This challenges them to confront complex, highly interwoven performance management and operational issues. But how effective is this in practice? We spoke with Paul Hessey, Leadership Foundation associate, who leads on this activity on our Leading Departments programme for new heads of department.

How does a simulated environment work?
Based on a very realistic university scenario, this usually involves the programme participants working in groups of six along with three actors who take on the roles of stakeholders and the dean. The simulation is designed to present participants with realistic scenarios they might encounter in their day-to-day work as a head of department. This gives the facilitators the opportunity to help participants’ identify their weaknesses and strengths and enables us to offer guidance and best practice on how to approach difficult situations.

What are the three main benefits of using a simulated environment on a leadership development programme?

  1. Participants are reminded of some simple, robust and powerful theory of influence and learn the skills they need to put that theory into practice in a safe environment.
  2. Reflect and receive tailored feedback on strengths and development opportunities.
  3. Be part of a rich and diverse range of colleagues from both professional service and academic roles, and benefit from observing a wide range of approaches to influencing in action.

Have participants ever surprised you with how they reacted to this type of role playing style activity?
Our approach is more ‘real play’ than ‘role play’ because essentially the participants are experimenting with being themselves in the scenario, rather than taking on a character. In terms of being surprised by how participants react to these activities I am always taken aback by the way participants are committed to a mythical department. They really immerse themselves into the activity and come up with creative ideas and solutions. During a programme’s coaching sessions I found that many participants realised that they want and need to take a more strategic view of their role; in particular delegating more so they can take a step back to better develop and promote their own department through running events and engaging with a pool of stakeholders. These scenarios also increase their awareness of the importance of owning their professional profile and reputation.

What would you say to those who are sceptical about real playing on a leadership development programme?
Real play has an interactive approach which means participants can take a very practical look at how people communicate and influence, and then experiment with different approaches. Real play gives participants the chance to safely assess and practice an expanded range of influencing, management and leadership techniques to help them better engage their own diverse stakeholder base.

Higher education is a very unique sector. In your years of experience of working in different sectors, do you notice any similarities?
Many! People face the same challenges other sectors do in terms of politics and culture. However, in higher education people are perhaps more motivated by their desire to achieve their professional objectives rather than financial incentives. In higher education environments in particular, I’ve noticed that leaders may have less access to organisational benefits and consequences to motivate those around them. They are therefore often seeking to achieve action in their institutions by influencing others without any direct authority or power to demand action. Instead they must find a way to overcome resistance and challenge and encourage staff to buy-in and commit to the mission in a positive way. Many participants have said that they leave the Leading Departments programme feeling more equipped and confident to do exactly that.

Paul Hessey is the programme director for the Leading Departments programme, designed to develop the leadership skills of heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 6 October, to find out more about Paul or to book onto the programme visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/leaddepts

He is also a facilitator on the Introduction to Head of Department programme for new and aspiring heads of department. The booking deadline is Friday 27 October, to find out more and book visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihod

Other Leadership Foundation programmes that use simulated learning environments include:

Top Management Programme: www.lfhe.ac.uk/tmp

Future Professional Directors: www.lfhe.ac.uk/fpd

Top 12 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. A good place to start is the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, which is the most significant piece of sector legislation in 25 years for England.

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 £21.5 billion to the UK’s GDP a year to the UK economy and provide jobs for over 940,000 people in the country. This is the equivalent to 3% of all employment in the UK.

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: rita.walters@lfhe.ac.uk 

12. And finally…
Understand the historical context of what universities are and where they have come from on our Higher Education Insights programme.

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: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ihe

 

Reflections on Aurora

The Leadership Foundation’s former International Projects Manager, Hannah Phung shares her thoughts on year one of the Aurora programme.

One of the Aurora cohorts

An Aurora year one cohort

I’ve been on personal development programmes before including a Future Leaders’ programme and I benefited from each one, but from the outset, there was something different with Aurora. I don’t know if it is because of Ginnie’s vision for it or if the idea of 200 women in a room triggered something, but I definitely wanted to participate.

I enjoyed taking part in Aurora with a group of LF colleagues. The camaraderie of going through the process together meant we shared experiences and became closer as we opened up to each other. This openness and willingness to share was a major characteristic of Aurora. It meant some of the benefit came from the presentations and speakers but most came from the experiences, knowledge, advice, support, questions and willingness to listen. Total strangers, delegates I had only just met gave to me and I could give back as we shared our challenges. I’ve not experienced such openness on a programme before. It wasn’t just at the tables we sat at or my action learning group it was wherever I was in the Aurora environment. I really did not expect such openness and bonding between strangers, especially in the space of a few hours. A culture is created in Aurora that makes this happen.

The four Aurora days were great. There were things I had learnt before, which on learning again, reinforced and ignited ideas and actions. There were also things that were new; some I have used already and some I know that I will use in the future.

I remember a message, Aurora contributor, Sue Stockdale communicated at the very first Aurora day, Identity, Impact and Voice – “Seize opportunities, if you don’t try you don’t know.” I have said this to myself before and I have acted on it before. Maybe there is something that pushes you a little bit further when you hear it regularly and hear that other people have taken that advice with success.

I saw an amazing job advertised three days before the deadline…  I had to go for it.and I am delighted to say that I got it. I got it!

As I prepared for my new role I took on Jenny Garrett’s advice about ‘experiments and risks.’ I experiment more, making small moves to push myself and prove to myself that I got this role for a reason. I wanted to walk into my new role feeling confident.

One thing Aurora gave me which I had not had on any of my previous personal development programmes was a mentor. Knowing my Aurora mentor had signed up for the role and was specifically to support me gave me real impetus. I took control and initiated the meetings. These were some of the points that I raised: “I have a big challenge coming up and feel daunted by it.” “Something has been bugging me for a while and I don’t know how to approach it now.” “I want to be more confident when…”

The mentor meetings were hard work at times but I left each one feeling positive and energised. This really was the most useful part of Aurora for me, as it gave me time to think about the specifics and have the support of someone who was there to work with me to apply who I am and what I have learnt from Aurora and beyond, to my specific situations and aspirations.

Attending Aurora allowed me to step away from my desk and be selfish. A cornucopia of information and inspiration filled every Aurora day and related activity. Like a cross between the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory characters Augustus Gloop and Veruca Salt I took and took; from speakers, from participants and from my mentor, and I hope I gave as generously as I had taken.

The reality is that I don’t know how much of Aurora contributed directly or even indirectly to my getting the job, but I do know I will be using lots of the things I have  learnt from it for many years to come.

Hannah Phung is Project Manager (Museography) Zayed National Museum at The British Museum, a role that she took up in June.

Aurora year two begins next week and will be taking place in London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Sheffield, use this link for more information: Aurora