The extraordinary events brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought into sharp focus the question ‘what works for leadership in higher education?’ and we wanted to understand and explore this for the benefit of our members and higher education leaders, and how we as Advance HE can better support both.
Increasing our understanding of this will allow the sector to more effectively invest in leaders, and know most effective means to do so via impactful development options and people strategies, and to recognise good practice in a consistent and reliable way. It will also support organisations to plan more effective leadership structures, and critically, to grow talent for the future.
The time seems ripe to move towards a stronger, more structured, evidence-informed and useful set of insights about leading and leadership in HE based on systematically exploring this ‘what works?’ question. This is the primary drive behind this project.
The project will generate a unique evidence base for leadership in higher education, highlight contextual variations across the sector and around the world and explore the impact of leadership development. It will also inform the potential development of a sector-led leadership framework for enhancement and recognition.
The project has so far delivered on the following milestones:
- Commissioning of a scoping study, literature review and scoping study report that was undertaken by a research team led by the University of Bristol and involving colleagues from the University of the West of England and Swansea University.
- Using the outcomes from the scoping study to design and launch a survey; this was undertaken between September and November 2022.
- Completion of the survey and data analysis to inform a survey report launched as open access on May 10th 2023 and accessible here.
- Formation of steering group to undertake the consideration of options for a leadership framework
- A planned schedule of linked member benefits based on the survey findings, including a series of commentaries from sector leader voices and an event in Autumn 2023.
It is no exaggeration to say that the future success of higher education in every country around the world will depend on leadership. This has been powerfully illustrated by the role of leadership in the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must learn from this and also it is very timely, when reflecting on that learning to define the leadership needed for the HE of the future.
The vision for this project, which is a key part of Advance HE’s overall strategy, is to develop a framework for leadership in higher education and related organisations. To shape and inform this we are also going to launch a large-scale annual leadership survey. This whole process should be one of the largest collective conversations about leadership in higher education ever undertaken, an opportunity which we all can embrace, hence our invitation to you to be part of this work.
Objectives of the project
The broad objectives of the Advance HE Leadership Survey were to:
- Start to generate a unique evidence base for leadership in HE
- Reveal how staff in HE conceive of leadership
- Help to articulate the values, behaviours and constructs that contribute to effective leadership (including through different roles and levels)
- Highlight contextual variations across the sector and around the world
- Contrast the views of those leading and those being led
- Explore the impact of leadership development
- Promote the importance of the reflective leadership practitioner
- Generate clear, reliable, and objective data that can inform the development and operation of a leadership framework
- Assist organisations in designing, developing, and nurturing their leadership capacity.
Leadership survey and framework - scoping study
This powerful report presents insights and findings from a year-long scoping study commissioned by Advance HE to inform the development of a global leadership survey for higher education (HE) and related organisations.
At the centre of the study was placed a deceptively simple question, What works for leadership in higher education? Responding to this, a research team led by Professor Richard Watermeyer at the University of Bristol used a mixed methods approach to capture a range of voices and perspectives on the issues.
The timing of this study is particularly significant given turbulence in the sector caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for individuals and institutions around the world to reflect on what they have learnt and what they need to do next.
Underpinned by a focused literature review, the main body of the research explored contemporary HE leadership through online round tables and large-group dissemination and engagement events. The discussions were extremely rich, open and insightful, and generated an extensive dataset for the research analysis. This essentially collaborative piece of research, taking a whole community approach, brought together colleagues from across the sector, a diverse mix of academic, professional services and executive/management staff, as well as a range of HE-associated bodies.
In undertaking this study we assume as a research team a significant duty of care in ensuring that all members of our higher education community are given equal license to lead discussion in terms of what is meant, practised and received as leadership. Our methodology which consists, beyond a literature review, of round table events with discussants from across the sector and professional hierarchies is thus intended to provide a holistic and inclusive forum for critical deliberation. This conversation on higher education leadership will thus emphatically, be led by you.
Professor Richard Watermeyer
Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Higher Education Transformations (CHET),
University of Bristol
The Advance HE Leadership Survey for Higher Education – Survey Report
We are delighted to share with you our first Leadership Survey report, drawing on responses from over 550 leaders across higher education in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Australasia, the Middle East and beyond.
This survey provides a unique set of insights from both those who are leading and those who are led by them that helps to inform our collective understanding about leadership in the HE sector. This report will help further the conversation and debate about what works for leadership in higher education, whether it be from the perspective of supporting leaders via development, recognising and incentivising effective leadership practice (over time), planning for future roles and capacity through identifying and growing talent or ensuring organisational values and cultures deliver on their ambitions.
The report will be of interest to those who both lead individuals and organisations, as well as those who drive and devise strategies for people, organisations and performance.
In line with our Advance HE strategy, we will continue to use this project and the survey outcomes to iterate and continue the dialogue around what works for leadership in HE, as what works for leadership is a foundation also for what works for success for higher education itself and the students, communities and societies it supports.
Executive Director Delivery, Knowledge and Quality
Executive Director Delivery, Knowledge and Quality
former Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management
Assistant Director Professional Recognition
Lead Consultant Leadership, OD and rResearch