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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 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.

Read the report

Read the scoping study report: Leadership in global higher education – findings from a scoping study

Read the report
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Scoping study roundtables and dissemination events

From October to December 2021, 11 two-hour online round tables on the nature and purpose(s) of leadership in contemporary higher education were run with representatives from the sector. The category groups for the roundtables were as follows:

  • Academic deans and heads of departments
  • Staff and organisational development professionals
  • Professional service leaders
  • Early career academics
  • Senior executive group x 2
  • Professional representative and funding bodies
  • The professoriate
  • Professional service first-line managers
  • Trade unions and HE related support organisations
  • Established academics

Following these, four large-group dissemination and engagement events were hosted in February and March 2022 to share emerging findings and gather wider perspectives on the issues raised.

These conversations “provided rich and revealing insights into a turbulent and changing HE landscape”, to quote the authors, and the report itself draws these together to present significant observations regarding contemporary HE leadership in terms of context, values, purpose and effective leadership qualities. Based on the study and the findings, the report also proposes a number of recommendations that have closely informed the development of the Advance HE Global Leadership Survey for Higher Education.

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Professor Richard Watermeyer
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

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Outputs from the scoping study

The specific outputs from the scoping study led by the research team were as follows:

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Dissemination and engagement events

At the next stage in the scoping study underpinning development of the Advance HE Leadership Survey, we hosted a series of dissemination and engagement events in February 2022. Participants were able to:

  • Learn more about the Advance HE Leadership Survey and Framework initiative, and its significance for supporting leaders and leadership at all levels in the disrupted and rapidly evolving landscape of higher education
  • Be part of this crucial sector-wide conversation about 'what works for leadership in higher education?'
  • Gain a first-hand insight into the fascinating initial findings from the scoping study
  • Contribute directly to the study by responding to the findings through live polls and other activities
  • Reflect on their own leadership and context through the lens of the findings so far
  • Hear cross-sector accounts from some of the roundtable participants about their experience

These events brought together the widest possible community of colleagues to hear first-hand some of the initial findings from the research and, importantly, respond to them.

All colleagues from higher education institutions worldwide and related organisations were welcomed to attend and participate.

Ahead of the events, Doug Parkin, previously Advance HE Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management and project lead, discussed the project and the richness of the findings with Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of Bristol leadership and Change Centre at the University West of England, UWE Bristol, and Richard Watermeyer, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Bristol and co-director of the Center for Higher Education Transformations. 

You can watch one of the engagement events here:

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Research team

Professor Richard Watermeyer

Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Higher Education Transformations (CHET), University of Bristol

Richard Watermeyer is Professor of Higher Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Higher Education Transformations (CHET) in the School of Education at the University of Bristol. He is by training and orientation, a sociologist of higher education with expertise related to academic praxis; institutional and research governance; scientific accountability and engagement; and higher education policy reform. He has held previous academic appointments at the universities of Bath, Warwick, Surrey and Cardiff; in addition to having been seconded into government and experience of establishing and directing a university spin-out. His recent research has focused on the organisational and health and wellbeing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on university communities; he is also leading research within an international programme exploring the future of education and work in the context of global digitalisation. His recent books include: Competitive Accountability in Academic Life and The Impact Agenda.

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Professor Richard Watermeyer

Professor Richard Bolden

Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre, University of the West of England

Richard Bolden is Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of Bristol Leadership and Change Centre at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England (UWE). His research explores the interface between individual and collective approaches to leadership and leadership development in sectors including higher education, health and social care and public services.

He has led projects funded by the NHS Leadership Academy and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (now Advance HE), amongst others, and has published widely on topics including distributed, shared and systems leadership; leadership paradoxes and complexity; cross-cultural leadership; and leadership and change. At UWE he leads modules on leadership, complexity and change for the EMBA and Advanced Clinical Practitioner degree apprenticeship programme and contributes to a range of other undergraduate, postgraduate and post-experience programmes.

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Professor Richard Bolden

Professor Bruce Macfarlane

Dean, University of Hong Kong

Bruce Macfarlane is Dean designate of the Faculty of Education and Human Development and Professor of Educational Leadership and Equity at the Education University of Hong Kong. He has previously held chairs at universities in the UK and Hong Kong, is a former Head of the School of Education at the University of Bristol, UK and is currently guest professor at the University of Boras in Sweden. He has also held visiting professorial positions in Japan, South Africa and Australia.

Through his research and scholarship, Bruce has developed conceptual frameworks for interpreting academic practice, ethics and leadership. His major works include Teaching with Integrity (2004), The Academic Citizen (2007), Researching with Integrity (2009), Intellectual Leadership in Higher Education (2012) and Freedom to Learn (2016). He is currently writing a new book for Routledge about the freedom to teach in higher education.

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Professor Bruce Macfarlane

Dr Cathryn Knight

Lecturer, Swansea University

Cathryn Knight is a Lecturer in Education based in the School of Education at Swansea University, having previous completed her ESRC-funded PhD at Cardiff University. Knight has extensive expertise in qualitative and quantitative research design and analysis and is currently involved in a range of national (e.g. Welsh Government) and international (e.g. ERASMUS+) funded research projects.

She has advanced quantitative research experience developed through being awarded the Advanced Quantitative Methods Stipend from the ESRC. Her interest lies in the area of Additional Learning Needs (ALN) and inclusive education, with a particular interest in dyslexia. Further areas of interest include teacher education, the Welsh education system and the use of secondary/administrative data in educational research.

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Dr Cathryn Knight