A new report on leadership in small-scale, new and evolving higher education institutions (HEIs) in England has identified the key challenges faced by senior leaders and developed a set of desirable attributes needed to succeed at a senior level.
Leading small, new and evolving higher education institutions in turbulent times is a study supported by the Advance HE Small Development Project scheme.
Five main themes around leadership challenges have emerged through analysis of interviews with vice-chancellors taking part in the study:
- Planning to be sustainably small
Scale was a key issue for all the institutions and a general theme of planning to remain small emerged.
- Distinctive mission and cultural clarity
In an increasingly competitive sector, protection of the distinctive nature of these small institutions is considered critical.
- Overloaded roles, active leadership and flexibility
A dynamic approach to executive team structure and role allocation was a common theme, further emphasising an embedded culture of change.
- Criticality of high-performing middle leaders and managers
The shallow organisational structures and tight top teams of executives with overloaded roles means there is a need for high-performing middle leaders and managers.
- Vulnerability, uncertainty and resilience
The interviews revealed a sense of vulnerability and anxiety felt by some of the leaders of these institutions.
Several desirable attributes for effective senior leaders at these small HEIs were also developed from the study. To succeed at senior level, executives need people leadership, flexibility, creative change leadership, culture and communication, and character.
Report author, Professor Craig Gaskell, Principal and CEO of University Academy 92 and Professor of Higher Education Enterprise at Lancaster University, said,
“There are a number of small-scale HEIs in England, some of which are well-established, and some which are relatively young and have to develop and evolve fast. Leadership during sector-wide instability provides particular challenges. This study gives some insight into those challenges, enabling valuable experiential learning from the most senior leaders in these small and rapidly developing institutions.
“The report revealed that several senior executives in these HEIs feel vulnerable in the current policy context. A number of established forums and information sources exist to provide support for senior leaders and leadership development within these institutions such as Advance HE, which offers a plethora of networks, programmes and resources.”
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