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‘Twenty feet from stardom’

09 Sep 2021 | Tracy Bell-Reeves Tracy Bell-Reeves, Advance HE’s Director Programmes & Events, discusses support for new VCs as they transition into role and introduces our new Vice Chancellor Transition Programme

The role of Vice Chancellor has always been very challenging, but many would agree that the past 18 months have probably proved to be the most testing time of all for our university leaders.

For newly-appointed VCs the transition period from their current position into their new role – which rarely lasts less than six months – can be particularly tough. Not so long ago, a new VC would probably take up to a year getting a thorough understand their institution before making their mark. But the luxury of those days is gone. There is now an expectation an incoming leader will ‘hit the ground running’. This is what Professor Sir Steve Smith, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter and UK Government International Education Champion, said about his experience:

“When I became a VC there was no programme to help me prepare for the demands of the role. Whilst there are now programmes to help with the technical aspects of the role, a massive gap remains, and that is the focus of this programme Vice Chancellor Transition Programme: preparing incoming VCs for the change of role that becoming a VC represents.

"Just as in the film ‘Twenty Feet from Stardom’, the step up from DVC or Provost to VC is more than just an incremental step in a career – it is a move that requires different skills and dealing with a very different set of pressures."

We believe there is a compelling need to provide additional support for newly-appointed VCs. Our new Vice Chancellor Transition Programme aims to offer just that, helping university leaders become more effective, develop new skills and confidence, and enable them to lead their institutions well from the outset.

The unique programme complements support for new VCs from Universities UK; it combines self-directed learning alongside expert support, coaching and mentoring, all offered via a flexible hybrid model of delivery. The working life of a VC, especially in a new post, can be lonely; participants may therefore welcome the chance to join a supportive network with other new VCs.

The programme is open to VCs globally, with the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with international peers bringing fresh insights, better understanding of HE systems and leadership issues in other countries, and where international partnerships strategies can emerge.

Perhaps most of all, the programme presents an opportunity for development and engagement among a new cohort of VCs to reflect the contemporary values of HE, with a leadership style that promotes and sustains inclusion and collaboration, while still providing clear direction. Organisational culture has shifted in a way that requires inclusion on every front, from students to executive teams. Crucially, the relationship between senior leaders and their board of governors has been re-shaped by the pandemic, so ensuring good governance is now a top priority for any new VC.

In the most testing times, those in the highest positions who carry the greatest burden of responsibility need more support than ever, especially if they are new to the role. Our programme is a significant step towards meeting that need.

If you wish to discuss this opportunity, please email me direct:, or you can find out more the programme and register your interest here.


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