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Aurora FAQs

Frequently asked questions about Aurora in general, the content of Aurora, Aurora participants, Aurora institutions and Aurora locations.

Aurora Programme Content

Is Aurora online only?

No. The first 7 of the development days are virtual and hosted online via Zoom. The final development day is the ‘Your Future in HE’ in-person event which is hosted in the cohort’s local city.

The day will begin with a panel of expert speakers discussing ‘The Future of HE’ before answering your questions. Delegates will then explore the topic further in smaller groups, sharing experiences and aspirations, examining the challenges women face as leaders and identifying the practical steps that can be taken to achieve their goals.

What are the timings of the online development days?

Introduction day – 10:00 – 12:30. 

Online development days – 10:00 – 15:00.s 

Your Future in HE (face-to-face day) - 09:30 – 16:00.: 

Networking sessions – either morning or afternoon sessions, for 1.5 hours.

How much time will the self-directed learning take up?This really depends on the interest and the time available to the participants. We hope that all Aurora participants will undertake some self-directed learning by following the strand they are most interested in, but we expect some will do a lot more. The self-directed learning will include articles and links to websites, activities and challenges. Some of the learning may be undertaken at work, and other elements undertaken in the home. Participants will receive pre-work assignments for most development days, which will require 1-2 hours of their time. This pre-work will be given two weeks prior to the session. It is expected that participants complete the pre-work in addition to allocation time for reflection at the end of each development day.  

What form will the self-directed learning take?

Self-directed learning materials takes account of a range of learning styles and provide background reading and theoretical models, practical exercises and challenges to undertake in-house activities and projects. These in-house activities may be projects identified or organised by the mentor or Aurora Champion. Such projects will not be tightly defined as it will depend on institutional needs and available opportunities combined with the individual skills and interests of the participants. However, the aim is for institutions to recognise that the participants have been part of a major programme, have acquired new skills and confidence and to provide them with an opportunity to develop further. One example might be to establish and run a network for women at their own institution (if such a network does not yet exist).

Is there any formal assessment?

No, there is no formal assessment and attendance is not recorded. We trust that participants will take an active role in the programme, with the support of their Aurora Champion.

How will the action learning set days be managed?

Guidance will be provided about what a good Action Learning Set (ALS) process looks like.

Action learning set groups are allocated during action learning set 1 and will consist of around five people from different institutions. Delegates will stay in the same group for action learning set 2.

Action learning set 1 takes place online and delegates will be provided with a briefing from a facilitator as well as an opportunity to ask questions about the process. Once delegates have undertaken their first action learning set and understand the process, action learning set 2 is organised and facilitated independently within delegates’ groups.

What if I can't attend my action learning set date?

A key part of Aurora is the action learning set. This is an opportunity for you to practice skills and build a strong peer network to discuss challenges that both you, and your set, currently face.

If you cannot attend action learning set 1, please speak with your champion to arrange a transfer to action learning set 1 and 2 in a different cohort. Please note that both action learning sets must be undertaken with the same cohort, as the group you are allocated to on action learning set 1 will be the group you work with on action learning set 2.

As action learning set 2 is self-facilitated, if you are not able to attend you can arrange with your group to hold it on a different day.

What if I can’t attend my Your Future in HE date?  

The Your Future in HE events are the only part of the programme that are non-transferrable, due to holding venue capacities. This means that it is imperative that participants commit themselves to their cohort’s date, prior to booking. 

What is the role of the mentor?

The mentor is the in-house support for the Aurora participants outside of the development days and the person who will help her make sense of her own institution’s culture and internal politics and power structures. The mentor should be a more senior person who remembers the challenges of career progression, has excellent listening skills and can ask good, open questions to help the individual develop their own problem solving skills. Mentors could be male or female - but the mentor and the participant must get on well and the mentor should be able to make time available to work with their mentee. Participants will have access to a mentoring handbook within their Aurora resources, along with the support from their Champion to aid this process.

Aurora Participants

Who can apply?

Aurora is a leadership programme for women. Past Aurorans have ranged from entry level to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent in a university or higher education institution. It has been created for those interested in exploring leadership and management as one option for progression.

Applicants will be enthusiastic about their own development, able to attend all parts of the programme, willing to engage in some self-directed learning and with a strong desire to engage productively with their mentor.

We encourage women who may have no experience in management and leadership development to participate. 

What is the selection process for Aurora?

HEIs may use any process they favour to attract participants for Aurora. We would recommend an open and transparent process which will invite and encourage women from across the organisation to put themselves forward as applicants.

Aurora Champions will select participants who meet the criteria for attendance and for whom they can match a mentor. Aurora is a leadership programme for women. It is designed to be a positive action measure under the Equality Act 2010, on the basis of the protected characteristic of sex. We take an inclusive approach, and encourage institutions to have conversations with interested individuals about their circumstances.

Is Aurora for academic staff only?

No. Aurora is for both academic and professional service staff. The lack of women at senior positions is an issue across both academic and professional services areas. Up to senior lecturer (and its professional service equivalent) men and women have about 50:50 representation, it is beyond this level that the disparity in the gender balance makes itself felt. In actuality we are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles, who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation), or they may have had little interest in management and leadership development or they may have attended some without it seemingly impacting on their choices. Because of the personal ‘tailoring’ of the programme a wide ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants.

Is Aurora only for women already in leadership roles?

No, in fact it is specifically designed to help early career women think about their future careers and to consider leadership and management as routes to progression. We won’t automatically rule out any woman who is currently in a leadership role, but those that are, might find one of our other programmes (such as Senior Women's Leadership Development Programme, Enhancing Programme Leadership, Diversifying Leadership, Research Team Leadership, Leading Departments, Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership or the Top Management Programme) more suitable than Aurora. We are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles or those who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation). We are also interested in attracting women who may have had little interest in management and leadership development or who have attended some leadership development without it having an impact on their career choices. Because of the personal tailoring of the programme a wide-ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants. If unsure if Aurora is the best choice of leadership development activity for the applicant, please contact one of the Aurora team for advice.

Aurora Cohorts

Are participants limited to attending in their own region only?

No. Aurora has been designed to be as flexible as possible, so participants can choose whatever cohort works best for them and can transfer one of the facilitated days if required. The only exceptions are the Action Learning Set 1 & 2 sessions and the Your Future in HE event, which must be undertaken within the same cohort for logistical purposes.

Do participants have to attend all the days in the same cohort?

No. Aurora consists of eight interlinked days – an introduction, four development days, two action learning set days and one in-person event. Each participant attending Aurora is required to book to attend one of each of the four development days - Identity, Impact and Voice; Core Leadership Skills; Politics & Influence;  and Adaptive Leadership Skills – in the same location that best suits them. Participants can transfer to an alternative region for one of their booked dates free of charge.

Participants must attend the in-person event with their original cohort due to venue capacity, so transfers cannot be made for Your Future in HE.

Aurora Institutions and Champions

What is an Aurora Champion? 

The Aurora Champion is the person within your institution responsible for booking you onto the programme. They are a significant point of contact throughout your Aurora experience, who can help with transfer requests and finding a mentor. You can find out who the Champion is for your institution here. 

I don’t have a Champion, can I still book? 

Ideally, you would have an Aurora Champion to support you on the programme and advocate for systemic change within your organisation. However, we recommend notifying your HR/Learning and Development Team if you do not have an official Aurora Champion and they will be able to book you onto the programme. Part of Aurora involves having a mentor, and those teams often support this element. If they cannot help you locate a mentor, we provide a Mentoring Handbook once enrolled, which will give you further support and materials. 

If our institution has not yet participated in Aurora, can we join in a later year?

Yes. However, all the participants will benefit from the diversity of cohort so the more institutions that are involved the greater the opportunities for networking, sharing good practice, problem solving, identifying and overcoming barriers and for making real change happen across the sector. We consider each institution to be a partner in the Aurora process and as such will help shape the programme as it develops. 

My institution hasn't committed to taking part, but I have funds, can I send a participant?

Yes. Many institutions have both central and devolved staff development budgets and where the central budget is committed for this year institutions are leaving the decision to participate in Aurora to the devolved budget holders. If you wish to support women from departmental or faculty budgets and can provide appropriate mentors then you may send in the applications. Where a number of independent applications are received from the same institution from different budget holders, we may suggest the applicant sponsors liaise to identify an Aurora champion from within their number.

What institutional sign-off is needed in order to take part?

Each institution which has committed to Aurora will nominate an ‘Aurora Champion’ who will manage all participants’ bookings. It is recognised that some institutions may wish to spread this role over two people – one as the key figurehead for Aurora and one as the liaison point for the administrative details; this is perfectly acceptable. Any individuals who contact Advance HE independently from these institutions will be referred to the ‘Aurora Champion’ for their institution to seek agreement to attend. Applicants from institutions which have chosen not to make an institutional commitment will still be considered if the applicant is able to get senior management or HR/OD/LD sign off, can identify an appropriate mentor from within their own institution, and can fund the fee from department or faculty funds.

What is the closing deadline for applications?

We recommend submitting bookings no later than 6 weeks before the cohort begins to secure the places. Places are booked on a first come first served basis. 

What is the maximum number of participants that institutions can send in one year?

Aurora will have 7 cohorts across the UK and Republic of Ireland for 2023/24 providing many opportunities to attend. Most institutions will want to send their participants to the nearest regional location, but this is not compulsory. We can accept up to 50 participants per institution. However, we can accommodate any number of participants if they are split across multiple cohorts.

Who can I talk to about the specific needs of my institution?

If you are thinking about sending participants on Aurora and would like any advice, please contact the Aurora team at

Additional Information About Aurora

Why is it called Aurora?

When Aurora was launched providing the first development activity specifically for women only, we wanted to distinguish it from our other leadership development, not least because the nature of Aurora is completely different from our usual programmes in that it blends education, self-directed study, mentoring, role-models and takes a partnership approach with institutions. Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn who in myth reinvents herself each morning. The concept of the dawn or fresh start combined with the symbolism of a woman who is flexible and responsive to change seemed an appropriate metaphor for what we are trying to achieve with this programme.

Why women-only when most higher education working environments are 50:50 male and female?

Women and men are fairly evenly represented in higher education until one looks at senior positions where the proportion of women is significantly smaller. Aurora has been designed to help halt this ‘leaky pipeline’ by encouraging women to think about leadership as a route to career progression much earlier in their careers. The research suggests that most women prefer to discuss challenges and barriers that they face in a women only environment rather than a mixed group.

I'm a man and committed to supporting the career progression of women; how can I get involved?

There are three opportunities for men to be involved in Aurora:

•    Institutions have been asked to nominate a champion (male or female) who will be the face of Aurora in their institution and the main liaison with Advance HE. They will identify participants and mentors for each participant, along with encouraging people to enlist as role models.

•    Aurora Mentors may be male or female. The mentor should be more senior than the mentee and have an understanding of internal politics and organisational culture. They need to get on well with the mentee, have sufficient time available to work with the mentee, have strong listening skills and be able to ask good, open questions to help the participants develop their problem solving skills and develop further.

•    Join in the online discussions by using the hashtag #iamaurora on Twitter or on the Connect AHE platform.

Can Aurora be delivered in-house?

No. The Aurora numbers are too large with each cohort between 150-250 women at a time. An important part of its value is the opportunity to network outside of one’s own institution. Institutions are partners in the Aurora process however and we anticipate that they will want to set up their own Aurora networks and action learning sets as well as provide mentors and role models. As the critical mass of Aurora participants grows within an institution, we expect that Aurora alumni will mentor and support other women undertaking Aurora.