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How does Aurora work?

Aurora is a leadership ignition journey, inspiring women to aspire and achieve leadership positions within higher education.

Aurora is higher education's most renowned leadership development initiative for women. Run as a collaboration between Advance HE in conjunction with higher education institutions and advocates - known as Aurora Champions - it addresses the under-representation of women in leadership positions.  Aurora is a leadership ignition journey, inspiring women to aspire and achieve leadership positions within higher education. 

Launched in 2013, Aurora has grown year on year and is now a community of over 8,300 Aurorans. Led by a team of leadership experts and in conjunction with a mentoring process, participants will explore four key areas associated with leadership success: Identity, Impact & Voice; Core Leadership; Politics & Influence and Adaptive Leadership Skills.

Each of the four delivery days are held online, with delegates usually being drawn from a wide range of institutions in the same region. These days combine the best of conferences (prominent keynote speakers, open space technologies, outstanding networking opportunities, energy and dynamism) with the best of development workshops (interactivity, small group work, individual reflection, and sharing of experiences). The development days are intended to be introductory events which will provide inspirational stories, guidance for growth of skills and knowledge, opportunities to share solutions to common problems and signposting for further learning. 

Development Days and Action Learning Sets

Welcome and Introduction

The introduction session is an integral part of the programme. It will give participants an opportunity to meet their fellow Aurorans and start forming crucial relationships for their development. We will invite you to share your individual objectives for taking part in Aurora and will discuss how the Aurora journey will be unfolding throughout the year. We will be joined by an inspirational speaker to open the programme and share their experience of being a woman leader. The introduction session will also equip delegates with some practical information about the online delivery platforms used during Aurora. The session will be led by Barbara Bassa.

Identity, Impact and Voice

Identity, Impact and Voice will launch you into your leadership journey by focusing on what ‘makes you, you’ and the people who have inspired you. We will also discuss how your identity impacts your leadership in positive ways. Lastly, we will be thinking about what it means to be on the receiving end of you, how you show up and how you might flex your communication style to have a greater impact on all those around you. This day will be led by Amanda Wilsher.

Core Leadership

Core Leadership is all about you – who you are, what matters to you, and how to mobilise the tools in your REAL leadership toolbox. Working together, supporting each other, we explore purpose and values and what these mean for leaders. Articulating the what and the why of your leadership brings clarity about you and what you represent. Sharing our stories and experiences, we explore leadership in HE, further developing your network. This day will be led by Suzanne O'Brien.

Action Learning Set 1

Hosted by Advance HE, delegates will be introduced to the peer-to-peer support process of Action Learning Sets (ALS). This is a widely used and reliable model for helping people form supportive groups, develop their listening and communication skills and solve their own issues within their career. Following an introduction to the process of ALS, delegates will be allocated to groups of 4-5 delegates from a mixture of institutions and areas of higher education, where they will spend the duration of the session developing those skills through an experiential learning process. This session will be led by Barbara Bassa.

Politics and Influence

This development day invites participants to look at their individual leadership against the backdrop of their institutions’ cultures and politics. Individuals are invited to examine their levels of emotional intelligence and personal influence, emerging with an enhanced ability to amplify the profile they want to nurture. Participants will be encouraged to think about building coalitions, developing networks and making lasting, mutually supportive connections. This day will be led by Vijaya Nath.

Adaptive Leadership Skills

Leadership is really tested when the environment is challenging or when there are no easy solutions. A leader’s ability to be heard and their courage to speak up are essential in this context. This day will look at how the tools of adaptive leadership could enhance your performance and success, as well as enable you to reflect on the leader that you want to be in the future. This day will be led by Jenny Garrett OBE.

Action Learning Set 2

For this final session, delegates reconvene and host their own Action Learning Set group and continue to support each other using the ALS process, further developing their communication and listening skills.


Mentoring is an essential element of Aurora with delegates working with a mentor and meeting approximately 4-6 times over the duration of the programme. Delegates should discuss their mentoring arrangements with their Aurora Champion or sponsor before starting the programme.
Aurora mentor

Online Enhancements

To allow Aurorans to network with and across cohorts we have curated a range of one-hour online optional informal networking events hosted fortnightly by the Aurora Support Team to supplement participants' learning journey.

Coffee and Connect

An informal one-hour session, designed to replicate that water cooler moment, by assigning delegates to breakout rooms to enable them to establish connections organically.

Watch Parties

A slightly more structured one-hour event, where delegates collectively watch a TEDTalk from the recommended resources. Delegates are then allocated to small groups in breakout rooms to discuss the themes and share their insights within their groups. This concludes with 10 minutes in the main virtual space where delegates can share their thoughts with the wider group.

Special Sessions

Throughout the year will be arranging a variety of special sessions, responding to the needs of delegates by designing events that may include inspirational guest speakers, panel discussions and additional networking activities.

How to book onto Aurora

Prospective delegates should first contact their Aurora Champion or other Learning and Development Sponsor at their institution. Aurora is a collaboration between the institution and Advance HE, and programme places are often managed by an institution's internal recruitment process. Please visit the Aurora Champion Directory for more information.

Aurora Champions or those looking to become Aurora Champions should contact our support team at to make enquiries. Details of how to book onto Aurora will be shared directly with Aurora Champions via their email newsletter.
View Aurora Champion Directory

Aurora Delivery Team

Barbara Bassa

Barbara Bassa

Welcome and Introduction
More about Barbara
Amanda Wilsher

Amanda Wilsher

Identity, Impact and Voice
More about Amanda
Phyllida Hancock

Phyllida Hancock

Identity, Impact and Voice
More about Phyllida
Vijaya Nath

Vijaya Nath

Politics and Influence
More about Vijaya
Jenny Garret

Jenny Garrett OBE

Adaptive Leadership Skills
More about Jenny

Past Aurora speakers