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Leadership survey and framework

Advance HE undertakes a sector consultation to develop a leadership survey and framework.

Working with the sector, Advance HE has developed a global survey for leadership in higher education, research institutes and related organisations.

The extraordinary events brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought into sharp focus the question ‘what works for leadership in higher education?’

Increasing our understanding of this will allow the sector to more effectively invest in leaders, support leadership development, and recognise good practice in a consistent and reliable way. It will also support organisations to plan more effective leadership structures, and to grow talent for the future.

The time seems ripe, therefore, to move towards a stronger, more structured, evidence-informed and useful set of insights about leading and leadership in HE based on systematically exploring this ‘what works?’ question. This is the primary drive behind the survey.

The project will generate a unique evidence base for leadership in higher education, highlight contextual variations across the sector and around the world and explore the impact of leadership development. It will also inform the development of a sector-led leadership framework for enhancement and recognition.

As the first step, Advance HE has commissioned a scoping study that will be undertaken by a research team led by the University of Bristol and involving colleagues from the University of the West of England and Swansea University. This research study consisting of a literature review, a series of eleven roundtable discussions and dissemination events will inform the survey design.

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Alison Johns

It is no exaggeration to say that the future success of higher education in every country around the world will depend on leadership. This has been powerfully illustrated by the role of leadership in the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must learn from this and also it is very timely, when reflecting on that learning to define the leadership needed for the HE of the future.

The vision for this project, which is a key part of Advance HE’s overall strategy, is to develop a framework for leadership in higher education and related organisations. To shape and inform this we are also going to launch a large-scale annual leadership survey. This whole process should be one of the largest collective conversations about leadership in higher education ever undertaken, an opportunity which we all can embrace, hence our invitation to you to be part of this work.

Alison Johns
Chief Executive,
Advance HE

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Objectives of the project

The broad objectives of the Advance HE Leadership Survey are to:

  • Start to generate a unique evidence base for leadership in HE
  • Reveal how staff in HE conceive of leadership
  • Help to articulate the values, behaviours and constructs that contribute to effective leadership (including through different roles and levels) 
  • Highlight contextual variations across the sector and around the world
  • Contrast the views of those leading and those being led
  • Explore the impact of leadership development
  • Promote the importance of the reflective leadership practitioner
  • Generate clear, reliable, and objective data that can inform the development and operation of a leadership framework
  • Assist organisations in designing, developing, and nurturing their leadership capacity.
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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Leadership in global higher education - findings from a 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 global 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.

Read the report

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

Read the report

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.

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.

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, 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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The Advance HE Global Leadership Survey for Higher Education – NOW CLOSED

The responses will be analysed and published as an open-access report for the benefit of the sector.

The outputs of the survey will inform our collective understanding about leadership in the HE sector and will be used to provide clarity to invest in leaders, support leadership development, recognise effective practice (over time), plan leadership structures and capacity, and grow the talent needed for tomorrow. They will also be available to support leadership research and organisational development. 

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Watch- Why a Global Leadership Survey for Higher Education is so important?

In this video, project lead Doug Parkin and the authors of the Global Leadership Survey scoping study, Professor Richard Bolden from the University of the West of England and Professor Richard Watermeyer from the University of Bristol, discuss the importance of the survey, what they expect to learn from the responses and any surprises that may be thrown up as people reflect on leadership in the context of extraordinary circumstances in higher education post-pandemic. 

They hope that this inaugural survey can be used as a ‘baseline’ for future surveys and provide a large and rich source of data for future learning. They reflect that the state of higher education leadership has never been investigated in such depth before and explain how this is a huge opportunity for leaders, and those being led, to have their say on leadership experiences across the world.

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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 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 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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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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Doug Parkin roundel

The project lead within Advance HE is Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management.  

In a similar way to learning and teaching, the complexity of leadership in higher education cannot be captured as a fixed set of raw competencies. There is much to do with the culture of the organisation, the context of the team, the character of the individual and the challenge of the task, to list just four significant variables, that influence how leadership may operate. Again, in a similar way to teaching, there are also contrasting views on how leadership is defined and interpreted as a practice. Linked to this, universities, colleges, and research institutes as social institutions generate constructs that shape expectations as regards both leaders and leadership. This all points towards a framework that is illustrative rather than definitive, interpretable to context, and developmental.

Doug Parkin
Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management,
Advance HE

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