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Unique partnership approach to Aurora by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University

10 Apr 2024 | Advance HE The two HE institutions in Northern Ireland have formed a unique partnership approach by creating their own network for members of staff who have completed Aurora to provide ongoing support, with opportunities to connect online and meet in person.

More than 200 women from two universities in Northern Ireland have benefited from a unique partnership approach providing support after completing Aurora, Advance HE’s leadership development initiative for women in higher education.  

In the 10 years since the inception of Aurora, 104 women across Academic and Professional Services at Ulster University (UU) have been sponsored to undertake the programme, with a further eight colleagues participating this year. At Queen’s University Belfast, 113 women, including the current cohort, have participated in Aurora since 2014. 

The two institutions formed a unique partnership approach by creating their own network for members of staff who have completed Aurora to provide ongoing support, with opportunities to connect online and meet in person. 


“At Queen’s we were very keen to provide ongoing support for women after they complete the Aurora programme,” says Paula Teggart, Queen’s University’s Talent Manager. 

“Recognising the power of sharing experience and gaining different perspectives and insights through maintaining strong connections and networks, at Queen’s we offer our Aurora Alumnae community the opportunity to participate in internal Action Learning Groups after the programme. These have been running for the past few years with approximately 25 women participating each year. 

“With our internal alumnae network up and running, a collaboration with UU seemed like the next natural step. And so, in 2021 I approached my colleagues in UU with the suggestion that we could facilitate Aurora communities from both institutions to connect - increasing opportunities to learn with, and through each other, and extending their network of supportive peers.  

“A wonderful collaboration was born and to date we have had two online joint networking events and two in-person events with very positive feedback.” 

At Ulster University, the programme remains central to structured and supported people development as part of the University’s strategy, and is a proactive step in its commitment to the Athena Swan Charter

Aoife Campbell, People Development Partner and Aurora champion at Ulster University (UU) explains, 

“Aurora is designed to encourage women in HE to see themselves as future leaders, to enrich their roles and nurture leadership aspiration. The programme was face-to- face prior to the pandemic and whilst we retained activities during that time through online delivery, one of the benefits of Aurora is networks and the confidence and opportunity that comes from those professional connections with others on a similar career pathway.   

“Aurora remains online with the benefit of being accessible and adaptable, and here at UU we schedule regular online ‘Reflect & Review’ sessions for our current cohort – collective moments throughout the year to share learning and reflect on the journey so far.  

“Alongside this, and seeking to create a further opportunity for current and former participants to meet in person and create those valuable connections, we gathered views from our Aurorans on what would interest them. Continuing our collaboration in networking with Queen’s was one key theme.” 

Unique partnership 

In a fourth collaboration, and the second since the pandemic, Ulster once again joined together with colleagues at Queen’s on a partnership approach that’s unique in the sector. Building on previous shared opportunities to hear inspiring insights from colleagues, in December 2023 alumnae and current programme participants from both universities enjoyed a focus on personal branding.  

Personal branding captures how we present ourselves to the outside world. As we so often see played out on social media and in popular culture, it can be frustrating for women who may be judged more harshly than male counterparts.

“Entertaining, thought-provoking and informative, the workshop encouraged us to present ourselves in ways that reflect our personality, with tips on how to be true to who we are. Many of us could relate to the ways in which this can influence how we feel within ourselves and engage with others in our professional lives.”

Aurora participant Rosina Doherty-Allan, Campus Library Manager at Ulster University’s Derry~Londonderry campus

Aurorans from Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University at the women's leadership networking and support event in December 2023, hosted by QUB
Aurorans from Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University at the women's leadership networking and support event in December 2023, hosted by Queen's.

Aurora in Ireland 

Most recently, the Aurora network from both Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast was joined by participants from the Republic of Ireland for Advance HE’s annual networking event in March.    

The event provided opportunities to expand upon conversations between UU and Queen's and explore those further with colleagues from right across the island of Ireland. Popular themes included the nature of leadership as a reflective process, the value of supportive professional relationships, whether impact is determined by status and authority and the power of proactivity in building a rewarding career. 

Institutional impact 

More than 10,000 women have already completed Aurora in more than 200 higher education institutions across the UK and Ireland. 

Over 100 colleagues have taken part in Aurora at Ulster University throughout the past decade and the impact is felt far beyond these individuals and their teams. Whilst numbers are necessarily limited each year, Aurorans at Ulster University are also having a positive influence in encouraging colleagues – male and female - to take part in the University’s Engage Series for people managers and extending the impact of leadership. With more than 100 participating in Engage and a further 59 involved in the University’s BRAVE leadership programme, Aurora takes its place in a wider framework for leadership capability, confidence, connections and institutional contribution. 

Aurora came at a stage in my career when I was looking out for personal development opportunities. Having been course director and the school’s Athena Swan champion, Aurora offered me the scope both to stretch myself as a leader and complemented my interest in gender equality. 

“The time spent reflecting on our learning is as valuable as the programme sessions themselves and the opportunity to work with a mentor has been encouraging but also very practical for me as I worked through some challenges. Since my own subject area incorporates leadership, meeting colleagues from across UU and beyond broadens my perspective of leadership far beyond my own discipline.

“I’d say the most rewarding element of the programme for me is the better understanding I have of myself and my leadership style – the leader I am now and the leader I aspire to be. I hope that this self-awareness and learning can only enhance my future encouragement of others, within the Aurora network and more widely.”

Tandy Haughey, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sport, Ulster University

Athena Swan Gold award

Queen’s University Belfast recently became the first university on the island of Ireland and only the second in the UK to achieve an Athena Swan institutional Gold Award for its work improving gender equality. The University’s participation in the Aurora programme contributes to this through close collaboration with Queen’s Gender Initiative’s Mentoring programme, ensuring that each Aurora participant is allocated a mentor as part of the programme to meet their specific needs. 

Stephanie McCorvie, Digital Learning Environment Team Lead at Queen’s University Belfast, says, 
"Participating in the Aurora programme last year proved to be a transformative personal experience, empowering me to lead and navigate challenges with newfound insight and confidence.  

“My primary motivation for participating was to cultivate confidence by venturing beyond my comfort zone; I was eager to broaden my perspectives and learn from others with diverse backgrounds. It was incredible how open and honest colleagues were in sharing their personal experiences. Additionally, being paired with a well-suited mentor proved to be a massive benefit of the programme.  

“Aurora is delivered in a manner that offers takeaways for everyone, and I firmly believe that you will get out what you put in. Being provided with a safe space to share and gain real-life tools and techniques that can be applied in practice has been immensely helpful, and the dedicated reflection time was invaluable for me.  

“I fully embraced the mantra of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and have since seized a number of opportunities that I would not have considered before participating in the programme, such as representing Queen’s at a global conference in the US!" 

Aurora Alumnae workshops

May and June 2024, hybrid

We're delighted to extend an exclusive opportunity on Aurora Alumnae workshops. For a limited time, when you reserve your place at one of our Aurora Alumnae workshops, you'll unlock complimentary access to an additional workshop of your choice. Find out more.

Aurora Alumnae Network

The Aurora Alumnae community is specifically tailored for women who have completed the Aurora programme and serves as a platform for ongoing growth and collaboration. Join here.


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