Could UK Academy be doing more to ensure more BME academics progress to senior levels?

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Why do BME academics remain under-represented at senior levels in HE? That’s one of the questions recently posed by the Time Higher Education (5-11 November 2015). “Despite an increasing number of black and ethnicity staff working in universities, there is a ‘marked lack of diversity at senior levels; lower than average salaries for black academics,” reports John Gill having reviewed the latest datasets from the Equality Challenge Unit. Indeed, Equality Data in Higher Education, published by ECU earlier this month, makes for uncomfortable reading.

It highlights that there are only 20 UK born black and ethnic minority Deputy or Pro Vice-Chancellors, compared with 530 white ones. So what is stopping BME staff from progressing into senior roles – and where should the focus be placed?

In June 2015, the Leadership Foundation, working with the Equality Challenge Unit, held a BME Leadership in HE Summit to explore the findings of a report we’d commissioned, The experience of BME academics in higher education: aspirations in the face of inequality. In it the author, Dr Kalwant Bhopal, Reader in Education, University of Southampton, said ‘there have been some significant advances in achieving race equality in higher education in the UK since the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, but despite such advances, there is still evidence to suggest that inequalities for staff in higher education persist.’

Bhopal’s paper also set out six practical policy recommendations that senior leaders should consider. They included:

  • Greater thought needs to be given to the possibility of unconscious bias during recruitment and promotion processes
  • Institutions should examine the types of support they offer to colleagues who are considering promotion to senior managerial and academic roles
  • Clear and concise monitoring is needed in selection and recruitment processes

Organisational culture, unconscious and conscious bias, recruitment processes were amongst the list of reasons cited by summit delegates as barriers to progression – all of which resonated with our stimulus paper findings.

It is clear that many shifts need to happen – but there are signs that steps are being taken.  The RACE Equality Charter Mark, which has completed its pilot, aims to get universities to review their promotion processes, consider what they are doing to do to encourage people to apply and how individuals are supported through the process.

However, could more be done to encourage and prepare BME academics to apply for senior roles? This is where the Leadership Foundation’s new Diversifying Academic Leadership Programme seeks to make a contribution.

Designed by Janette Morgan, Associate, Leadership Foundation and Sisonke Partnership, the programme aims to help BME staff accomplish their leadership ambitions and progress their career. Diversifying Academic Leadership, which starts in January 2016, will enable participants to explore leadership concepts, develop their leadership style and provide a space to discuss issues relating to their experience of working in universities.

For more information about the programme visit

Download a copy of the Leadership Foundation Stimulus paper

How can universities enhance the strategic development of the academic portfolio?

woman conducting orchestra 

With the publication of a new report (Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes) on how universities manage the strategic development of the academic portfolio, Paul Coyle, i-MAP Director, considers some of the associated leadership and governance challenges.

What is i-MAP?

i-MAP stands for Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes. The i-MAP Project, first published in 2012, considered how universities develop their academic portfolio of taught undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Specifically it investigated whether universities might increase the number of new programmes that recruit a viable first cohort of students by adopting a more market-led approach. The i-MAP Study, conducted in 2014/15, is a follow-up to the original Project. The Study re-examined new programme development and also considered how universities mange the closure of academic provision.

How can leaders support portfolio development?

One of the main recommendations made by the Project was that new programme development should be a collaborative process, which enables the contributions of a variety of staff including academics and staff from finance, marketing, planning, quality, and student recruitment. Such a team-based approach can be successfully facilitated by a senior leader, at Pro Vice-Chancellor level or above, who can co-ordinate the work of the academics and professional support staff.

Those university leaders charged with managing this activity need to be skilled at facilitating shared decision-making, whilst also ensuring that difficult issues are faced and resolved.

Where are the challenges?

In 2014, the follow up Study found that universities were still reporting that a significant number of new programmes were failing to recruit a viable first cohort of students. Universities should note that the original Project recommendations remain valid, especially in a more competitive environment. The Study also found that there are significant challenges associated with the closure of programmes, particularly deciding how to deal with “the walking dead” i.e. programmes that had been suffering from on-going poor recruitment for many years.

Might there be an enhanced role for the Governing Body?

The Study found increasing interest from Governing Bodies in academic portfolio management and the connections to financial sustainability. Whilst members of Governing Bodies are unlikely to be involved in decisions about individual programmes, they might provide support for those universities who identified a need for better integration of academic and financial planning. The recently updated HE Code of Governance, published by the Committee of University Chairs, offers useful guidance, although ultimately, the role of the Governing Body is a matter for individual HEIs.

What next?

Both the report of the Project and the report of the Study are available for download. i-MAP consultancy services designed to support universities to implement the i-MAP recommendations are available, with the support of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. A network of interested individuals and organisations, who have participated in the Project and/or the Study, will continue discussions, share relevant information and case studies. New participants are welcome. Further information can be found at

Innovation in the Market Assurance of new Programmes was launched at the Securing Student Recruitment by Managing the Academic Portfolio conference, today (30 September) and the Leadership Foundation chief executive Alison Johns opened the event. The study will be available on Thursday 1 October 2015 at

Paul Coyle is a leadership, innovation and change management consultant supporting the development of universities in Europe and the UK. He can be contacted at

Tackling the gender gap – a champion’s tale

wordle FINALLynne Howlett, Aurora champion at Newcastle University, reflects on how Aurora has impacted her institution, from the women who took part to changes at the very top. Here’s her story.

Newcastle University’s engagement with Aurora has grown slowly and carefully over the last three years. When it was launched in 2013 we were already facilitating a range of development initiatives and networks specifically for women and had to be sure that Aurora would add to, rather than detract from our own efforts.

Subsequent feedback from Aurora participants has been resoundingly positive. Our Aurora role models and mentors have enjoyed and seen personal benefits, and so our commitment has grown in response. 2016 will see our 12th participant, our 12th mentor and our 9th role model taking part in the programme. The numbers are not large but all have been carefully selected, briefed and mentored. It was essential for us to do this well if we were to maximise the benefits for our aspiring women.

As the Aurora champion I have personally enjoyed meeting and briefing our participants. I have heard about their challenges, their barriers and aspirations and have been able to set them all up with some excellent mentors. My post-Aurora programme evaluation meetings have often been inspiring and revealed stories of increased confidence, seeing things from different perspectives, greater levels of determination, actual promotions and even a personal request for a pay rise!

Our role models have hosted tables at programme days and helped able women to think beyond their own horizons, find their voice and question their assumptions. They have encouraged them to “step up to the plate”.

As an Aurora mentor myself, I particularly enjoyed working with an excellent Aurora participant. She felt stuck career-wise and has subsequently been promoted to a more senior university-level role where she works on a key strategic priority that will have lasting cultural and financial impact on the institution. She is now highly motivated and has achieved her career goals.

At year 3 we are starting to see a critical mass of Aurorans who are keen to continue to promote the “women’s career agenda theme” here at Newcastle. Currently they are thinking about running an annual conference (using some of the Aurora methodologies), continuing with action learning sets and are setting about writing an Aurora feedback report with recommendations for our Executive Board and Diversity Committee.

Another real measure of commitment came when we saw the original Aurora participants becoming Aurora role models or undertaking training so that they could step into the Aurora mentor role with skill and confidence. They clearly want to continue to be engaged with the initiative and be part of its growing impact.

At university-level we are finding that having started by funding a very small number of Aurora places centrally, our faculties are now funding and mentoring participants locally in support of their Athena Swan commitments.

At a more senior level, and as part of our leadership talent and succession efforts, we are monitoring and reporting on the gender balance of our leadership appointments. We are offering coaching for aspiring women and to those who move into more strategic roles. Our university has also recently joined the national 30% Club which pledges us to strive to have 30% of our senior appointments female, with the aim of more gender-balanced committees and boards working even more effectively together for the future.

Lynne Howlett is the Leadership and Management Development Manager at Newcastle University

To find out more about Aurora please visit

Poland’s rapid response to change in higher education makes it a hidden gem

Author: Dr. Andrew Tuson MAUA,
Study Tour Coordinator, Consultant and Interim Manager,
Association of University Administrators

The Association of University Administrators conducts Study Tours annually to investigate an overseas higher education system. A report is written of the team’s findings. We are grateful to the Leadership Foundation for their support of the forthcoming report.

This year, the Study Tour was in Poland and like previous tours it had the following objectives:

  • To undertake a fact finding mission and produce a report on the Polish higher education system which incorporates analysis of similarities and differences and considers ways of sharing best practise;
  • To enable participants to gain an international perspective on aspects of higher education decision making, policy and practise;
  • To allow tour participants the opportunity to challenge their existing notions about higher education and undertake research in a non-UK environment.

Poland is a hidden gem in Europe, with more history, science and culture to offer than is commonly realised. For example, Polish mathematicians originally broke the Enigma cipher, work that shortened the war and saved countless lives. (Bletchley Park extended their work to later versions of the cipher and made it work on an industrial scale).

Initial desk research revealed a number of interesting and distinctive features of Polish higher education. For example. Polish higher education has a large recent private higher education sector that has played an important role in widening participation. Poland’s system has also undergone vast change in recent years. The system has played a key role in supporting Poland’s transition towards democracy, entry to the European Union and alignment with the Bologna Process. As such the focus was on three overarching themes:

  • Quality assurance;
  • Student demand, including internationalisation and the rise of the Private Sector;
  • Governance, including the student voice.

Three cities were the focus during our visit on the 10-17 May 2015: Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow. We visited between a number of public (Warsaw University of Technology, Adam Mickelwicz University and the Jageillonian University) as well as private providers (TEB/WSB, Vistula, Collegium Da Vinci and Kozminski). We were also received by the Polish higher education ministry and the PKA (the Polish Accreditation Committee).

The report will likely be published by November, but for now here are some initial impressions.

  • There is a clear and pressing issue of demographics in the sector. Since 2006 the student population has declined from about 2 million to just under 1.5 million. The situation will bottom out in 2025.
  • The Polish QA body, the PKA, runs about 1000 reviews a year. Unlike the UK, external examiners are not used by HEIs; rather external academics look at samples of work as part of the PKA review process.
  • Internationalisation is a recent consideration (there are only about 45,000 non-Polish students in the system), and the drivers appear to be not as commercial as would be the case in the publically funded UK HEIs. There are a lot of students from the Former Soviet Union in Polish universities (Ukraine and Belarus account for half of their non-Polish students).
  • The democratisation of public university governance with key officers (e.g. Rector) being elected; in the communist era the post-holders were appointed. Students are required to be represented in key governance committees including some that make financial decisions, by law. This applies in both private and public universities.

From a leadership perspective, it is remarkable how Polish higher education has responded to so much change. It had to expand rapidly, introduce and regulate a large private sector and upgrade its infrastructure. How Poland builds its capacity to respond to future challenges will be of interest going forward.

For more information on the team and where we visited. Please read our tour blog which can be found at

Our next Study Tour will take place in the Netherlands on Tuesday 10 – Friday 13 November 2015. To find our more please visit AUA’s website

Alumni Leadership Journeys: Transition to Leadership

by Matthew Bellringer, Head of Platform Development, IT Services,
University of Sussex

As I write this I have just completed the Transition to Leadership programme, a new course which aims to give people taking on a leadership role a wide range of skills to effect positive change. Its focus is very much on leadership as opposed to management – relatively rare at this level – and which I found very valuable. It started by developing self-knowledge, putting that in the context of leading a team, and then using that to deliver change. The course took place both in-person and online, making good use of a newly-developed Virtual Learning Environment.

When I started the course I was not entirely sure what to expect as this was my first management-level training. Other attendees were from a wide range of Higher Education backgrounds though all at a similar level in their organisations and many facing similar challenges. The course started by developing an understanding our own leadership styles and how to lead with authenticity. It then moved on to the different preferences in working style possible within a team and strategies for effectively dealing with that. The course ended with how to use that information to deliver and manage change, and an investigation of personal and organisational resilience.

Throughout the in-person and online sessions there were opportunities to develop practical skills in support of the main topics. I was particularly interested in the idea of a coaching management style and we had the chance to put this into practice with peers throughout the course. My group got on really well, providing genuine insight into current issues, and I hope we will stay in touch in future. It was particularly valuable to be on both sides of the coaching sessions and I will use the approach with my team regularly.

Another of the practical aspects of the course was a collaborative project to deliver support materials for managers who need to implement change. This took place both in person and online and made use of asynchronous communication tools provided in the virtual learning environment. It was very valuable to me to see these technologies used in the real world and have some experience of working with a geographically disparate team.

The course facilitators, Jean Chandler and Stuart Hunt, were both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Their areas of expertise and teaching styles complemented each other well. We had some really fascinating classroom discussions and the whole thing very much felt like a collaborative learning experience. This was the very first time the course had been run and it’s testament to their expertise that it went so well. Based on the conversations about our feedback I expect future sessions to be even better.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this course to someone starting out in leadership in their higher education institution. It’s given me some useful theoretical background and forward-looking practical skills with which I feel well placed to contribute to positive change within my institution.

This article is also published in the Engage, the Leadership Foundation’s online magazine.

For more information about Transition to Leadership go to

No more heroes…? Leading engagement

Toy StoryDoug Parkin, programme director muses on whether our modern aversion to heroes means we are losing some ‘heroic’ qualities.

The “hero leader” has become an unpopular concept. The idea of a charismatic leader swooping in to solve an organisation’s problems, with a way of seeing things that no one else possesses, does not sit well with contemporary ideas of participation, empowerment and collaboration.

Current theories of leadership point us towards the servant leader, the quiet leader, the collaborative leader and the person who leads from behind. In complex organisational environments, in which success is multidimensional and a rich diversity of professional groups must work together, these participative approaches feel both attractive and appropriate.

In my work as a developer I have espoused and promoted them and will continue to do so for their merits are great in this age of accelerating change.  But does our modern aversion to heroes risk throwing out some important heroic qualities – the ability to appeal to the spirit, to generate interest and connectedness, and to create trust through courage?  Worse, are we making those qualities feel out of bounds?

Appealing to the spirit

Engagement is not merely an intellectual process and, when it is, it is likely to be short-lived.  People engage through their spirit as much as for intellectual or rational reasons, and the human spirit is both elusive and ineffable.  Some would say it should also be off-limits in a work context. But engaging the spirit is a heroic quality precisely because it is not “ordinary”.

The spirit is there wherever we find people engaged beyond mere contractual limits; it is either inspired by the work that we do and why we do it or is not. Inspired people are those who have invested their spirit in a cause, activity or undertaking. But it is difficult to be inspired when feeling hurt and, as most of us know, organisational change can cause a lot of pain and hurt, whether or not it is rational. And so, leading change is about both stopping the hurt and inspiring the heart.

Generating interest and connectedness

It is hard to be engaged by something that doesn’t interest you. Capturing people’s interest involves being interested in people, and that means caring enough to really listen to them.

John Lasseter the co-founder of Pixar says that “no amount of technology will make a bad story good”.  And Andrew Stanton, the lead writer for Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy and WALL-E, has the mantra “make me care” which he applies to storytelling.  We could equally apply it to leadership.  It is the “make me care” element that connects people to the organisation and the need for change.  And it is invariably human stories that make people care and inspires them to connect.  Stories that show a positive difference in the world that others want to write themselves into as the future unfolds – this is true vision.

But interest is not about manipulation.  Any successful negotiator knows that step one is to listen, step two is to find a connection and step three is to build a relationship around that connection. Leaders need to build narratives that are both sincere and sustainable.

Creating trust through courage

Trust walks in but rides away” is a great expression. Showing conviction is easy, maintaining conviction is hard, and holding on to conviction in the face of discouragement, adversity and pain requires courage – sometimes great courage.  But it is nevertheless this clarity and consistency that builds trust.  And, without trust, teams and organisations unravel: “trust is the emotional glue that binds followers and leaders together” (Bennis and Nanus, 1985).

One of the chief forms of courage that leaders can demonstrate – and this is another heroic quality – is honest communication. It is a challenge to engage with something that doesn’t make sense to you, or that requires a considerable act of faith and so connecting people with change involves, above all else, strong, clear and honest communication.

For engagement to occur, the project, initiative or transformation process has to make sense in terms that are meaningful to those involved.  They have to see the need, feel the urgency and believe in the vision. If there is a lack of communication and sense making, other voices will fill the void, perhaps with narratives that set a very different agenda to the one needed.  And so the communication, courageous in the first instance, also needs to be consistent and enduring. Trust will quickly “ride away” if the message about change keeps changing.

 “The land of the possible” is a happier place to be

Engagement – a spirited group of people with a shared purpose and/or interest – is about energy: the energy to connect, to commit and to contribute.  Each of us, individually and collectively, has a wide range of energy buttons waiting to be pressed and inspired, and while it is not necessarily the case that leaders can press them for us, they can certainly strive to create the conditions in which we start to press them for ourselves: through trust, through connectedness, through courageous communication and through stories and images that appeal to our spirit.

Above all else, what these heroic qualities enable leaders to achieve is moving people from the “land of the not possible” to the “land of the possible”.  This is not just important for organisational success and resilience in the face of change, but also because the “land of the possible” is simply a happier place to be.

Doug Parkin is a full-time programme director at the Leadership Foundation.

More Reading: The Heart of Change, Kotter & Cohen, 2002

Ensuring our leadership programmes succeed


Professor Paul Gentle, director of programmes at the Leadership Foundation responds to McKinsey’s Why leadership development programs fail  

An article in McKinsey Quarterly last year put forward four key reasons why leadership development programmes can fail. This has provoked interesting reflection at the Leadership Foundation and coincided with a year in which we have become particularly thoughtful about how our programmes meet the needs of leaders and managers in our higher education institutions. Here, I’ve turned the four key reasons for failure into four essentials which we take constantly into account when designing our programmes, whether for the open market or on a more tailored basis for specific institutions.

The first concerns the importance of context for participants on all our programmes. We don’t start with a blank sheet, and we certainly don’t work to a list of leadership competencies which we think need to be ‘taught’ on our programmes. Providing an environment of trust and collaboration in which thinking through one’s own leadership challenges in its real institutional setting is critical to the learning experiences we facilitate. In practice, this means stimulating thinking in participants through a combination of encounters with leaders from a range of organisations (both within and beyond the higher education sector) and peer discussion. Reflecting comparatively between institutions can be powerful in developing more profound understanding of one’s own context.

The second essential is about connecting to on-the-job learning. In line with androgogical good practice for student learning, the Leadership Foundation takes heed of the finding that only 10% of what is communicated in lectures is retained. The emphasis on our programmes is firmly on learning by doing, and linking planned actions by individual participants to their jobs is crucial. In many programmes, using an organisational project serves as a key vehicle for leadership learning. For example, on our new Executive Leaders programme, participants are expected to carry out an internal project which requires them to make contact and work with members of their institutional senior management team in order to gain practical insights into how they deliver on their strategic portfolios.

Thirdly, it’s important to address underlying assumptions affecting leaders’ behaviour. Whatever actions individuals may commit to in terms of changing what they do, there may well be factors which make them immune to actually changing (Kegan and Lahey, 2009). We encourage our participants to think about what they do in relation to the organisational culture of their institution, or the part of the institution which they can influence. Emphasising the greater significance of what leaders do, compared to what they say, is really important, and often overlooked in the volatile, pressured environment in which universities are operating. On the Strategic Leadership Programme, for instance, gaining deep understanding of the institutional culture, and how leaders contribute to this individually and collectively, is central to the programme design.

Finally, planning for impact is essential when designing programmes. We’re upfront about the fact that a programme cannot be a ‘silver bullet’ solution which will have a transformational effect in itself. Research shows that how individual participants and their institutions follow up on their learning from the programme links directly to the impact a programme will make. Ongoing dialogue is crucial, particularly with those who have an interest in the individual leader making changes happen. These might include direct reports and line managers who have provided feedback in a 360-degree appraisal process (often included in a Leadership Foundation programme). The Leadership Foundation has recognised the importance of keeping reflection and conversation alive in the months following the end of a programme, and the Programme Plus option is a good example of how this works. For a small fee, participants can choose to have ongoing phone conversations with one of our facilitators who will help to guide them in implementing actions and gathering evidence of their impact. Evidence shows that this is a powerful way of continuing to think about key learning points from a programme – and it can also lead to successful applications for Fellowship of the Leadership Foundation.

Designing in-house programmes for individual institutions involves putting all these essentials into practice, and works most effectively when it works in a spirit of partnership between the university or higher education college and the Leadership Foundation. We are uniquely well-placed to bring to bear our sector-wide knowledge and understanding of cultures and behaviours in the contemporary higher education context to meet the needs of institutions.

The ultimate aim of all our programmes is to make a difference to institutions, and the impact of each programme depends crucially on the learning experienced by individuals who take part. An open-minded disposition towards learning from and with others is likely to enhance benefits for the institution, particularly when the institution engages in dialogue about impact with those they have sponsored on programmes, both during and after the programme itself.

We are constantly refining our practices in all our programmes, and there is always work to do. Feedback from some participants on a recent open programme suggested that they perceived it as being too “facilitator-centric”; this led to further conversations with some respondents to learn more about what they would value in future, and we have now applied this to the design of the programme’s next run!

2015 promises to be another fast-paced and developmental year!

Professor Paul Gentle is director of programmes at the Leadership Foundation and his role includes managing and leading the Top Management Programme.