Features: January 7th, 2005

Establishing The New Leadership Foundation for Higher Education

By Ewart Wooldridge

In January last year, I left the familiar landscape of Sunningdale Park and the Civil Service College for the uncharted territory of the new Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. I have now rapidly established the new organisation and spent much of my time engaging with the key players in a sector for the processes for equipping senior leaders which was quite different from the Civil Service. The agenda, resourcing and scope of the new Leadership Foundation will however present a remarkable opportunity to undertake some leading edge development work in collaboration with other public and private sector partners.

Agenda for change

Higher Education has one of the most rapidly moving agendas for change in the public sector. The changing mix of funding (not just the prospect of variable fees in England) mean that institutions will have to focus more on ‘positioning’ or marketing themselves both in the UK and international market place. They are faced with a major agenda for change – fuelled by a combination of rapid growth, capital programmes, funding challenges, the potential for new partnerships or alliances, a more complex set of HR issues and the need to make the right strategic decisions on how international markets are developed.

The Leadership Foundation’s ability to respond to this is helped by the basis on which we have been set up. Most significantly, we have been given a very broad scope. We are UK-wide, serving all 167 Universities and HE colleges. Our remit covers not just leadership and management, but more significantly the governance of higher education institutions (HEIs). We have therefore been able to adopt the ‘distributed’ concept of leadership – a process shared across many levels of institutions and involving executive and lay leadership. We are also required to bring a strong international dimension to whatever we do.

Whilst we are required to become a self-funding organisation (as the Civil Service College was) we have the benefit of £10M funding provided by the UK HE funding councils over our first three years. This will enable us (more so than in my previous role) to experiment with new concepts in leadership development, to undertake quality research and to engage with international players to a greater degree.

Early priorities

So, how are we defining our early priorities? Drawing from our original business case and continuing dialogue with the sector, we have approached the issues in the following way. Firstly, we have worked on the assumption that we will make a more effective impact by adopting a variety of interventions. Therefore our work will include:

  • Developing individual leaders and managers through open programmes, mentoring and coaching with a special focus on development of chairs and Members of governing bodies
  • Building institutional capacity by offering customised programmes, consultancy, benchmarking and needs analysis
  • Fostering networks and communities of learning through alumni relations, special interest groups and international links
  • Conducting applied research and development (including ‘Futures Lab’ work) to support new learning initiatives and stimulate innovation
  • Disseminating and championing good practice in leadership, governance and management.

Out of this approach we have identified the following flagship projects where we would intend to make an early impact.

    • Masterclasses and seminars for senior leaders on current issues
    • High level skills events (for example risk management, oversight of major change programmes and projects and performance development)
    • Developing a nationwide mentoring and co-coaching scheme linking senior leaders in higher education, business and the wider public sector
    • Governance – taking on, from the Committee of University Chairmen, the responsibility for running training events and conferences for Chairs and Members of governing bodies
    • Preparing for leadership – implementing recommendations from the recent independent evaluation of the existing HE Top Management Programme (TMP@HE) and putting in place new programmes for individuals approaching senior academic and non-academic roles
    • Working with the Higher Education Equality Challenge Unit to support institutions in embedding equality and diversity
    • Launching a new higher education governance website to support those on governing bodies with information and advice to equip them for their roles
    • Launching a new programme of Leadership Foundation publications and information services
    • Developing robust analytical and diagnostic tools for assessing needs for leadership development
    • Supporting Leadership Foundation Fellows who will work on significant change projects in their institutions whilst sharing learning from this work through the Leadership ‘foundation to the wider higher education sector.

We have underpinned this work programme with three general principals. Firstly, that wherever possible we seek to bring a “cross sector” perspective to our work. This not only means a closer interface with the private sector (as recommended in the recent Treasury-sponsored Lambert Report) but also with the wider public sector and indeed utilising applicable models of good practice from the voluntary sector.

Secondly, we will ensure that an equality and diversity perspective is applied to all our initiatives.

Thirdly, we will maximise the opportunities for the international dimension of all our programmes. In the longer term, it is expected that we will offer some of our services to an international market.

It will be an important part of our work to develop a strong applied research programme. This will not only increase the intellectual capital of the organisation but also provide valuable qualitative data for significant studies in our programmes. Subjects for research are likely to include some “futures” work on tomorrow’s context for leadership, roles and structures in different types of institutions, the HE leadership career and evaluation of leadership development.

We are at the beginning of a very interesting journey of which the prime purpose is to equip tomorrow’s leaders of HE. In the course of it we hope to undertake some leading edge development work which may be of much wider application to both the private and elsewhere in the public sector.

Ewart Wooldridge CBE, is Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.