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About Aurora

Aurora is our women-only leadership development programme. Over the past five years more than 4,600 women from 220 institutions across the UK and Ireland have participated. For details of the current Aurora cohorts click here: Aurora Dates, Venues and Booking

Has the Advance HE run women-only activities before?

Aurora is the first leadership development activity that the Leadership Foundation (now part of Advance HE) created for anybody who identifies as woman. Since the launch of Aurora in 2013 we have developed three further opportunities for women, Leadership Matters, Women onto Boards and Step onto the Board.

How did Aurora start?

Aurora was first launched in response to the Stimulus Paper ‘Women and Higher Education: Absences and Aspiration’ by Professor Louise Morley (January 2013), which shows there were fewer women in the most senior positions in higher education than ten years ago. The paper goes on to identify features that could be addressed to change this. Many influential stakeholders including vice-chancellors, Hefce and the Equality Challenge Unit (now part of Advance HE) agree the situation calls for action and the feedback from the sector tells us they would like to encourage more women to plan for leadership roles at an earlier point in their careers.

How does Aurora complement the Athena SWAN Charter?

Athena SWAN is Advance HE’s gender equality Charter, underpinned by a set of ten principles aiming to improve equal representation, progression, and culture within higher education institutions and research institutes. The Charter principles highlight several key gender equality issues in HE, including the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles, meaning Aurora’s encouragement of women’s career progression can be a useful initiative to support the aims of Athena SWAN. Participation in Aurora is not a pre-requite in achieving an Athena SWAN award.

I'm a man or I do not identify as a woman and am committed to supporting the career progression of women; how can I get involved?

There are three opportunities for men to be involved in Aurora:
Institutions have been asked to nominate a champion who will be the face of Aurora in their institution and the main liaison with the Leadership Foundation. They will identify participants, mentors for each participant and role models. There is not a requirement for champions to a woman. 
Aurora mentors may identify as any gender. The mentor should have an understanding of internal politics and organisational culture. They need to get on well with the mentee, have sufficient time available to work with the mentee, have strong listening skills and be able to ask good, open questions to help the participants develop their problem solving skills and develop further.
Join in the online discussions by joining the public jiscmail or using the hashtag #LFAurora.

Is a women-only programme legal?

Yes. Section 158 of the Equality Act 2010 permits positive action to address under representation and minimise disadvantage in the work-place. This includes addressing gender inequalities. Positive action can take a number of forms including targeted training and development activities such as Aurora.

Is this an alternative to attending other Advance HE development programmes?

Most of our existing programmes are designed for people already operating in leadership and management roles. Aurora is aimed at those identifying as women, before they ‘step-up’ to these positions; it augments our existing schedule of programmes and is not intended to replace any one of them. We see Aurora adding to the choices of leadership development that we offer and suggest that potential participants consider the whole portfolio in order to find the best match with their development needs.

What happens to Aurora after now that it has been running for 5 years?

Following the merger of LFHE, ECU and HEA into Advance HE, we are pleased to continue Aurora into the 2018-19 which will be the programmes 6th year. Over the past 5 years Aurora has been a huge success with 4,613 women from 171 institutions having participated, and 1,136 attending in 2017-18 alone. The programme is subject to regular review and updated to reflect the latest literature, methods and sector developments. Given the popularity and impact of Aurora to date, we are committed to continuing to support the sector to achieve gender equality and invest in the development of current and future leaders. 

What is a role model?

Role models are those who identify as women, who have forged a successful career for themselves within higher education. On the day of an Aurora event, they will host a table of up to seven delegates and will assist to facilitate the group exercises on the table - all the while sharing anecdotes and experience of wisdom developed through their careers.
More information on what a role model is and how to apply.

Why is it called Aurora?

Aurora is the name of the Roman goddess of the dawn who in myth reinvents herself each morning. The concept of the dawn or fresh start combined with the symbolism of a woman who is flexible and responsive to change seemed an appropriate metaphor for what we are trying to achieve with this programme. 

Why is the programme only for women when most higher education working environments are 50% female?

Gender diversity, in some cases, is equally represented in higher education until one looks at senior positions where the proportion of women is significantly smaller. Aurora has been designed to help halt this ‘leaky pipeline’ by encouraging those who are under-represented to think about leadership as a route to career progression much earlier in their careers. The research suggests that most women prefer to discuss challenges and barriers that they face in a single sex environment rather than a mixed group.

Aurora Participants


How do we select participants for Aurora?

HEPs may choose their own process to attract participants for Aurora. We would recommend an open and transparent process which will invite and encourage women, and those who identify as women from across the organisation to put themselves forward as applicants. The Aurora Champion will select participants from this pool who meet the criteria for attendance and for whom they can match a mentor. We would like to see diverse cohorts of participants in Aurora, and ask institutions to consider the diversity of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation and when selecting participants. The programme is intended to develop women with the potential for leadership, not just those who have already shown a talent for it, so we hope that the opportunity is made available widely across the institution and not just to those who have been identified as suitable for future leadership roles. More information on the criteria for participants can be found in the Guidance for Institutions.

Is Aurora for academic or professional service staff?

Aurora is for both academic and professional service staff and approximately 50% of our participants each year are from professional services in higher education. The lack of gender equality in senior positions is an issue across both academic roles and professional services. There is roughly equal gender representation amongst academics and professional services up to senior lecturer / mid-level whereas beyond this level there is a disparity in the gender balance. In actuality we are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles, who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation), or they may have had little interest in management and leadership development or they may have attended some without it seemingly impacting on their choices. Because of the personal ‘tailoring’ of the programme a wide-ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants. 


Is Aurora only for those already in leadership roles?

No, in fact it is specifically designed to help early career women think about their future careers and to consider leadership and management as routes to progression. We won’t automatically rule out any woman who is currently in a leadership role, but those that are, might find one of our other programmes more suitable than Aurora. We are looking for women who have yet to take on substantive leadership or management roles or those who may be disinclined to take on visible influential tasks (such as project management or committee representation). We are also interested in attracting women who may have had little interest in management and leadership development or who have attended some leadership development without it having an impact on their career choices. Because of the personal tailoring of the programme a wide ranging cohort will provide a real richness of experience for participants. If unsure if Aurora is the best choice of leadership development activity for the applicant please contact one of the Aurora team for advice.

Who can apply?

Aurora is for any individual identifying as a woman in higher education, this includes trans women. Aurora is for those to senior lecturer level (or equivalent) or mid-level professional services in a university or higher education college, ambitious for a career in the sector and interested in exploring leadership and management as one option for progression. Applicants will be enthusiastic about their own development, able to attend all parts of the programme, willing to engage in some self-directed learning and with a strong desire to engage productively with their mentor. We are also interested in attracting women who may have had little interest in management and leadership development. 

Aurora Institutions


My institution hasn't committed to taking part, but I have funds, can I send a participant?

Yes. Many institutions have both central and devolved staff development budgets and where the central budget is committed for this year institutions are leaving the decision to participate in Aurora to the devolved budget holders. If you wish to support women from departmental or faculty budgets and can provide appropriate mentors then you may send in the applications. Where an independent application is received we will check this via the Aurora champion from within their institution.


What institutional sign-off is needed in order to take part?

Each institution which has committed to Aurora will nominate an ‘Aurora Champion’ who will manage all participants’ bookings. Your institution may already have identified its Aurora champion(s) and you can review the list of champions here. It is recognised that some institutions may wish to spread this role over two people – one as the key figurehead for Aurora and one as the liaison point for the administrative details; this is perfectly acceptable. Any individuals who contact Advance HE independently from these institutions will be referred to the ‘Aurora Champion’ for their institution to seek agreement to attend. Applicants from institutions which have chosen not to make an institutional commitment will still be considered if the applicant is able to identify an appropriate mentor from within their own institution and can fund the fee from department or faculty funds.

What is the closing deadline for applications?

We do not set a closing deadline to remain open and flexible for institutions, however we find that most institutions undertake their selection process between July and September and submit booking forms between September and October - particularly those participating in the first cohort in November. We recommend submitting bookings no later than 6 weeks before the cohort begins to secure the places. Places are booked on a first-come first-served basis. 

What is the maximum number of participants we can send in one year?

Aurora runs in five locations each year. Most institutions will want to send their participants to the nearest regional location, but this is not compulsory. We can accept up to 15 participants per institution per cohort. However, we are able to accommodate up to 20 participants split across the two London cohorts, with a maximum of 10 participants on each London cohort. 

Who can I talk to about the specific needs of my institution?

If you would like any advice please contact:

Why do institutions need to commit to 4 participants a year?

Existing leadership programmes are not producing enough women ready to take on senior roles within the sector, and with the number of women in these positions retiring or leaving higher education, the decline in women at the top is unlikely to be halted unless a critical mass is developed. We think that the best way to do this is to ask all institutions to make a commitment to send four participants a year which should be affordable for all but the smallest organisations. This number will also help build the critical mass of early career women within the organisation that can help mentor and support new women colleagues joining the institution. Many of the larger institutions are asking for more than the minimum number to build their own Aurora networks faster. 

Aurora Locations


Are participants limited to attending in their own region only?

No. Aurora has been designed to be as flexible as possible so participants can choose the dates and venues which work best for them. The only exception is that the day on Power and Politics and the Action Learning Set have to be undertaken in the same location for logistical purposes.

Do participants have to attend all the days in the same location?

No. Aurora consists of five interlinked days - four development days and an action learning set. Aurora is organised regionally, to allow for shorter travelling times and lower costs. Each participant attending Aurora is required to book to attend one of each of the four development days - Identity, Impact and Voice; Power and Politics; Core Leadership Skills; and Adaptive Leadership Skills – in the same or different locations that best suit them. The ‘Action Learning Day’ must be in the same location as the ‘Power and Politics’ day. Participants can transfer to an alternative region for one or more of their booked dates free of charge, by emailing aurora a minimum of two weeks prior to the event date.

Why are there no regional events on my side of the country?

The regional cohorts for each year are designed to be easily accessible to the largest number of participants as well as being able to provide venues of a sufficient size to accommodate Aurora. This is reviewed each year the programme runs.

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The Aurora days

Led by Tracy Bell-Reeves, director of leadership development, Aurora is our leadership development initiative that combines education, mentoring and self-directed learning. Four, face-to-face, development days  will explore key areas associated with leadership success: Identity, Impact and VoicePower and PoliticsCore Leadership SkillsAdaptive Leadership Skills.

The development days are supplemented with action learning and access to online resources.

Identity Impact and Voice, led by Amanda Wilsher

Amanda Wilsher

By investigating the nature of leadership and what it means to them, participants will learn about the importance of visibility and ‘voice’, & how this can positively impact their working lives. Issues around values, authenticity & style will be addressed. Participants will begin to practice leadership and how they can exert leadership, true to their own style & identity.

Amanda Wilsher is a theatrical director, writer and leadership consultant. She uses her directors eye and ear to work out what ‘works’ for individuals so they can re-discover their natural voice and use it to engage, influence and transform others.  

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Power and Politics, led by Rosemary Stamp

Rosemary Stamp (130x130)

Participants will explore the cultures and politics of organisations, individual responses & ways of working, as well as being encouraged to think about building coalitions, developing networks & making lasting mutually supportive connections. Action learning sets will be formed as a prelude to day three - a full day hosted by a participant's institution.

An experienced leadership facilitator, co-director of the Top Management Programme, coach and mentor, Rosemary Stamp publishes, lectures and advises on effective leadership & strategic planning.

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Core Leadership Skills, led by Rebecca Nestor

Rebecca Nestor (130x130)

Core Leadership Skills will introduce the key skills needed by women leaders and managers in higher education. Participants will explore understanding motivation, clarifying purpose and vision, working with values, influence and persuasion and the role of storytelling for leaders.

Rebecca Nestor is a key associate of the Leadership Foundation and co-director of Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership. Rebecca also specialises in unconscious bias and leadership in gender and equality.   

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Adaptive Leadership Skills, led by Jenny Garrett

Jenny Garrett

Participants will be introduced to the main principles of adaptive leadership & the relevance to women as well as being encouraged to adopt an experimental mind-set & how to identify leadership archetypes. By courageous conversations, regulating distress & identifying the barriers to leadership, this day explores adaptive leadership to enhance performance & success.

Jenny Garrett is a coach, author, blogger and a key Leadership Foundation associate. Jenny is passionate about helping trailblazing women navigate work and life.  

Click here for dates, locations and booking for Aurora 2017-18.

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        1. Alternative providers and student debt in the US: could it happen in the UK?
        2. Is institutional autonomy under threat?
        3. Managing the board
        4. OECD Report suggests some higher education students lack basic skills
        5. Five issues for HEI governing bodies
        6. Whistleblowing and gagging clauses
        7. The failure of HBOS
        8. Financial forecasts for English HEIs
        9. Governance changes proposed in the HE Green paper
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        11. Board diversity - the Davis Review
        12. Information systems and cyber security
        13. Does a change in leadership lead to a change in strategy?
        14. FIFA and corporate governance
        15. Volkswagen
        16. Sustainability
        17. Review of governance at Plymouth University
        18. Equality and diversity and governing bodies
        19. A Changing Agenda
        20. Role and effectiveness of audit committees
        21. Governance of Scottish Higher Education Institutions: Consulative Paper on HE Bill
        22. Governance issues at Tesco
        23. Student visas
        24. Governance at the Co-op
        25. HE funding - IFS report
        26. Removal of student number control
        27. Governance issues in the private sector
        28. Governance at the BBC
        29. Reforms to how higher education in England is regulated
        30. HBOS & London Met: case studies in governance
        31. New IPPR report on HE
        32. Moocs are coming
        33. Increasing diversity
        34. Kids Company
      4. Getting to grips
      5. Governance publications
      6. Useful websites
      7. Codes of governance
        1. CUC Code of Governance
        2. UK Corporate Governance Code
      8. Research on governance in higher education
      9. Book reviews
      10. HE facts
      11. Illustrative Practice Notes
      12. Roundtable notes
        1. Governance events notes
    6. Governance Briefing Notes
      1. 27. Governing bodies and culture
      2. 26. The new regulatory approach to HE in England
      3. 25. The factors that influence whether governance is effective?
      4. 24. Benefits and impact
      5. 23. Competitive pressures
      6. 22. Corporate ethics and values
      7. 21. Personal ethics and values
      8. 20. Legal requirements and regulation
      9. 19. Estates
      10. 18. Finance
      11. 17. Employment
      12. 16. Remuneration
      13. 15. Nominations committee
      14. 14. Audit committee
      15. 13. The governance system and assessing effectiveness
      16. 12. Size, composition and skills available to the governing body
      17. 11. Monitoring performance
      18. 10. Strategic plan
      19. 09. Students
      20. 08. Risk management
      21. 07. International students and collaborations
      22. 06. Commercial operations
      23. 05. Regulations and compliance
      24. 04. Academic governance and quality
      25. 03. The workings of a governing body
      26. 02. Governance and management
      27. 01. Becoming a governor
    7. Equality and Diversity Toolkit
      1. Overview
      2. Overseeing compliance
        1. The Equality Act 2010
        2. Governance Codes
        3. Overseeing E&D
        4. Reports Governors might use
        5. Case study: Bath
        6. Championing E&D
        7. Case study: ManMet
        8. Case study: Cardiff
      3. Competitive Advantage
        1. Competing in a global market
        2. Improving staff diversity
        3. Case study: Exeter
      4. Issues and Challenges
        1. Student inequalities
        2. Staff inequalities
        3. Assessing specific E&D issues
      5. Value
        1. Increasing focus
        2. Gender diversity data
        3. Improving diversity
        4. Case study 1: UWS
        5. Case study 2: UWS
      6. Questions and Resources
        1. Resources
    8. Board Diversification
    9. Self-Assessment Tool
    10. Governing Body Effectiveness
    11. Governor Dialogues
    12. Governance and Alternative Providers
  6. International
    1. International Engagement
    2. International Reference Group
    3. International Case Studies
  7. Membership
    1. Membership benefits and services
      1. Membership logos
        1. Download the membership logos
    2. How to join
    3. National and regional contacts
      1. Abbie McKenna
      2. Cindy Vallance
      3. Gary Reed
      4. Jean Chandler
      5. Judy Harris
      6. Lesly Huxley
      7. Meriel Box
      8. Rebecca Bull
    4. Membership advisory group
    5. Membership development support
    6. Management Development Resources
      1. Download MDR1: Managing Effective Performance
      2. Download MDR2: Managing Change in HE
      3. Download MDR3: Emotional Intelligence, Personal Impact and Personal Effectiveness
      4. Download MDR4: Lean Management: Doing more with less
      5. Download MDR5: The Current HE Context: Drivers for change
      6. Download MDR6: Commercial Skills for Academics and Researchers
      7. MDR7: Caught in the Middle
        1. MDR7 Contents
        2. Download MDR7: Caught in the Middle
      8. Download MDR8: Working with Academic Motivation and Prestige
    7. Knowledge Bank
    8. Membership community
      1. Members' Directory
    9. Ten great reasons to be a Leadership Foundation member
      1. #10GreatReasons1
      2. #10GreatReasons2
      3. #10GreatReasons3
      4. #10GreatReasons4
      5. #10GreatReasons5
      6. #10GreatReasons6
      7. #10GreatReasons7
      8. #10GreatReasons8
      9. #10GreatReasons9
      10. #10GreatReasons10
  8. News
    1. Twitter
    2. Wales Higher Education Executive Leaders Programme (WHEELP) SUBJECT TO FUNDING CONFIRMATION

We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK.


Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advise on benefits and services.


Find out more about Membership


  • Membership benefits

    • 25% discount on our open and in-house programmes and consultancy
    • a free consultancy day
    • exclusive access to research publications, development resources and funding opportunities
    • free regional events
    • funding for Staff Development Forum and MASHEIN activity
    • members’ mailing lists, newsletters and magazine
    • participation in our development networks


  • How to join

    • Membership is open to all higher education providers and related sector organisations on an annual or three-yearly subscription basis.
    • We have 154 members with around a third taking advantage of the 10% discount offered by three-year subscriptions.


  • Membership benefits

    • Research and innovation: Access to our latest, highly-valued research, Leadership Insights, Getting to Grips series and practical development project resources.
    • More…

    • Management Development Resources: Flexible workshop materials on key leadership and management development topics, for you to deliver in-house to suit your own contexts NEW: ‘Caught in the Middle’. 
    • More…

    • The Knowledge Bank: Save time with these extensive multi-media training resources for HR, staff development and OD professionals, covering key leadership and management theory and practice.
    • More…

  • Get in touch

    Meet the membership team, your national and regional contacts in the UK and Ireland, and LF networks.

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Advance HE
Leadership, Governance and Management

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