The Leadership Foundation’s many achievements in its first ten years owes much to listening and acting on its customer’s needs and to thinking ahead: what will they need in the future? To succeed in the next ten years, we must go on anticipating challenges for sector leaders in a radically different world. We have some advantages. Perfectly positioned at the heart of the sector, we can connect and pursue lines of enquiry with decision makers at the sharp end, to gather evidence and opinions on those challenges and help prepare individuals and institutions to take them on. I can identify some themes that point the way ahead.
Senior leaders in successful UK universities tell me that they still value high quality leadership development for high potential academic and professional staff, and the strategic thinking, networks and external perspectives we offer. But they want more. They want leaders across the organisation who can raise the pace and make things happen. They want leaders who can conduct a dialogue and consult, but also confront and take difficult decisions, to know how and when to act.
In practical terms, they demand more focus on skills for difficult conversations, for building complex relationships with colleagues, with students, funding bodies and local communities. They want leaders who nurture the innovation and creativity they see around them, but who also channel this into transformational change and bring people with them.
We listen intently to feedback from aspiring leaders, what they say about the future and how they like to learn. We hear how innovative thinking and provocation is still prized, as is evidence-based research, and face-to-face remains highly valued, although as action learning, collaboration, to share ideas on the approach to difficult problems. There is a clear shift towards virtual and online tools to access the best in class and a stronger desire to learn transferable skills and access the best ideas for authentic leadership from public service and business as well as the higher education sector internationally.
The next generation of leaders in higher education will be more diverse, but it won’t just happen: as our new Aurora programme underlines, we are determined to help develop women and ethnic minority leaders such that the great diversity of UK university staff and students is better reflected in appointments to senior leadership teams.
What will tomorrow’s students want? I am a governor of a state school where 99% go to university, many of the 11-18 year olds discuss their future with me. They still want university places, but only if they get their money’s worth. They value teaching quality, contact time, learning facilities, social life and a job at the end of it. They value investment in clicks as much as bricks, because they combine digital dexterity with mobility and incredible connectivity.
For them, images are as powerful as words, with a close convergence between simulation, gaming and entertainment. Learning power is as important as memory. The medium has become the message: digital has radically changed the way they learn.
We must prepare academic and professional leaders who can take on unpredictable issues in a global knowledge economy, a digital, multi-cultural, diverse world. We must develop a new generation of leaders able to respond to demanding students in a sceptical civil society with an interventionist state, more able to create the conditions where scholarship prospers.
Dr Mark Pegg is chief executive of the Leadership Foundation
Dr Mark Pegg