Professor Fiona Ross, Professor Di Marks-Maran, Dr Christopher Tye, Dr Val Collington, Andy Hudson
Kingston University and St George's University of London
Stimulus Paper, September 2013
Our research forms part of the Leadership Foundation membership benefit. Hard copies of this Stimulus Paper have been distributed to all member institutions and the PDF is available for members to download by clicking the image below.
This stimulus paper, or thinkpiece, looks at two relatively new university-based disciplines: nursing and education.
There are a number of similarities between the two. They are both:
Given the above, it is perhaps surprising that the topic of leadership in these areas has not been the subject of more research. The small study on which this paper is based is a welcome start and I hope that it will generate more interest and funding for a wider, cross-national study. The highly politicised position of teaching and nursing education in the UK is unusual; further study here and in other countries would be valuable in unpicking the impact of politicisation on these professions.
The paper unpacks some of the complex issues with which academic leaders have to grapple. First, they have to make the transition from healthcare and schools into higher education, subject to the same requirements as academic leaders in other subjects. As the paper points out, getting a higher degree can be achieved part-time en route, but there is also a need for specific leadership training as these individuals often come directly into higher education at middle management level. The advice those interviewed offer to others is useful and enlightening, but indicates the cultural differences between school/hospital and university.
Then, there is the issue of research. Universities, whether established research-intensive institutions or newer business/community-focused institutions, all have research as part of their remit. Many would argue that this is what defines a university. The research evaluation process (the RAE and now the REF) is a significant four/five year driver of university funding and prestige. No subject can be exempt from research pressure entirely and nursing and education staff are expected to be 'research active' alongside other academic staff. Higher education staff in education and nursing might be considered to be at a disadvantage in the research arena because of the requirement to be practitioners first. They embark on a research career much later than academic staff in many other areas. These academic leaders describe how they struggle to manage the requirement for research excellence and gaining status within an institution.
Having become graduate level careers, both nursing and education have been subject to moves to reduce the amount of higher education-based study in favour of more practice-based training. More training in the workplace and less academic study are seen by politicians (and the public?) to be appropriate. In both areas numbers in training are highly controlled and if inspections go badly numbers can be cut. So, the leaders of these subjects have to cope with the political nature of their area, as well as the university pressures. Furthermore, both areas are facing more turbulence; academies and free schools are now able to appoint teaching staff with no qualifications, and there are proposals that nurses begin as healthcare assistants on the wards.
The paper articulates the tensions that these subjects and their leaders face. They are:
These conflicting agendas deliver challenges when managing the transition to a leadership role.
The paper reminds us that academic leaders in nurse and teacher education have real world skills in managing political and community pressures that will be of value to leaders of other disciplines as higher education becomes squeezed by the pressures of reduced funding, a market-driven approach, political interference and uncertainty about the traditional higher education model given the rise of online learning. Universities would do well to recognise this.
The two areas have more in common than differentiates them and this paper is a very useful reminder of the value and needs of their academic leaders. As the authors argue, the common ground and shared leadership experience should be used to inform leadership development and capacity building programmes.
The authors deserve thanks for starting the ball rolling.
Professor Caroline Gipps
The growth of nurse and teacher education in universities has coincided with the abolition of the binary divide between polytechnics and universities and expansion of the higher education sector as universities have responded to policies of the previous administration to increase participation. In the UK nursing became fully absorbed in universities in the late 1990s and is a relatively young academic discipline compared to some parts of Northern Europe and the United States and to teacher education, which is more established in the sector and has a longer tradition of research. In contrast to a lively general leadership literature in higher
education, there has been scant attention given to the specific issues of leadership of vocational or practice disciplines.
Aims and methods
Commissioned by the Leadership Foundation in Higher Education, we set out to explore the scope and meaning of leadership in nurse and teacher education in UK universities and selected institutions overseas. We were interested in the leadership journey and how leaders use influence, respond to challenges and manage ambiguities across boundaries between commissioners, employers, practice and the university. A convenience1 sample was identified of UK heads of nurse and teacher education and selected individuals from Europe and the US, drawing on professional and personal academic networks. We conducted interviews using open-ended questions, by telephone and, where practical, face to face and used framework analysis to capture and explore themes.
Results and conclusions
Three core issues emerged from the data: managing the transition to a leadership role; coping with conflicting agendas; and leading change and development. Leaders articulated what they saw as the attributes of leadership in the advice they offered an imaginary successor. The findings highlight the contextual nature of leadership and role complexity as leaders navigate the dichotomy between research excellence and professional practice, at the same time as believing they have to work harder to be noticed and establish authority within the institution.
1 A non-probability sampling technique - subjects are selected because of their accessibility and proximity to the researcher