Business to teach academics to lead

Aspire programme pairs private-sector chiefs with lecturers keen to progress. Hannah Fearn reports

February 5, 2009

University staff are to be paired up with private-sector bosses in an attempt to boost their leadership skills.

Staff, from professors to administrators, will shadow private-sector executives as part of a new project launched by the Institute of Education. The year-long leadership programme, called Aspire, will involve staff from higher education observing and talking to private-sector leaders in industries including finance and retail.

The project is open to would-be leaders as well as those who already have formal leadership responsibilities in higher education. It aims to improve leadership practice rather than to prepare participants for a particular role.

Richard Andrews, professor of English and international co-ordinator for the faculty of culture and pedagogy at the Institute of Education, has been selected to take part, but he is still waiting to hear who he will be partnered with.

"I'm aware of the difference between leadership and management. I've been a head of department already in a different university, and I enjoyed that and I learnt a lot from it, but I thought this was an opportunity to learn more. I've got some experience and I've got some (leadership) qualities, and I thought I'd develop them further."

Professor Andrews said there was much academics could learn from the private sector, but that it should be a two-way relationship. "I don't think there is a deficit of leadership in higher education, simply that we can learn from each other," he said. "It's very interesting in terms of comparing and considering different practices."

Speaking at the launch of the project, David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, said: "It is still a common view that leaders are born rather than made. Don't subscribe to that view. Leadership is about every day and everyone. What counts is our experiences and how we deal with them - and, as this programme shows, how we work together to develop the potential in each of us."

Alma Harris, pro director of leadership development at the Institute of Education and one of the organisers of the programme, said that involving business leaders as partners offered a chance for academics to broaden their understanding of what leadership is.

"We offer alternative perspectives on leadership and diverse experiences that challenge participants to think again about their leadership practice," Professor Harris said. "Aspire is less of a leadership course and more of a leadership experience."

Aspire, which is funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, is organised in partnership with Enzyme Consulting, which will enlist talent from the private sector.

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