The chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has spoken about the “big, big” priority of increasing the number of female vice-chancellors and senior figures as he prepares to launch a project to tackle the issue.
Mark Pegg, who in January took charge of the body that provides leadership development programmes for the sector, said the Aurora project would “work with organisations to improve the chances of women leaders”.
The programme – named after the goddess who according to Roman mythology renewed herself every dawn and heralded the arrival of the Sun – will aim to recruit four women below head of department level from every UK university, with each institution also appointing a senior female role model as “champion”.
According to Universities UK, there are 20 female heads of institution among the organisation’s 133 members.
Dr Pegg said that Aurora would give women greater “confidence” and “understanding of organisational politics” while changing organisations as well. Without the project’s intervention, institutions will “continue as before” and “disappointment will ensue”, he added.
The lack of female representation among sector leaders was not just an equality issue – “women should have the same life chances as men” – but also meant that “half of the full potential of the workforce is not being utilised”.
Dr Pegg – who holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford on the social history of broadcasting – has a background in executive education. As a former director of Ashridge Business School he trained senior civil servants in leadership as well as working with “big global corporations”.
Speaking about his appointment, he said that the Leadership Foundation board “wanted me to increase the risk appetite” among the sector’s leaders – “they could see more challenging times ahead”.
Since taking over from Ewart Wooldridge (chief executive from the organisation’s foundation in 2004 until the end of last year), Dr Pegg has looked at the foundation’s Top Management Programme, which counts 56 current vice-chancellors among its graduates.
He said he was seeking to “bring it up to date, refresh it” with a new delivery team and content from the autumn.
Discussing the course’s programme of external speakers, Dr Pegg said that participants “loved to hear from chief fire officers, from police officers”, but “the appetite is there to hear more from people who have made a success of leadership in entrepreneurial activities”, as long as it is “done sensitively”.
Meanwhile, on other potential role models for the sector’s leaders, he said that Sir Alex Ferguson was one name mentioned. However, he argued that the former Manchester United manager would be “too autocratic…I don’t think he would work very well in something as sensitive as a university”.
Nevertheless, Dr Pegg could see plenty of leadership virtues in the Scot.
“When you’re at the top, you have to keep reinventing yourself, you have to keep improving what you’re doing, you have to live with the changes and the competitive pressures – that’s what universities are looking for, without scaring the horses.”