Does your boss need a spell in prison?

February 23, 2007

If you have ever thought your vice-chancellor could benefit from a stint behind bars, it just could be about to happen.

In a development programme launched by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, university leaders are removed from their familiar surroundings to an entirely new environment - from a prison or a high-tech manufacturing company to a National Health Service trust. Given the role of "change consultants", they have three days to assess the organisation and the challenges it faces before offering feedback.

Already 12 senior higher education leaders have spent three days at the BBC, and the foundation is seeking other organisations university leaders could take on.

Ewart Wooldridge, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation, said: "This kind of leadership development is at the 'extreme sports' end of management training, where you ultimately do not have complete control over what is going to happen."

He said the experience sharpened participants' skills in understanding the culture of organisations and helped them to plan change for their university.

David Sweeney, vice-principal of Royal Holloway, University of London, joined the first Strategic Xchange, at BBC Children. He said: "In working together in an almost unbelievably intensive way, our eyes were opened to reading and influencing the culture of our institutions."

Two more programmes will take place this year.

Roger Kline, head of employment at the University and College Union, said many vice-chancellorsJwouldJlearn a lot moreJby listening to their own staff about management issues before "running off to prisons to learn how to manage prisoners".

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