Diverse university funding systems in different countries around the world and varying degrees of autonomy lead universities to develop different strategic responses. Despite these differences, all universities face increasingly complex and fast-changing environments.
Whatever their challenging contexts are, university leaders need to position their institutions on the national, European and global stages and they can only do this by bringing their colleagues and external stakeholders on board.
In the United Kingdom, there has been some debate about the pay of vice-chancellors, perceived to be excessive by many, and about their leadership style and resulting desired models and structures of successful leadership.
Trade unions have advocated a ‘return’ to collegiality and collective decision-making, away from so-called ‘managerialism’, while various UK leadership development programmes are trying to prepare future leaders by presenting a variety of leadership models for different contexts.
Financial challenges for universities in the UK, identified as a country in Europe that has seen a significant decrease in state funding in recent years, combined with other pressures on vice-chancellors, such as constant criticism in the media and elsewhere, and frequent imposed policy changes, have resulted in many university leaders leaving their positions.
According to two UK recruitment agencies for senior university leaders, there has been an “unprecedented level of change in leadership of universities” (Perrett Laver), and “people are saying, ‘Sod it. I’m off’.” (Odgers Berndtson).
Different leadership models
In order to meet these multiple pressures, there has been a move away from a ‘heroic leadership model’ to one of ‘inclusive leadership’ and a ‘servant model of leadership’. The skills needed to lead universities in this fast-changing world are those of emotional intelligence, agility and the ability to engage with people.
Change, particularly in challenging contexts, cannot be exercised in a directive manner; it needs to be based on the understanding of interdependent structures, systems and relationships. To effect change people leaders need to engage continuously with people in different ways and at a variety of levels.
Communication is key and, although communication inherently means an exchange of information, it is often interpreted as being about imparting information in a one-way direction, with the important element of listening missing.
Petra Wend : University World News : 07 December 2018