A flying start in university leadership

Paul Greatrix updates on the higher education sector's exciting future leaders programme

University management and administration is rarely glamorous.

However, it was great to see a group of new entrants to the world of higher education professional services dressed up in their finery to celebrate the shortlisting of Ambitious Futures, the sector’s graduate training programme, in the Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development category at the recent THE Awards ceremony.

I’ve commented here on several previous occasions about the importance and value of Ambitious Futures but I do want to reinforce how essential it is for the future of professional services in the sector and what a great training programme it is for anyone looking to build a career in higher education management.

These are challenging times in our sector but universities are still extraordinary places to work and this programme offers the prospect of leading to an exciting and rewarding career in higher education. Universities are large, complex organisations that provide a highly stimulating environment in which to make a career.

Over 250,000 professional staff are employed in more than 150 universities nationwide and institutions offer a wide variety of professional roles, such as marketing, human resources, finance, planning, IT, project management, policy, and many more. Higher Education is constantly evolving. Changes in government policy, the economy, demographics, technology, and society at large all have direct impacts on universities. To face such challenges we need leaders of the highest calibre.

Serious option

Ambitious Futures takes the development of high quality future leaders for higher education very seriously. The programme invests in participants’ career development, offers exposure to a range of interesting business areas and work cultures, and provides the foundation for future leadership roles in universities. It’s a serious option for those who aspire to higher ed wonkery:

This programme provides practical work experience across a range of areas. You will develop your skills, build your knowledge and enhance your understanding of different work cultures and business areas. Completion of the programme will kick start your career in Higher Education and help set you on the path to a leadership role.
A key feature of the scheme is the opportunity to experience different universities and different functional departments within them. This opens up new potential career paths and shows the diverse range of rewarding roles that are available in universities.
You’ll be employed by your chosen university throughout the 18 months of the programme, and carry out three six-month work placements. The first and last of these will be at your host university, the middle placement will take you to a different partner institution.
Your placements will be project-based and wide-ranging. Working alongside experienced colleagues you will learn first hand about university policies, systems and processes. You will meet with a range of stakeholders both inside and outside the University, and so build up your professional networks.

In parallel with their practical placements trainees follow a tailored professional development programme, designed and delivered by the University of Nottingham’s Leadership Management Academy. They also have group coaching, mentoring, workshops, and attend AUA conference. It is an all round positive programme. As one of our sponsors comments:

“The Ambitious Futures programme is an investment in our future. The quality of the trainees matched with the unique structure of the programme create an environment in which the trainees can flourish and contribute materially to the University. Through the programme their potential is transformed into a demonstrable management and leadership skillset. We have successfully appointed each of our trainees to permanent roles on completion of the programme, and they are now making a real impact.”
Dr Neale Laker, Director of Academic & Corporate Governance, University of Dundee

It really is an excellent scheme and I have been privileged to be associated with it since the very beginning and now as Chair of the Ambitious Futures Board. Wonkhe has long been supportive of the programme too.

The sector really does need to train and develop many more professional service leaders and this programme will be a major contributor to that as it continues to grow. Our sector also needs and will benefit from greater diversity in its leadership and this too is something all of us involved are keen for Ambitious Futures to nurture and support.

Whether you are a prospective trainee or interested in getting your university involved in the programme you can find all the details of this important and valuable scheme.

Join now

Recruitment for the next cohort of trainees is now open so if you are looking for a first class foundation for a graduate career in professional university management then apply here now. Being part of Ambitious Futures helps the sector to retain the best graduate talent. It confirms your University as a forward thinking employer and an excellent place to work.

And by the way, Ambitious Futures was not only shortlisted for the THE Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development – it won!

As the judges put it:

Key achievements in 2017-18 included securing almost 1,000 applications for 28 places, with 50 per cent holding or expected to gain a first-class degree; encouraging increased diversity, with ethnic minority participants comprising 19 per cent of entrants; and creating a new professional development and group coaching programme.
More than 90 per cent of the 2017-18 cohort continued to work in higher education, on average securing a role at one grade higher than those entering direct, in areas including project management, strategy and planning, digital and marketing, international, research support and research excellence framework coordination.
The judges found that “this innovative approach helps to develop personal resilience, adaptability and emotional intelligence in high-achieving graduates”.

A terrific result for a great programme and many congratulations to outgoing COO, Christine Abbot, her replacement Sally Jones and Programme Manager Sam Woolley as well as all of the partner universities, sponsors, programme directors and, of course, our wonderful trainees.

So, whether you are a prospective trainee or a forward thinking university, there’s never been a better time to get involved with Ambitious Futures.

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