The graduate route to a professional career in higher education

While there is still some debate about the place and description of professional services staff in higher education (see this on professional leaders in HE or this Wonkhe piece about terminology), universities remain fantastic places to work.

For recent ambitious and talented graduates there is a graduate leadership programme which offers the prospect of an exciting and rewarding career in the HE sector.

Ambitious futures

Ambitious Futures is that programme and it is now recruiting.

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 HE wonkery:

This programme will show you how the challenging and stimulating business of a university operates. You’ll meet some of the most talented people in the country, if not the world, and gain an inside view into the sector’s management and business processes. A key aspect of your training will see you working alongside a diverse range of partners, from students and employers to funding bodies and commercial organisations.
Through their teaching, research and outreach universities make a positive difference to the lives of those around them, and society as a whole. Ambitious Futures is your opportunity to contribute to this endeavour. If you are excited by working for an organisation that is motivated by discovery, not shareholder profit, the Ambitious Futures scheme may be for you.

Graduates are employed by a host university (this may be the one from which they’ve graduated) and take part in an 18-month programme split into three placements. The first and last of these will be based at the host university, while the middle placement is at a different partner institution.

The type of work trainees are involved in is often project-based and wide-ranging, offering many diverse and challenging opportunities. The aim is for trainees to complete a variety of different projects in a fairly short space of time, and in many cases they are able to see the results of their work being implemented across the university.

What it means

The headlines of the scheme are as follows:

  • Opening date for applications: 3 October 2018
  • Closing date for applications: 18 January 2019
  • Start date: 4 September 2019
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Location: Two 6-month placements at your host university and one 6-month placement at a partner university.
  • Eligibility: You must have graduated (undergraduate or postgraduate degree) with a 2.1 since July 2014. Some universities will only accept applications from their own graduates, others are open to applications from any university. You must be eligible to work in the UK for the length of the programme.
  • Degree required: Any
  • Salary: Starting salary of £22,213 – £28,900 (depending on institution)
  • Benefits: A sector-specific leadership programme, high-quality training and one year’s membership of the Association of University Administrators (AUA).

Trainees will work with colleagues with a wide range of expertise and may involve opportunities to work anywhere in the country and overseas. The programme could open the door to a varied career in an entrepreneurial, global business. As one recent trainee puts it:

I have really enjoyed the insight into a number of different roles in HE management and also different institutions. My first placement was in the careers department at the University of Manchester and my second is at Lancaster University supporting business to improve their trade links with China. This breadth of experience will be really valuable in deciding what aspect of HE most suits me and where I want to aim for in the future. On top of this, it’s great to have the network of other graduates on the scheme to share experiences with, as well as the learning sets and the support of a mentor.
Alex, University of Manchester/Lancaster University

It really is a terrific scheme and I have been privileged to be associated with it since the very beginning. Indeed one of the forerunners of Ambitious Futures was a graduate training programme we started at the University of Nottingham a decade ago this month and several of the earliest participants are, I am delighted to say, still working at Nottingham.

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.

You can find all the details of this excellent programme here.

2 responses to “The graduate route to a professional career in higher education

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments above and would just like to recommend this programme to anyone…

    It truly is a “terrific” scheme (as described above), and not only does it offer us (Graduates) the opportunity to continue working in the HE sector, it also allows us to be part of and contribute to the development of UK HE in general – it truly is a fascinating time to be a part of this sector.
    My one favourite aspect of the scheme is having a variety of roles over the course of the 18 months – so far, Warwick’s been amazing! And even through I wish I could stay, I know in my heart that the experiences of my 2nd and 3rd placement will allow me to broaden my skillet, meet new people, offer more hugs, and step out of my comfort zone.
    To Paul Greatrix: I’m glad you’ve enjoyed working at Nottingham, I’m highly looking forward to exploring your campus as well!

    Hendrik Pontson, University of Warwick/University of Nottingham (2018/20 cohort)

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