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Questioning Leadership in Higher Education

University of Bristol

What is Academic Leadership? Reflections on identity, influence and change in UK higher education

Dr Richard Bolden, Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter Business School



‘Misleading’ professors? Cautionary tales of ineffective and damaging professorial academic leadership

Professor Linda Evans, School of Education, University of Leeds



What is intellectual leadership? Understanding the roles of the professoriate

Professor Bruce Macfarlane, Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong



Thursday 6th June 2013


14.00 – 16.30


Room 1.21

Graduate School of Education,

35 Berkeley Square, University of Bristol



Booking: To book a place or for further information, please contact: Richard Budd Places are limited so booking is essential.



This event is sponsored by the Centre for East Asian Studies (CEAS) VC Initiative, University of Bristol and involves collaboration with The Community for Research in Higher Education (CHER), Hong Kong (led by Professor Bruce Macfarlane) and The SRHE SouthWest Higher Education Network (SWHE), UK (led by Dr Lisa Lucas).
Abstracts and Biographies


What is Academic Leadership? Reflections on identity, influence and change
in UK higher education


Abstract: Recent trends in higher education, such as increasing participation rates, internationalisation, funding, policy and market competition, have challenged traditional assumptions on the nature and purpose of HE and its place in society.  Throughout this period, it has been argued, there has been a general shift away from ‘collegial’ towards more ‘corporate’, ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘managerial’ approaches to leadership and management informed by private sector practices. Whilst a ‘business like’ approach to running universities may be understandable given the size and budgets of these organisations and the competitive environment in which they operate, the utilitarian ethos that underpins such an approach may be experienced as conflicting with the normative values traditionally associated with academic work. To this extent emerging forms of leadership and management practice may be experienced as conflicting with ideals of collegiality, academic freedom, education and scholarship, ultimately distancing and disengaging the very people that universities seek to influence and involve in institutional governance, strategy and change.


In this seminar I will present findings from a recent study of academic leadership in UK universities and explore their implications for how we think about, develop and engage people in the leadership of academic work.  I will draw on a range of concepts and perspectives, including social identity and distributed leadership, to consider how power and influence is conceived and enacted in HE institutions. I will conclude by reflecting on the implications for leadership theory, practice and development more broadly and the challenges and opportunities of engaging professionals in the leadership of groups, organisations and professions.


Further details: To download the research report please visit:

For more about the Centre for Leadership Studies and our work please visit:


Dr Richard Bolden is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership Studies at the University of Exeter Business School.  His research interests include distributed/shared leadership, leadership in higher education, leading professionals, leadership in partnerships and identity processes in leadership development. He has published extensively; is on the editorial board of the journals Leadership and Business Leadership Review; and is co-author of the book Exploring Leadership: Individual, organizational and societal perspectives, published by Oxford University Press in 2011.


‘Misleading’ professors? Cautionary tales of ineffective and damaging professorial academic leadership


Abstract: In the current higher education climate that is shaped by increasing marketization and the need to do more with less in turbulent times marked by the global economic crisis, university professors seem increasingly required or expected to be all things to all people: excellent teachers, prolific researchers, good ‘citizens’ (within the institution and the wider academic community), mentors and advisors, entrepreneurs, and well-rounded academic leaders. It is unsurprising, then, that some of them evidently fall short by failing to meet people’s expectations of them, prompting criticism, bitterness and resentment, and complaints that professors are ‘backstabbing arseholes’, ‘focused on their own agendas’ and ‘not interested in “the little people”’. In this paper Linda Evans presents selected findings from a funded study of professorial academic leadership as it is perceived by ‘the led’: non-professorial academics, university teachers and researchers. From over 1,200 questionnaire responses and 50 interviews she draws out a range of examples of ‘misleading’ professors and examines their impact on the working lives of their junior colleagues. She considers whether these are examples of unacceptable academic leadership, or whether there is a need to re-educate and temper the expectations of ‘the led’.


Professor Linda Evans is professor of leadership and professional learning in the University of Leeds School of Education. She has also worked at the University of Warwick, and was a primary school teacher in the north of England for 15 years before becoming an academic. A former student of modern foreign languages, she remains a fluent French speaker and during 2011 she was visiting professor at the Institut Français de l’Education, within the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon. She is the editor of the International Journal for Researcher Development. Her research spans the compulsory and higher education contexts and is focused on the broad field of professional working life, in which she has published widely. She is currently carrying out a study of professional development for university professors funded by The British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society, and a study of academic journal editors’ professionalism, funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education.



Intellectual leadership in higher education

Abstract: Conceptions of leadership in higher education are synonymous with formally defined managerial roles and responsibilities. By contrast, the role of senior academics as intellectual leaders is comparatively neglected. Whilst the phrase ‘intellectual leadership’ is often invoked it is rarely explained. In Intellectual leadership in higher education (Routledge, 2012) I argue that it is important to recover the idea of intellectual leadership in higher education linked, in part, to a redefinition of the role of full professors. At an individual level, this involves balancing the privileges of academic freedom with the responsibilities of academic duty. Universities also need to recognize and encourage different orientations to intellectual leadership. In addition to being knowledge producers, professors act as academic citizens, boundary transgressors and public intellectuals. The presentation will explore these and other key concepts contained in the book.

Professor Bruce Macfarlane is Associate Professor for Higher Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. His research interests focus on academic ethics, leadership and student academic freedom. His books include Teaching with Integrity (2004), The Academic Citizen (2007), Researching with Integrity (2009), and most recently, Intellectual Leadership in Higher Education (2012). He is a Fellow of the Society for Research into Higher Education.

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