A ray of sunshine to light a gloomy day

Dr Mark Pegg

In the dark days of winter, the odd ray of sunlight cheers us all.  Not to get too overexcited, the warm days of summer are long off, but take it while you can. 

So where did this ray of sunlight come from?  Prime Minister David Cameron has been globetrotting, taking the lead and returns bearing gifts for UK universities.  An entourage of Vice-chancellors, including Eric Thomas, Colin Riordan and Don Nutbeam, joined the PM on his recent trade mission to India.  Hot foot off the plane, Minister David Willetts rushed to tell Vice-chancellors and of course the Leadership Foundation his ‘good news’.  

The sound bites, rhetoric and mood music have changed. The PM announced on the trip that Indian students were welcome in the UK after all. He repeatedly stressed there was no cap on the number of Indian students who could come to the UK, and they were welcome to work in the UK after their degrees if they found graduate-level jobs. His positive messages means he has decided to end the stalemate in the trench warfare between BIS and the Home office over student migration,

There was more.  Mr Willetts told us the PM had brought back yet more good news from his visit to Brussels the previous week.  The EU budget cuts pushed through with the UK in the vanguard, did not apply to the science research budget.  It has been protected, even boosted and the UK’s excellent universities can expect to gain a large share.

That was not all.  The minister reminded everyone UK spending cuts are much worse for everyone else and universities should count themselves lucky.  He recounted the scene from the film ‘Crocodile Dundee’, where on a visit to New York, Aussie outbacker Mick Dundee is held up by a mugger with a knife.  He laughs – reaches into his belt and pulls out a huge hunting knife – ‘call that a knife, this is a knife!  

Applause was muted, around the room faces barely twitched into wan smiles. There is still a feeling amongst VCs that we should not be here in the first place and we’ll believe it when we see it.  But take it while you can.  The PM shows he is now willing to give the sector the leadership it craves from HM Government.  He spoke publicly of his admiration for the work of UK universities and their importance in overseas trade, getting the UK out of recession and in taking on the really big issues the world faces.  Actions speak louder than words, but the ray of sunshine may point to sunnier days ahead.

Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation

23 February 2013

To tweet or not to tweet that is the question

Dr Mark Pegg

There was a gap in my life.  I witnessed Mark Zuckerberg’s rise and rise, how Facebook become one of the most valuable companies in the world, but it was not my forte. Although I had to admit when I left my mobile phone at home, I got withdrawal symptoms, and there was discord when my family fought over who got to use the iPad.

In social media networks I was definitely not an innovator or an early adopter.  I did not want to be one of the herd or have another pressure on my time – to add to the hundreds of emails, voicemails and text messages.  If I spent any more time communicating, would I get any actual work done?

One sneaking fear was I would be left behind. It was not as if I lacked inspiration around me. My 16 year old son for a start and fellow passengers tapping away on the early train to Marylebone.  I held out, I had no interest in what Stephen Fry had for breakfast and even less desire to be like Sally Bercow and find myself in court.

Then ‘learning by doing’ came to the rescue.  I am a governor of a secondary school and the headmaster started to tweet.  He is a huge cricket fan and was inspired by the sports teachers who used Twitter to communicate results from school teams.  He started his own Twitter account to tweet his views on school life in general.  I soon realised this was a great way to discover what was going on in school and keep in touch.  The school roof blew off in gale,  the headmaster took a picture on his phone and tweeted it to us within minutes of it happening.

I was hooked and soon realised you could choose your own network and build links and connections that matter.  LinkedIn was valuable when people did not have my contact details.  Tweets could help me communicate regularly with my team, my customers and with others working on their leadership research and particularly with younger colleagues who had often stopped emailing anyway.  Slowly at first I began to tweet and then blog – getting a WordPress account could not be simpler.

I am still feeling my way uncertainly. You have to have something interesting to say for a start.  Slowly but surely, it is becoming a great way to communicate useful things with my network and keep in regular touch with colleagues who, in this virtual age, I might not see for months at a time.

Dr Mark Pegg is the Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation. His twitter handle is www.twitter.com/LFHE_CE

Answering the Whys

Hannah Phung

In preparation for one of our overseas programme, International Leadership Development Programme that takes place in Hong Kong and mainland China, I was drawn to the Education Guardian supplement Eastern horizons (15 January 2013).

The articles, and accompanying online live Q&A, raised many interesting questions on life for academics thinking about making the move to Southeast Asia. I saw even more in this than future work prospects. I asked myself what do I actually know about higher education in Southeast Asia and, this thought was followed by many whys? Why work in partnership; Why emigrate and Why Southeast Asia?

For so many UK universities diversifying – in research, TNE, student recruitment and contacts to name a few, these questions are constantly asked. This is why I reasoned that ILDP Hong Kong has been so popular since the programme began in 2011. It is an opportunity to visit higher education institutions and to ask questions unanswered in these news stories. In his article Professor John Spinks of Hong Kong University, says that the “Chinese government has provided funds for expanding the recruitment of international students and faculty as well as research grants” – this seems very positive but what are the conditions/reasoning behind this? How might this affect UK higher education?

The articles also highlight culture as one of the major area that UK universities really need to understand fully and make sense of when thinking of collaborating with Hong Kong or any Southeast Asian country.

I am a Chinese person born and brought up in Britain with parents who drummed the ‘You can always work harder’ mantra into my head, but the culture around me told me to balance work and play. I felt I understood both cultures well, but I was still shocked when I visited friends and family in Hong Kong and was told by Aunty Lau we could meet before she started work at 8am or after 8pm when she finished!

“That’s a 12 hour day you do Aunty Lau, how do you balance your work and family?”

“What do you mean by balance?”

“I mean have enough time for both work and family”

“Yes I do”

“errr… I’ll meet you after work; I am on holiday I suppose”

There is much you can learn from hearing others’ views and stories, and there will be so many more questions they raise. The best way to find out for yourself would be to take part in a programme such as ILDP Hong Kong, which this year is focusing on the subject of Building International Higher Education Partnerships, so that you can ask the questions you need to and get a taste of the difference for yourself.

Hannah Phung is the International Projects Manager, and her role includes the logistics and co-ordination of the ILDP Programmes.

Where are the leaders?

Dr Paul Gentle

While writing a book proposal a few months ago, I asked my first-year undergraduate son for some feedback on an idea I had for the title. I knew his response would be frank and direct; what I hadn’t expected was the thinking it would provoke in me.

When I gave him my suggestion, he looked nonplussed. “The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in our universities”, I said, already embarrassed that the words weren’t exactly rolling off the tongue.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if his implied disapproval was because the very length of the title took up half the characters in a tweet. Or maybe it was down to the sheer uphill struggle involved in inspiring anything in a university, from his perspective. One way or another, he remained more than usually silent for quite some time.

When asking participants on our programmes (such as Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership) to reflect on where leadership can be found in a university, I’ve often been encouraged by their responses. The starting point is frequently an assertion that leadership isn’t confined to what senior managers do – or middle managers, or indeed necessarily any managers. It simply isn’t automatically associated with positional power.

What really seems to count in many situations, people think, is a set of personal qualities associated with leadership presence. Those individuals who can tap into this successfully are able to invest energy and emotion in relationships, facilitate collaborative conversations and build teams with a clear sense of mutually-agreed direction. People with these qualities can be found everywhere in universities – in the student body, in research centres, in estates and maintenance staff, in teaching teams, in offices… regardless of pay grade.

The challenge for universities is to recognise that they are already ‘leaderful organisations’, and that if they could align personally influential individuals with their institutional direction of travel, they may indeed inspire collective commitment (Bolden et al.)

A few days after our initial exchange, my son called me into his room.

“I’ve got an idea for that book of yours”, he said.

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah – be straight up about it – ‘Who’s in charge around here?’”

Paul Gentle is Director of Prgrammes.

His book title is Engaging Leaders: The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in universities and the first draft will be with Routledge by the end of the summer.