22 SES 07 B JS, Policy, Management and Governance in Higher Education
Paper Session, Joint Session NW 22 and NW 26
Programme leadership is central to the effective operation of the vast majority of European universities. Nevertheless, the role remains largely in the shadows. There is almost no academic literature and little in the way of training or support for those who take on the role. Programme leadership occupies an ambiguous institutional position, generally taking responsibility for managing programmes, but not for managing staff. Moreover, programmes vary widely – both in terms of size and complexity – so there is little equity or comparability between programme leader roles, even within the same institution. In general, programme leaders have a range of responsibilities, including course management, staff timetabling, curriculum development, coordinating assessment and collating external samples, marketing, liaising with key stakeholders and central services, and supporting students in difficulty.
The lack of emphasis on programme leadership is surprising, given the changing state of higher education in Europe and internationally. For a start, the role gets undertaken within the context of an ever prevalent managerialism in universities, a prevalence of concern to academics (Winter, 2009; Yielder & Codling, 2004). An emphasis on ‘increase[ing] productivity and control while reducing resources’ (Milliken & Colohan, 2004, p. 389) has heralded a new micro-politics of ‘quality assurance’, a micro-politics that replaces intellectual responsibility with accountability, and normalises academic identities in terms of centralised regulation, measurable indictors of performance and auditable outcomes (Morley, 2005). A cultural shift from ‘collegial’ to ‘corporate enterprise’ (McNay, cited in Milliken, 2001, p. 78) has transformed working practices and relations, which inevitably means that jostling for position over departmental workloads has become increasingly prominent (Worthington and Hodgson, 2005, pp. 97-8).
Alongside this set of professional pressures, programme leadership has become more significant for that layer of university experience currently high on the HE agenda – the student experience. Academics who lead programmes tend to be much closer to this experience than other academics, particularly those who occupy ‘middle’ management positions. They often have significant input into aspects of support and pastoral care as well as aspects of pedagogy and curriculum design, placing them in a unique position from which to reflect on the relationships between both sets of imperatives. The role of the PL is therefore of crucial importance.
In the present time of financial uncertainty, then, the subsequent ‘streamlining’ of management structures means the role of programme leader is increasingly pivotal and, in all likelihood, the workload intensified. The purpose of the current paper is to examine this workload, and specifically the kinds of challenges faced by programme leaders in their attempts to fulfil their professional obligations. Using data from two university case studies, the paper explores how they cope with different sets of demands – institutional, professional, disciplinary and student – all at the same time. Also included in the paper is a set of suggestions from PLs as to how their own situation might be improved in the current challenging climate.
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