Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM)

HELM launches an initiative aimed at empowering women leaders for change in higher education

Twenty-six women representing South Africa's 17 public universities will converge online on 1 September, for the commencement of a six-month long Women in Leadership (WiL) programme. This intervention is being driven under the auspices of Universities South Africa's Higher Education and Leadership (HELM) programme in partnership with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), British Council, Advance HE and the United Kingdom's University of Bath.

WiL recognises that gender equity and women's access to executive and management positions in universities is a major challenge in South Africa and on the African continent. It is therefore intended to promote the rights of women and afford them opportunities to reach their full potential.

Though launching on 1 September, this intervention is HELM's celebration of Women's month (August). The launch on Spring Day also symbolises renewal and rejuvenation.

The WiL programme, structured into seven interactive online sessions spread across September, October and November, will consolidate at a two-day contact session in December (subject to the COVID-19 trajectory), where participants will reflect on the learnings up to that point and explore their potential career advancement opportunities. The programme will culminate in a five-day UK visit to the University of Bath, where the 26 candidates will participate in a symposium titled: Globalisation and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in HE: The Bath-SA meeting of minds. Should COVID-19 disruptions impede the UK visit, the 26 candidates will resort to a South Africa-based internationalisation leadership retreat, with the University of Bath presenters joining online.

The WiL participants have been drawn from a variety of disciplines and are at different levels of leadership at their institutions. Included among them are executive deans, heads of schools and academic programmes, senior lecturers, directors: research and a deputy vice-chancellor.

According to HELM's Director, Dr Oliver Seale, the WiL programme is a direct response to needs identified over the past two years from Heads of Schools (HoSs), Heads of academic Departments (HoDs) and Deans who underwent the Foundations of Leadership/ Management training over time from 2018 to 2019. WiL builds on this solid foundation and provides an opportunity for more focused learning and deeper reflection on the challenges faced by women in university leadership, at both an individual and institutional level.

While women in middle management yearn for additional capacity building in human resources, financial and change management, among other areas, they also expressed a need for generic gender empowerment programmes and networking and mentorship opportunities to enable them to overcome obstacles and thrive in their work.

WiL programme

WiL seeks to right the transformation wrongs within Higher Education

WiL is therefore lauded as an invaluable programme that, according to Professor Sibongile Muthwa, the USAf Chair, will "address leadership issues focussing on women's professional development and advancement in the system, while addressing issues of transformation."

Echoing this view, Professor Ahmed Bawa, USAf's CEO, says while enabling South Africa's universities to re-imagine the transformation of their leadership and much higher levels of diversity, WiL, in particular, helps to address "the issue of the dominance of men at all levels of higher education leadership."

HELM is being funded from the Department of Higher Education and Training's University Capacity Development Programme. The British Council brings with it, focus on gender and inclusion. Other partners are Advance HE and the University of Bath.

In her message of support, Dr Diane Parker, Deputy Director General: University Education in DHET, says "We wish the first cohort of 26 participants from 17 HEIs every success as they participate in the initiative and as they go on to be part of the trailblazers that transform the leadership profile in our universities."

From the British Council, Ms Jean September, Deputy Country Director, adds that "we believe that to achieve gender equity we need to foster international collaborations and exchange of ideas and experiences. This will give women as transformational and reflective leaders and managers within their university settings, the ongoing support to lead the change but also be the change."

In conclusion, Dr Seale says that though being launched as a pilot initiative, WiL is intended to take root and grow, over time, into an enduring networking platform for women empowered to renew the higher education sector -- not only in South Africa but also on the African continent.

About HELM
HELM is one of USAf's flagship programmes focused on offering valuable perspectives on the contemporary leadership and management context, complexities and challenges facing universities. The need has never been greater for HELM to provide all levels of university leadership with skills, strategies and insight into this ever-shifting terrain. HELM is funded, in the main, from the Department of Higher Education and Training's University's Capacity Development Programme.

About USAf
Universities South Africa (USAf) is an association of South Africa's 26 public universities. The organisation's primary mandate is to support its 26 members in the achievement of their core functions of teaching and learning, research and community engagement, and to create an environment where universities can thrive and prosper, and contribute effectively to South Africa's development.

About the British Council
Founded in 1934, the British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. It creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide. It is a global organisation with more than 190 offices in 110 countries and territories. The British Council touches the lives of around 500 million people every year - almost a tenth of the world's population.

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