“Having the dedicated time to reflect on one’s role, its challenges, one’s development, and to benchmark that with colleagues of similar and senior level across the UK was, for me, priceless.” – Professor Brian Murphy, Director of Access, Digital and Distributed Learning, Ulster University.
Professor Brian Murphy, Director of Access, Digital and Distributed Learning at Ulster University, was one of those who took part in the Higher Education Academy’s second Executive Development Programme, EDP 2, which ran from April 2016 until February 2017. Here he talks about the positive effect that the Programme has had on his own professional development.
It was my Pro Vice-Chancellor who raised the opportunity about my taking part in the Executive Development Programme. She felt, given the span of influence of my role, that I had the potential to benefit and would be a credible contributor.
I gained enormously from the Executive Development Programme. Having the dedicated time to reflect on one’s role, its challenges, one’s development, and to benchmark that with colleagues of similar and senior level across the UK was, for me, priceless. The structure of the Programme draws from insights into the operational environment of the UK higher education sector and the various actors at senior level within institutions. But, within this framework, it was the time, opportunity and the contribution of the people on the Programme that really transformed it. As the Programme played through its various exercises, guest speakers and scenarios, I realised that I was gaining a sense of perspective as well as fresh perspectives. It dawned on me that the challenges one can be faced with at this level – most of which are highly complex and involving multiple stakeholders – are unwritten parts of the job description, and that dealing successfully with these becomes part of one’s defining contribution to the person specification of the next role. I emerged with confidence thinking ‘Yes, I can make this next step. Yes, I am meeting the challenges appropriately. Yes, I will change my approach in some instances as a result of new perspectives. And yes, I am developing on the right trajectory’. That benchmarking and realism through the sharing of experiences in a safe and facilitated setting made the most significant difference for me.
There was, as I had hoped, a diverse range of participants, roles and institutions on the EDP 2. There were people at Vice-Principal level, people at Dean level, people at Associate PVC level, people at director level; all of us at analogous stages in our careers but working in different contexts. The structure of the Programme is relevant and the content topical, engaging and entertaining. The delivery and support team are evidently highly experienced in the art and science of academic staff development at executive level – indeed, this is to be expected from the HEA. Guest speakers included Vice-Chancellors, chairs of select panels and chief executives of sector organisations. I’d go as far as saying some were absolutely inspiring.
We gelled as participants into a community of practice. Having shared some of our innermost concerns and challenges, our trust in each other grew. This is a powerful and natural outcome. As a community of practice we continue to exchange views, are engaging in visits and some of us are developing projects together. That’s a real sign of success and an indicator of the difference this Programme can make.