Programme leaders challenging binaries in higher education: Academic vs non-academic?

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Attribution: Jessie1dog ‘I don’t think I belong here’ from Flickr

We are delighted and proud to be involved in the creation of ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders’ because it recognises the pivotal role of Programme Leaders (PLs)  in higher education. 

It has been noted for some time, and we certainly found in our work with programme leaders, that this group of staff, who work at the junction of pedagogy, academic leadership, and student experience, too often seem to get a raw deal. Given the sheer power of the market forces of student satisfaction and notions of ‘quality’ in the neoliberal academy, it can be hard to see why they are not better valued and celebrated for their incredible impact on the student learning journey.

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Seeding support: a cross-institutional development programme for programme leaders

When the call for chapters for Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge, UK was announced, it was just the right time for us. We have launched extensive programme leader (PL) development programme at UWE Bristol and I was keen to share our experiences. These showed that busy PLs will engage with institutional support, in great numbers, if it does justice to the complexity of their role. I was, and still am, adamant that we should not shy away from developing an extensive programme of support for PLs. After all, we expect a lot from them, so we should be willing and able to offer support that is commensurate with our expectations. The chapter captures the design principles of the programme, which I believe have ensured its success. Here is a short snippet of our story:

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Scoping programme leadership: Nailing Jelly to the Wall

The reality of programme leadership in a contemporary university is so complex and challenging that it is a wonder why anyone takes it on!  In the UK sector there is some movement towards recognising such roles in relation to career progression, thus providing motivation, but it is difficult to demonstrate success in the role in the same way as one might research output. Whilst Robinson-Self (2020, p119) points out that programme leaders “are in a position to be instigators of genuine positive change”, he also describes the challenges of defining the role and of negotiating the potential tensions of freely adapting a programme and the constraints of institutional organisation.

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Sharing practical wisdom: creating environments in which programme leadership can flourish

This is the first post in a Blog Series, edited by Sue Morón-García, focusing on programme leadership. Posts are written by contributors to ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education’ (Lawrence, Morón-García and Senior, Routledge, 2022) and will be of interest to anyone practising as or supporting the development of programme leaders and leadership in HE.


Programme leaders (PLs) are crucial to higher education success. They commonly have responsibility for the nexus of the student experience: a programme of study. They work in a highly contextualised environment subject to local cultures (institutional, departmental and disciplinary) and are subject to the strategy and management that shape the systems and processes they must navigate. Our early work with programme leaders and educational developers across the UK and discussions at international events indicated a need for evidence-based, practical wisdom and clarity on how to better develop and support the role.

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