Building a strategy to support programme directors- lessons from Australia

This is the last blogpost in which I summarise some of the key findings from chapters in the book Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior. 

This post reflects on what we can learn from Chapter 3, in Part 1 on “Developing programme leadership in an Australian university” by Louise Maddocks et al. 


Griffiths University in south-eastern Australia is a multi-campus, research-intensive higher education institution. During 2014-2018, led by staff from its ‘Learning Futures’ Unit, colleagues embarked on developing and implementing a strategy to equip and empower Programme Directors (PDs) who are “responsible for the leadership and management of an academic programme”, Page 41).  This was part of wider strategic initiatives being implemented at Griffiths including:

  • defining a new role descriptor for PDs,
  • the establishment of key academic roles located centrally and within faculties,
  • a new quality ‘dashboard’ to provide key data about the programme, and
  • the implementation of a ‘Framework for Programme Quality and Programme Review’.


Following an extensive review of leadership literature (cited in the chapter) and several assumptions underpinning what they wanted their strategy to consider, their resultant strategy has the following ‘ecological’ stages:

Summary diagram showing the ecology of their programme leader strategy

Figure 1 Building Programme Leadership Strategy – Professional learning ecology – based on Maddocks et al (2022)

  • A set of induction workshops orienting Programme Leaders both new and experienced to their new role descriptor
  • A Leadership Series of leadership support and online modules.
  • A Programme Leaders Network established to practice, reflect and share experience
  • Guided Collaborative Action Learning/Action Research projects in Practice (e.g. curriculum development/enhancement/ sharing of programme level resources
  • Independent Collaborative Action Learning/Action Research projects in Practice

With progressively independent practices to support expertise in leading programmes as the final goal.

The chapter describes in a bit more detail each of the Leadership Series, Programme Leader’s Network and the Action Research Project stages.  The authors also summarise their evaluation of this strategy, with almost all respondents to their survey of PDs participating in the sessions confirming that the workshops within the Leadership Series were highly successful in providing foundational knowledge of leadership for learning, the knowledge of the role within the institutional context and the development of relationship and networks with other programme leaders.

There are more detailed reflections on the effectiveness of this approach in trying to support programme leaders become “agents of change”.  They concluded that the

 “Building Program leadership strategy has effectively enabled the creation of a professional learning ecology that supports individuals PLs in developing their identities and capabilities of learning and teaching” (page 50)


Why is this relevant to us in Swansea University?

A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University.  The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th 2022 and will be reviewing feedback to this in early 2023. 

There are several similarities with the approach Griffiths University has taken and what the Programme Director Working Group at Swansea is proposing. We can review aspects of this ‘ecology’ approach, learn from them and adapt approaches that will work in our context. The use of Action research groups is particularly appealing.

And its not just Griffiths University that can help guide our way. Other chapters in section 1 of this book outline how other institutions and indeed whole sectors (i.e. in Scotland) have approached the important issue of appropriate induction, ongoing support and appropriate reward and recognition for programme directors.  There is a rich evidence-base for us to use.

Recordings of the webinars hosted by OCAED regarding selected  book chapters are expected to be available from their website: 

Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University 


Louise Rees

Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT

(1) Programme Leaders = Programme Directors at Swansea University

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