IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


VIRTUAL EVENT: What is global leadership in higher education?

17 June 2020, 10:00 am–3:30 pm

University students studying in the library. Image: Tony Slade for UCL Digital Media

This online symposium aims to discuss the meanings of global leadership in higher education as a sector and its role and responsibility in tackling grand challenges, inequalities and promoting a sustainable future.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Dr Tatiana Fumasoli – Centre for Higher Education Studies (CHES)

Watch the webinar

Morning session

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Afternoon session

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The role, contribution and legitimacy of higher education as a key institution in contemporary societies has been challenged in many respects and from many stakeholders.

Financial pressures and massification, expert fatigue and ivory tower accusations, conflicting expectations on university missions and support to socio-economic development are some of the issues that have acquired political relevance and triggered lively debates.

In a complex, interconnected world where events occurring at national, regional or even local level may potentially have a global reach – the COVID-19 pandemic being the latest example. This symposium aims to open a discussion on the relevance and contribution of higher education in our society.


Morning session: 10:00am - 12:00pm

10am: Welcome session

Professor Brad Blitz (UCL Institute of Education)

10:05am: What is global leadership in higher education?

Dr Tatiana Fumasoli (UCL Institute of Education)

Leadership in and of higher education is a contested concept, even more when it is characterised as global. This intervention will provide some ideas and theories drawing from the extant literature on the topic.

10:30am: Do higher education systems get the leadership they deserve?

Professor Rosemary Deem (Royal Holloway, University of London)

COVID-19 has exposed many weaknesses and challenges for the world’s universities. The wide discrepancies between highly marketised and relatively unmarketised higher education systems are becoming ever more evident. Conceptions of university purposes are now both complex and confused in the messages they send to the outside world, with many institutions trapped between competition and collaboration.

Rosemary will explore the current state of university leadership and what the gap is between where we are now and where we ought to be if we are to significantly change the direction of travel of universities as organisations.

11am: Gender and leadership in higher education 

Dr Victoria Showunmi (UCL Institute of Education)

In this presentation, Victoria contributes to the literature on leadership and identity by examining how gender, race, and class may confer disadvantage or bestow privilege in accessing leadership positions while in the role of leader. She focuses on the methodology used to explore experiences of Black Minority and Ethnic (BME) and white women leaders understanding of these experiences in public and private sector organisations in England. 

The research offers the use of the author’s autobiographical account as a starting point to develop an intersectional approach to leadership methodology. In addition, it draws on feminist, intersectional and critical auto-biographical theory to analyse the findings. Victoria will begin with an introduction to the literature, moving onto the research design and then discussion on the initial findings, highlighting the core themes emerging from the data.

11:30am: University leadership in economic innovation

Dr Federica Rossi (Birkbeck, University of London)

Universities have very diverse profiles of knowledge exchange (KE) in terms of engagement channels and type of stakeholders. These profiles also change over time, getting either diversified or specialized or reoriented in different directions. In this presentation, Federia investigates the nature of micro-managerial interventions that universities implement to enact such changes.

Interventions relating to belief control systems and interactive control systems are particularly important for KE profile diversification, since they encourage staff to identify and grasp a wide range of KE opportunities. Interventions relating to boundary control systems and diagnostic control systems are particularly important for KE profile specialization, since they provide targeted support for staff performing specific KE activities and set targets aligned with those activities. Finally, universities engaging in KE profile reorientation use a mix of approaches.

Close of session 12:00pm

Afternoon session 1pm - 3:30

1:00pm: Big data, artificial intelligence and higher education management

Dr Giulio Marini (UCL Institute of Education)

In this presentation, Guilio discusses the state of the art of the implications of BDAI (Big Data and Artificial Intelligence) for higher education management, adopting the point of view of the single institutions navigating opportunities and constraints.

Examples of internal applications (students’ experience monitoring, enhancing and predictions; staff management; relationship with providers of data collection and processing) and external commitments (profiling and “fishing” of potential/prospect students; relationships with rankings providers and respective consultancies; stakeholders’ and companies’ gateway to future required profiles, etc.) are briefly discussed in relation to the role of university management. He will propose a first reflection on what BDAI-led metrics do not really measure (i.e. transformational experience, long-term realisation, transversal skills, etc.), overcoming a typical positivistic stance that fails to account for limits in measuring phenomena.

1:30pm: Higher education and datification

Professor Lesley Gourlay (UCL Institute of Education)

As algorithms play an increasingly all-pervasive role in society, ‘big data’ has become increasingly important in education, and ‘learning analytics’ is one such tendency; a growing approach to the monitoring of student activity online which, while justified in terms of ‘student support’ and the promotion of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, may in fact be regarded as primarily driven by the logics of national audit systems imposed on higher education.

In this presentation Lesley will propose that this tendency arises from a very particular set of ideas about the university in the ‘digital age’ which centres on notions of academics and students as abstract, disembodied human subjects, removed from their sociomaterial settings, Meanwhile, all dimensions of academic practice are increasingly made subject to performative regimes of surveillance, as can be seen in the UK-based “Research Excellence Framework’ and ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’.

2:00pm: Higher education in an era of global challenge

Professor Allison Littlejohn (UCL Institute of Education)

In times of unparalleled uncertainty, universities are uniquely placed to help address global challenges (Littlejohn, Charitonos and Kaatrakoski, 2019). Universities’ mission statements position them as offering outward-facing service to the economy, community, society, social justice and world (Seeber, Barberio, Huisman, and Mampaey, 2017). 

Learning is vital to enable people to navigate through the growing uncertainties characterised by global challenges (Howells, 2018; Littlejohn, Charitonos and Kaatrakoski, 2019). Recognising the value of Higher Education for sustainable development, the United Nations (UN) has included the aim to 'ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university' within its list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (United Nations, 2015, p. 19). In this brief presentation, Alison will explore attempts to address the UN SDGs through education and learning, examining inherent tensions that inhibit change.

2:30pm: Global inequalities

Dr Vincent Carpentier (UCL Institute of Education) and Professor Elaine Unterhalter (UCL Institute of Education)

Ten years ago, Vincent and Elaine co-edited a book 'Global inequalities and higher education in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis'. This was a period of great uncertainty, marked by debates about inequalities within and between countries and institutions. In their introduction, they argued that global higher education was uniquely well placed to serve the interests of redressing inequality and allowing for negotiation between what we termed a tetralemma, the demands for trading off between economic growth, equality, participation and sustainability.

They portrayed higher education as a space that could enhance participatory debate and reflection and hold together the four centrifugal forces of the tetralemma. In this presentation, Vincent and Elaine will reflect on the progress and setbacks for higher education in attempts to address this tetralemma over the last ten years, showing how concerns with economic growth often came to trump other features of the space they hoped the sector would help develop. They will consider whether COVID-19 (or any potential future global challenges) might represent a turning point regarding the search for a resolution of the tetrallema.

3:00pm: Panel discussion

Professor Rosemary Deem

Close of session: 3:30pm


Vincent Carpentier

Reader in History of Education at the UCL Institute of Education and a member of the Centre for Global Higher Education, Centre for Higher Education Studies and International Centre for Historical Research in Education.

Rosemary Deem

Rosemary is a Sociologist, Doctoral School Director and Professor of Higher Education Management, Department of HRM and Organisational Studies, School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway (UoL), Egham, UK. She was appointed OBE for services to Higher Education and Social Sciences, 2013. Rosemary researches doctoral education, inequalities in higher education (HE), academic work, HE leadership, governance, management and HE policy.

Tatiana Fumasoli

Tatiana is Associate Professor in Higher Education Studies. Tatiana has vast expertise in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level on higher education management, governance and policy and in the coordination of international research projects. Her research interests lie at the intersection of management studies, organization theory and sociology of professions and expertise. 

Lesley Gourlay

Lesley is a Professor of Education in the department of Culture Communication and Media at the UCL Institute of Education, London, where she served as Head of Department, 2014-2018. Her scholarship focuses on the interplay between technologies and the knowledge practices of students and academics, with a particular emphasis on textual practices and the digital. She has recently completed a new book 'Posthumanism and the Digital University: Bodies, Texts and Materialities' (Bloomsbury Academic, in press).

Allison Littlejohn

Alison is Professor of Learning Technology and Director of the UCL Knowledge Lab at the UCL Institute of Education. She is a learning scientist, specialising in professional and digital learning. Her current research focuses on the role of professional learning in addressing global challenges and her work has made contributions to the understanding of how people learn for work in diverse contexts and cultures across the energy, finance, health, education and international development sectors.

Giulio Marini

Giulio is Research Associate at Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education. Giulio’s research looks at governance of higher education, and careers and working conditions in academia. He has previously worked at Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa (Italy), CIPES, Porto (Portugal), The National Research Council (Italy) and Sapienza University (Italy), where he got his PhD in Methodology for Social Sciences.

Federica Rossi

Federica is a Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research interests focus on science and technology policy, the economics and management of intellectual property rights, innovation activities of firms and networks of firms, the economics and governance of higher education. She has collaborated on numerous research projects for, among others, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK's Intellectual Property Office, the EC/Eurostat and regional development agencies.

Victoria Showunmi

Victoria is a lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education. Her career profile has reflected her interest the areas of leadership, identity, gender, race and equalities research in education. She is the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference Chair and is AERA Member at Large for the Executive SIG and the Programme Chair for the International Studies SIG for AERA. She is currently engaged with an international research project exploring Black girls'/women's experience in education and the workplace.

Elaine Unterhalter

Elaine is Professor of Education and International Development and Co-Director of the Centre for Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education.