University of the Free State: Enhancing and developing academic leadership through capacity building

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Educational leaders serve a significant administrative, management, and leadership function in higher education. A departmental chair’s role differs fundamentally from other leadership contexts, based on the momentous transition from being an academic by profession to providing leadership at departmental level.

The Academic Leadership Programme (APL) was launched by the University of the Free State (UFS) Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) to equip academics for various managerial positions. Faculty deans propose candidates for this programme; the second cohort has been chosen as the first is nearing completion.

The first workshop commenced with an engagement with the Rector and the Vice-Rector: Academic. Prof Francis Petersen and Dr Engela van Staden shared strategic academic leadership perspectives during the orientation and welcoming of the APL.

“The position of departmental chairs remains critical for any higher education institution, as they provide leadership in advancing the discipline, teaching students, producing quality graduates, and serving the professional community,” as accentuated by Prof Francois Strydom.

Such reflections highlighted the expectations of being an educator, the complexity, and the critical role of departmental chairs within higher education institutions. Academic leaders are thus expected to establish firm leadership within their departments, facilitate intellectual development, manage administrative duties, and strive towards resilient learning and teaching environments.

Research confirms that most academics succeed in these roles without formal leadership training, yet the expectation of developing or having certain leadership qualities or management competencies must fulfil the various functions of such a position.

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