Women and Inclusive, Transformative Leadership in Higher Education


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To mark International Women’s Day, we share an inspiring case study based on the Pedagogical Leadership in Africa partnership – PedaL – which looks at what attributes of female leadership are transformative for gender relations and inclusive outcomes. 

We also present how SPHEIR partnerships are addressing gender inequality in higher education institutions and helping students become the inclusive leaders of tomorrow.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world ” and to celebrate the efforts and successful accomplishments of all the women working on SPHEIR, especially in view of the challenges presented by Covid-19, we are sharing a case study looking at the qualities of female leadership that have contributed to the success of the PedaL partnership.

Launched in 2018, PedaL is a growing network of academics in African universities working to transform graduate education and its outcomes, by embedding innovative pedagogy within graduate social science programmes. PedaL has designed and delivered participatory, student-centred pedagogical training that, to-date, has enhanced the educational experience for 1,460 teaching staff from over 70 universities across ten African countries.

Participating staff have gone on to redesign over 1,100-course modules, already directly influencing the learning outcomes of over 1,200 students in PedaL’s targeted social science degree programmes and up to 100,000 more across the hundreds of university departments reached by the project across the continent.

PedaL training applies best practice on inclusivity and pays particular attention to gender dynamics in the content of modules, the selection of teaching and learning materials, as well as interactions within sessions. 

The case study draws on interviews with Dr Beatrice Muganda – lead for the PedaL partnership – and Dr Linda Waldman from the Institute of Development Studies, as well as on a literature and results review, and identifies what attributes of female leadership contribute to transformative change in contexts where gender inequality is systemic, and where complex gender dynamics, and different ways of seeing gender and power relations need to be navigated at multiple levels.

The attributes highlighted in the analysis include: leaders pursue a vision selflessly and inspire the same from team members; eliciting team buy-in; carrying people along in an evolving process; prompting subtlety of thought; problem-solving through inclusive discussion; a nurturing approach to building leadership skills; availability; and diffuse leadership that negotiates and influences. 

All those qualities contributed to the success of the project which has generated demand outside its formal partner universities and in subjects beyond its social science remit. The case study also highlights the contributions of team members (women and men) who are themselves leaders, champions and mentors in their own institutions and who are expanding PedaL’s outreach and maintaining its community of practice.

Susanna Carmody, SPHEIR Programme Manager, commented: “For me, the case study on PedaL draws out the power of inclusive and collaborative leadership and shows how an intentional focus on gender and inclusion can have a strong and positive impact both on the team delivering a project and on those benefitting from it.”

“There are great examples across the other projects in the SPHEIR portfolio of teams actively considering gender in their activities – from the gender-responsive pedagogy that is embedded in TESCEA’s approach to the recent focus on training gender champions in Sierra Leone, and ongoing analysis and investigation of gender-disaggregated data across other projects in order to monitor and address differential impacts for male and female beneficiaries.”

The TESCEA partnership is training academics working at higher education institutions in Uganda and Tanzania on gender-responsive pedagogy and has recently launched the new Gender Responsive Pedagogy framework and approach , a tool that addresses key aspects of the ‘hidden curriculum’.

The AQHEd-SL partnership is addressing issues of gender, inclusion and equity by training Quality Assurance officers at higher education institutions in Sierra Leone. The partnership also organised training for gender champions at all the institutions involved in AQHEd-SL. You can find out more about how the partnership is supporting gender equity goals in this blog .

We on the SPHEIR team hope you enjoy reading the case study and wish you a happy International Women’s Day! 

The case study is part of the evaluation of the SPHEIR programme. The evaluation is being carried out by a consortium, comprised of three organisations (IPE Tripleline, Technopolis Group, and the University of Bedfordshire). 

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