All about leadership of teaching and learning

A short summary of the results of a 15 month, federal government-funded project I led on great leadership of teaching and learning within universities.

Seven secrets of great teaching unis
BY: MARCIA DEVLIN From: The Australian March 06, 2012 12:00AM

THE national Labor party leadership shenanigans have thrown the critical spotlight onto the question of what makes good leadership. New research reveals seven factors that a good teaching university will possess.

Drawing on the reflections, experience, and knowledge of staff in 22 universities, a national study has revealed valuable insights into successful teaching and learning leadership.

As we all know too well, higher education is currently undergoing a massive shift driven by technology, mass education, increased student diversity,increased competition, changes to funding and expectations and an increased focus on standards.

In such a context, it is hard to determine what is working well in leadership. Primary data for the research was collected from three major sources. The first was a thematic analysis of final and evaluation reports on the Promoting Excellence Initiative (PEI) from a representative sample of 18 Australian universities. The now defunct Australian Learning and Teaching Council funded the PEI to the tune of over $9 million so one would hope some lessons in leadership were learned from that experience that could be shared.

The second data source was in-depth interviews with a sample of 24 teaching and learning leaders in 10 universities, including deputy vice-chancellors (academic).

Finally, an online survey of 90 managers and practitioners was undertaken. The final sample included at least one university from each state and territory and both aligned and unaligned institutions. The consistency of the findings was remarkable across the sector.

It was clear from the study that successful university leadership poses significant challenges. That said, our research identified seven interlinked insights that are characteristic of sustainable, positive change in teaching and learning in universities. These insights are that:

1.Efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning are aligned with the strategic direction of the university;

2.Senior executives support teaching and learning enhancement, and resources for those improvements are allocated as part of the university’s planning and budget cycle;

3.Staff workload allocations allow time for innovation, enhancement and improvement in teaching and learning;

4.Effective institutional leadership proactively manages tensions between research endeavours and efforts to improve teaching and learning;

5.Teaching and learning are supported by relevant research and scholarship conducted within the institution and in collaboration with other institutions and relevant bodies;

6.A distributed teaching and learning support structure exists within the institution and is coordinated from the centre;

7.Mechanisms to recognise excellence and to enable teaching career pathways are in place.

Like successful federal political leadership, all of this is easier said than done, particularly in a complex and constantly changing environment. But at least we now know what we should be trying to do.

More detail on the research reported above can be found at and at

Please reference as:
Devlin, M. (March 6, 2012). Seven secrets of great teaching unis. The Australian: