Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme workshop

The HELM programme is lauded a lifeline to universities' middle managers

The packed venue made it look like USAf had underestimated attendee numbers. But the group actually included an overflow of individuals who could not attend similar events earlier in October, due to pressing work schedules. Having completed Part One of the Foundations of Leadership/Management Programme for Heads of Schools and Academic Departments, October 29-30 was the participants' last chance in 2019 to complete Part Two of this intervention. Everyone had therefore striven to be here.

The numbers turning up for HELM capacity building events
The numbers turning up for HELM capacity building events suggest a massive need for interventions of this nature.

This Foundations Programme is being offered by the Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme, one of two Universities South Africa (USAf) programmes predominantly funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training's University Capacity Development Programme.

The effort enormously paid off, says Ms Unati Stemela-Zali, Lecturer in Speech and Language Pathology and Head of the Department of Rehabilitation Science in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Fort Hare. As a novice in the Higher Education sector and in university management (coming from government and the private sector), Ms Stemela-Zali says the Foundations Programme represents everything she could have needed at this point in time. "All the topics offered were absolutely necessary. I needed to grasp the mandate and function of a university; how universities are funded and the legislative framework within which universities are governed," she says of some of the topics presented at the HELM Foundations Part One in East London in August. "I feel the same way about the themes covered in this final leg."

Ms Unati Stemela-Zali
"All the topics that the HELM programme is offering are gold in my current context," says Ms Unati Stemela-Zali, Lecturer in Speech and Language Pathology and Head of the Department of Rehabilitation Science in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Fort Hare.

"Ours is a new faculty, launched in 2017. Even the department of Rehabilitation Science, of which I am a head, is new. I am essentially introducing a new programme. Having qualified in what seems to be a rare discipline: Speech Therapy and Audiology, I have fortunately been placed in some kind of frontline management responsibility wherever I have worked - right from when I exited university. I have previously been exposed to some aspects of management training but these were in different contexts, so everything that HELM is offering is gold in my current context. Although we just recently completed a strategic exercise at Fort Hare, I did not have any theoretical background to the process so what I got here was invaluable." Ms Stemela-Zali says on completion of her Master's degree in Public Health, she got employed as Assistant Director and Programme Manager: Rehabilitative Services in Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital's Audiology department. She was also part of a team that built that department within the state hospital. Thereafter she started her own speech and audiology clinic in Umtata. She was busy enrolling for her doctoral studies with the University of Cape Town, when she got head-hunted for her current position.

Professor Zané Lombard, a Medical Scientist in Human Genetics and Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, concurs. "This intervention is preparing me for the HoD job," she says, further explaining that her current HoD suggested the training as part of succession grooming. So she found this to be a perfect preparatory exercise. "I'm not aware that my institution offers this kind of intervention," says the academic who has been at WITS since she completed her doctoral studies there in 2008. "Obviously, as part of the day-to-day functions of academics, WITS organises a lot of training workshops on research, teaching and learning as well as writing, to keep us sharp at performing those functions. There are not many opportunities for leadership and management training, though, unless one undergoes that kind of programme on their own."

Prof Lombard says as head of department, one finds oneself dealing with budgets, curricular and student matters "which we're usually not prepared to take on. I found this training quite eye-opening. It exposes you to what you're letting yourself into, in accepting the responsibility of running and managing a university department."

Prof Zané Lombard
The Foundations of Leadership/Management Programme for Heads of Schools and Academic Departments is a perfect preparatory platform for people being groomed for succession to heads of departments / schools positions, says Prof Zané Lombard, a Medical Scientist in Human Genetics and Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"I learned of the importance of democracy in people management" - Dr Molope

Dr Mokgadi Molope
"For me, this workshop reinforced the importance of applying democratic principles in both people management and strategic planning," says Dr Mokgadi Molope - Senior Lecturer in Development Studies and Deputy Director: School of Social Sciences at the Mafikeng Campus of the North-West University.

As a lecturer in Development Studies, Dr Mokgadi Molope - Senior Lecturer in Development Studies and Deputy Director: School of Social Sciences at the Mafikeng Campus of the North- West University, says in her discipline they teach participative development, yet there was a tendency, especially prior to 2019, to not practise the participative principles in managing people. "So the importance of applying democratic principles in making people management an integrative process was reinforced in this workshop." She had been a head of department for a number of years before taking time off management to pursue her doctoral studies.

She says she appreciates the importance of consulting and involving people from the outset. That is why, from January 2019, the senior management in her school started allowing the four different subject groups to contribute to the next five-year strategy. "We do see the benefit of doing so."

Previously exposed to most of the topics covered within the Foundations Programme, Dr Molope says "People Management is what I need more of -- to be able to differentiate between managerial and administrative roles." She says she has learnt to do things differently on integration, inclusivity and avoiding the window-dressing type of consultation.

"I still need to read up more on the models of change management that Patrick FitzGerald presented - so as to see which I can apply in my context. Prior to this exposure, change management was change management to me. I did not know that there are different models involved." The first-time beneficiary from the HELM programme therefore finds this a positive intervention.

Communication is critical - Dr E Stam

Dr Eduard Stam, Head of the Department of Ecology and Resource management in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda, says that the session has made him think in earnest about the importance of communication. "I was still assuming too much about what my staff know or understand. I now understand that I was not communicating enough. Therefore I am not sure whether my staff knows my intentions with the department. I have to become more communicative hereafter."

Dr Stam says the presentation by Mr Peter Morris, the Human Resources Management consultant and facilitator, made him reflect on university management's obsession with confidentiality. "Why, for instance, are the deliberations in Senate confidential? Doesn't that fly into the face of transparency? Due to this confidentiality requirement I am always facing a dilemma over what I can or cannot share with my department. In my own view there should not be anything from Senate that I may not share with my department, as I go there to represent my department, so I should be allowed to report back. The presentation by Peter Morris has actually given me the confidence to challenge this issue of confidentiality of Senate meetings."

Dr Eduard Stam
"I have learned from my exposure to the HELM programme, that I could communicate more with my staff," says Dr Eduard Stam, Head of the Department of Ecology and Resource Management in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Venda.

Excellent approach to subject matter delivery - Professor T Ngqondi

Prof Thembisa Ngqondi, Head of the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Mpumalanga, remembers once attending a HELM intervention in Durban in 2007. "The facilitation approach then was more theoretical. This one exposed me to real-life cases of things happening in the higher education landscape. The approach now engages the participants. It looks at the current context and the case studies relate to contemporary challenges that we can relate to. The facilitators fill us in and give us a sense of what happens at other institutions, helping me realise that I am not alone. By interacting with others I also learn from how they solved similar problems.

Prof Thembisa Ngqondi
Prof Thembisa Nqgondi, Head of the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Mpumalanga.

A long-time HoD who was appointed head of school in 2016, Prof Nqgondi says the HELM facilitators understand the higher education landscape and do not talk out of context. "They are part of the system. They are skilled in bringing out information from the group. They have an ability to inculcate teamwork and involve everyone. They are also not giving us solutions but leave it to us to solve the problems and only thereafter contribute new ideas.

"I got excited, hearing of possible causes of resistance to change. Some people resist because they have seen a flawed plan and do not want to be a part of it. I liked the idea of mini meetings in preparation for change; of explaining and consulting on the change to drive ownership. This workshop encourages us and boosts our self-esteem while helping us identify areas in which we are not doing well and in which to improve.



Prof Thembisa Nqgondi, Head of the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences at the University of Mpumalanga.

The case studies were relevant and highly educative

"I liked that we were not just fed the theory," Ms Zenande Williams, Head of Department of Applied Informatics and Mathematical Sciences at Walter Sisulu University. "We also interrogated case studies that enabled better understanding in applying the theory." Three years into this position, Ms Williams says she found both Part One and Part Two of the Leadership/Management Foundations programme very informative. "They enabled me to see things from another perspective," she says, citing an example of exercises they did in groups, such as drawing up a strategy document.

"Now I understand that drawing up a departmental strategy is not about complying with the status quo but taking ownership. It is forward looking. With the strategy in place I can achieve a lot more." She also learned from this second leg of training that while she previously found it difficult to lead change, "I made assumptions about why people resist change. I have since learnt of possible reasons and also of numerous methods of selling the change."

Like many of her predecessors and peers, Ms Williams was not inducted into the HoD role. "So at first I was reluctant to take up the position. But once in the job I got all the support I needed, and got excited. When the post was advertised I applied and got it." Having been in this responsibility for three years now, Ms Williams continues with her teaching functions as she works on her proposal towards a PhD.


"The case studies enabled me to see things from another perspective," says Ms Zenande Williams, Head of Department of Applied Informatics and Mathematical Sciences at Walter Sisulu University.
Ms Zenande Williams
"The case studies enabled me to see things from another perspective," says Ms Zenande Williams, Head of Department of Applied Informatics and Mathematical Sciences at Walter Sisulu University.

The knowledge-sharing in groups was exceptional

Several participants applauded the group discussions. "They were awesome, bringing together a diversity of professions, skills and departments," says Ms Stemela-Zali. "We had people more experienced in higher education management listening to one another and considering each input. It is often difficult to reach consensus from academics working together because everyone pushes their perspective. But I was placed among people who listened to every input and were able to distil what was important from each contribution."

"It was an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues, to network and get different perspectives of how things are at different universities," Prof Lombard adds. "I enjoyed the group work - simulating what goes into strategic planning, drawing up budgets etc. -- especially the strategic planning approaches and the benefits that each brings was very useful."

"The diversity of our strengthens, our understanding of leadership at our different institutions enabled me to understand that we, operating a younger university, are competing at the same level as the more established universities," Prof Nqgondi said. "This builds confidence in us. It is important for us to get together like this."

"For me, one of the biggest outtakes was aligning the budget to the strategy, says Ms Williams. "In the past, my contribution to the budget was limited to adding figures to line items already prescribed."

The Foundation Programme an absolute must for heads of departments and schools

Prof Lombard recommends that prospective HoDs and HoSs be exposed to this about two years prior to their progression into these positions. Ms Stemela-Zali would particularly recommend this intervention for new heads of departments as "I have gathered that traditionally, people do not get this type training." On arrival at Fort Hare, she was asked to design her own job description. She is happy that Mr Peter Morris will share a generic example for her to adapt to her context.

networking
The HELM programme is an excellent platform for networking and sharing of different perspectives.
This group won chocolates
It also injects fun into learning. This group won chocolates on two rounds for outperforming others on strategic planning and budget formulation.

Ms Williams definitely encourages other people to undergo this programme. "It is often easy for one to think they are the only ones experiencing certain challenges. It helps to see that I am not alone and to learn of how others have dealt with similar challenges."

From the University of Mpumalanga, Prof Nqgondi wishes to see programme leaders also getting exposure to prepare them for their future roles as prospective heads of schools.

More engagement and interaction during workshops is desired

Even though the participants generally applauded the Foundations Programme as a success, a few did express their dissatisfaction with lengthy presentations. People expressed preference for shorter presentations and breaking up sooner to go into exercises. Some would have preferred more interactive exercises on budgeting and others on the transformation of higher education topic introduced by Professor Ahmed Bawa. At least one person felt deprived of engaging on the transformation topic.

Says Prof Nqgondi on her wishes: "Performance Evaluation is a new thing to me. I wish it could be explained in more detail. If it is not done properly it tends to divide people. The training must be offered to different levels of management to enable them to implement the solution correctly. I also wish to be trained in proposal-writing for fundraising."

As the workshop wound down on Thursday, a participant summed it all up: "We have learned and heard. Now that the ball is in our courts we have to perform." Whereas a typical HoD/HoS workshop is normally planned for 30 participants, the programme of 29-30 October gathered 52 individuals, pointing to the massive need for interventions of this nature.


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