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20 years Leadership Development Programme

‘A different perspective
is good for institutions’

The Leadership Development Programme exists for over twenty years within ECIU. Harry de Boer, teacher and researcher at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) of the University of Twente, has been involved since the beginning. He did not see leadership change substantively in those years. The programme did change, according to him.

Text: Stan Waning
Photos: Frans Nikkels


De Boer remembers how the leadership programme came about over twenty years ago. The UT embarked on the adventure together with the Scottish university of Strathclyde, Hamburg University of Technology, Germany, and the Danish Aalborg University. ‘Offering training on leadership development seemed like a good idea to us. We therefore inventoried the needs of the universities and determined the programme together. That has continued to develop over the years.’


All 14 ECIU universities have now joined the programme. Three seminars are scheduled yearly, always at a different university, where the participants get together. ‘What makes the training unique? The programme itself. It is not about accounting or educational innovation, but it approaches leadership in the broadest possible sense. A professor of nanotechnology and a head of finance can learn a lot from each other during the programme.’

Harry de Boer
Harry Boer
Harry Boer
Harry Boer

'Leadership in itself has not changed, that is a constant, however the context is constantly changing'

According to De Boer, the programme works because universities are complex worlds. ‘From research to real estate and from finance to student life. Trying to dig into those things together can help us understand them better. Whether that happens in Enschede or Stavanger. From my office, I have had a view on the Nanolab for years, but who works there? Or what happens in there? I have no clue. In addition, as a university, we operate in a global field and a lot is happening in all kinds of areas. This sometimes leads to apparent chaos. How do you deal with that as a manager? How does an ECIU colleague tackle problems? That is what we think about within the programme.’


What makes the programme a success according to De Boer, is that it helps form a community. ‘We now have about 300 to 350 alumni. During seminars, we discuss each other’s personal characteristics and skills, but we also form a challenge-based research assignment. Then, as a UT manager, you suddenly think for example about real estate in Sweden. This different perspective is good for the institutions. The result is more understanding for each other and the realization of what a European University can do.’


De Boer has seen the world change over the past twenty years. ‘The pace of change is very high and there are always new issues to think about in the programme. That also counts for the sentiment surrounding certain subjects. Think of the ever-increasing size of higher education. Where do all those students come from? We keep on growing. How do you continue to manage that well?’ According to the researcher, leadership in itself has not changed. ‘That is a constant. You need certain competencies. Managing means dealing with people, convincing people, dealing with the budget and conducting conversations with bad news. That was, is and will remain so, although the context is constantly changing. It makes me optimistic about the future of this programme. On to the coming years.’


Harrie de Boer

Harry de Boer
Teacher and researcher at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) of the University of Twente


What participants say

Kati Toikkanen

Kati Toikkanen,
Instructional-methods specialist, Education and Learning, Tampere University


‘The programme was very useful. It broadened my knowledge on how higher education institutions work and how higher education is regulated in different European countries. We were divided into groups to solve challenges that were set up by the host universities, such as how to integrate ECIU’s objectives into regular educational activities. The lessons learned and understanding of the different higher education systems are very important in the collaboration within ECIU.’

‘The seminar weeks were very intensive but rewarding, and I think it was a strength that the participants included both academic and administrative staff. I feel that we can ask our European colleagues for tips with a low threshold after spending time with each other. The different exercises on leadership skills were quite educational. I learned a lot about myself and the programme gave me good ideas and tips for improving my own skills.’

Sara Strömberg

Sara Strömberg
Senior Research Coordinator, Linköping University


‘Participating in the ECIU Leadership Development Programme was a great experience. As an aspiring leader, the program offered an opportunity to reflect upon general aspects of leadership in the context of higher education and it also provided me with insights regarding my personal leadership qualities. The possibility to learn from the other participants' experiences as well as staff members from the hosting ECIU universities was very valuable.’

‘After having the first seminar online due to Covid-19 pandemic, it was highly appreciated to meet the other participants as well as organizers in real life, first in Dublin and then in Twente. I would say the group assignment was indeed challenging, both with regards to time and effort but also the topic itself. But in the end, it felt very rewarding to be able to present the results of our group to the challenge providers as well as the other participants. On a personal note, it also gave me a greater understanding of the vision of the ECIU University including the challenge-based learning approach.’


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