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How higher education leaders learn to lead – the shaping of professional identities: a comparison of senior academic leaders in Libya and the UK

Alhamroni, Ramadan (2017) How higher education leaders learn to lead – the shaping of professional identities: a comparison of senior academic leaders in Libya and the UK. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The role of senior academic leaders, specifically at the level of dean, in advancing the quality and performance of university education is an important one that has changed in nature over recent decades to become more managerial. This study explores the nature of this role, and how those who are in it develop their professional identities. It begins from the premise that both the characteristics of the role, and the self-images subsequently generated by deans are culture-specific, a belief held by the researcher as an ‘insider’ within the Libyan Higher Education context. Consequently, this study undertakes a comparative analysis of the role and professional identity of deans in a Libyan university, and those in a UK university. It adopts a qualitative methodology, using in-depth face-to-face interviews between the researcher, and six deans in each of the two universities. The interview protocol follows the life history approach in which participants are asked to share their stories of their formative years, their early careers, their journey to deanship, their accounts of their roles as deans, and their aspirations for the future. The data are analysed through a three-dimensional theoretical framework which addresses life/career stages, national culture, and the social construction of identity. It finds that culture and politics are influencers of what is expected of a dean as a senior academic leader, and that the daily lives and professional identities of the two research samples can be differentiated as a result of those two factors, since the formative years of all interviewees were similar and hence, the impact of family upbringing is controlled for. The major difference between the role and professional image of Libyan deans and UK deans, is the pressure from Libyan society, politics, and culture, for the appointment criteria in respect of deanships to relate to factors other than suitability for the job. This leads to a situation where Libyan deans are managerial, implementing regulations made by others further up the hierarchy, and generally having no room to ‘lead’ in the academic sense. Indeed, they are not given any form of leadership training in preparation for deanship which confirms the intended scope of the role. UK deans enjoy greater freedom in the discharge of their deanships, but nonetheless report being over-burdened by managerial responsibilities which they perceive to distract from their effectiveness as leaders.

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