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By Claire Ashmore and Sara Muller, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Keele University.


I was deeply honoured to have been selected from colleagues at Keele University, to be a participant on Aurora.

Aurora gave me the space to reflect on my own leadership experiences and possibilities, at a time of transition within our University and within my own role. I found the whole programme inspiring and pioneering in so many ways. I feel that Aurora has enabled me to take a more proactive and constructive approach to leadership challenges that arise in my current role. Aurora has made me more able, and willing, to have challenging conversations and take responsibility for difficult decisions, and better equipped to consider and understand.

I found the guest speakers to be excellent and it was impressive to hear such inspiring senior women in leadership sharing very honest accounts of their personal journeys. The format of each session allowed for deep and meaningful discussions with fellow participants. The materials and resources provided are excellent, a fantastic resource bank to access for the future also.

The key realisation for me is that leadership has nothing to do with hierarchies or job titles, and it doesn't have to come from above, or involve taking centre stage. Leadership is a mind-set that can have an impact in any role at any level of an organisation. It's about trying to approach every situation with the question, "What can I usefully contribute?” It's about taking ownership or responsibility when necessary. Above all it's about recognising that you have something useful to contribute.


This year I was selected to take part in the Advance HE’s (formerly Leadership Foundation) women-only leadership programme, Aurora. I have been wanting to do a leadership course for some time, but many are not feasible with a young family. This was perfect- five individual days spaced over 5 months – no week-long trip away.

The development days I attended in Birmingham were impressive: 250 women in one room covering topics including identity and voice, power and politics, and leadership styles. As well as inspiring talks from female leaders within and outside HE, there were loads of interactive group discussions led by role models – successful female leaders in HE. The third of the five days was an action learning set, which was new to me, but I found really helpful. As a group of six, we met for a day and each brought a leadership-related problem to discuss. The group helped each individual to think up their own solutions to their situation, without suggesting ideas.

Since completing the programme, I’ve also made use of the online resources, which I found quite thought-provoking. I can definitely see how the programme has changed how I interact with others. I know now that I can lead without being ‘in charge’, and I can do it in a way that suits me – be assertive, but also empathetic. I’ve made excellent networks with women from my own and other HEIs that I’m hoping to be able to make more use of in the months and years to come - I’m even in a WhatsApp group with my action learning set.

about the programme

The Aurora Leadership Foundation is committed to developing and improving the management, governance and leadership skills of existing and future leaders of higher education. Wherever the opportunity arises we shall work in partnership with a range of organisations within and outside of higher education.