NEWLEAD project on innovative leadership and change management in higher education concludes with an event in Brussels

Tuesday, October 31st, 2023. Last October 25 took place in Brussels the closing ceremony of the NEWLEAD project which, thanks to funding received by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission, beganin 2020 with the aim of developing the capacity of university leaders to lead change and address the new priorities of the institutional transformation agenda.

NEWLEAD has been led by Ramon Llull University in collaboration with a consortium formed by different agents, including the European University Association (EUA) and CRUE Spanish University Rectors Conference.

For three years, NEWLEAD has carried out analysis and diagnostic work to identify the competencies and skills that leaders of higher education institutions (HEIs) should have in order to effectively lead universities in the face of constant social changes and crisis situations. The project has addressed different models of institutional leadership in the face of current major challenges such as institutional transformation, collective leadership, women’s leadership in higher education and sustainability.

The various activities implemented under the NEWLEAD project have highlighted the importance of addressing the development of HEI leaders to equip them with the competencies and skills needed to cope with institutional transformation in the face of constant societal changes and global pressures. One outcome has been, for example, the publication of the report “Institutional Transformation and Leadership Development in Universities: A Mapping Exercise” which provides a comprehensive picture of leadership development programmes and the state of institutional transformation in Europe’s higher education systems. Another example has been the organization of two focus groups that brought together more than 50 university leaders from 20 European countries.

Although the project ended at the end of last August, it was not until October that the official closing event was held. This event, held in Brussels and organized by the EUA in collaboration with the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR), was led by Josep Maria Garrell, president of the EUA, and was attended by representatives of European universities as well as representatives of the project partners and other stakeholders.

The event served to reflect on the results of the project and to discuss how to shape the future of leadership development for university leaders in Europe. The event was also a meeting point to exchange views on the challenges facing current and future university leaders in a constantly evolving higher education environment. The event discussed strategies for supporting and facilitating sustainable and impactful leadership development initiatives across Europe and presented EUA’s plans in this regard.

Garrell said that planning training programmes for HEI leaders is now a priority and will be fundamental to achieving the vision for the future of the sector, as set out in the EUA Universities without walls document. The EUA President also stressed that, to achieve this vision, “we would need leaders capable of driving transformation.” Drawing on the work done by the EUA in the NEWLEAD project, as well as other projects such as USTREAM and LOTUS, Garrell explained that – building on the work of the EUA and the holistic approach to leadership it has adopted – professional development and leadership skills training must be a priority for institutions.

President Garrell also emphasized that “the project has paved the way forward for the EUA in the area of leadership development”. In this sense, Garrell presented a new EUA proposal focused on “defining, creating and developing an innovative pilot leadership development programme. The programme, which will be led by the EUA with expert advice, will build on the experience of the NEWLEAD project and will aim to support and guide EUA members and provide a unique complement to existing national initiatives and programmes.

During the event Thomas Estermann, Director of Governance, Financing and Public Policy Development, presented the main findings and recommendations of the NEWLEAD project. The director explained that, in addition to identifying the competencies needed for leaders in higher education and the current challenges they face at both institutional and system level, the project has drawn the attention of European and national policy makers to this issue.

Estermann highlighted the need for links between leadership development and institutional transformation in the context of the ongoing crises facing universities. He explained that the project shows the need for a strategic approach to leadership and that providing sufficient financial support for leadership development programmes will be essential to meet the expectations set for European institutions.


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