Improving the Quality of Educational Leadership in the UK

Abstract

The aim of this study is to enhance the voices of international students to improve the quality of educational leadership in the UK higher education sector. Three research questions guide the review by identifying lessons about diversity that can be borrowed from foreign students to improve student buy-in in educational leadership in the UK, establishing how their voices can improve transparency in educational leadership, and identifying techniques that could be used to integrate the voices of international students to improve creativity in educational leadership. The findings of this study were developed through a review of existing literature that focused on the research topic.

Only books and journal articles were included in the analysis because they contained credible academic information. However, those that were not published within the last five years were omitted from the analysis for lacking updated information. Overall, 15 articles were analysed and the scope of the investigation was focused on improving transparency, diversity and creativity of educational leadership.

The findings of this study suggest that integrating the views of international students in education leadership can help policymakers to come up with better solutions for problems affecting the student population. This outcome is likely to happen because of the link between a diverse student population and increased creativity in learning environments that have leaders who understand how to manage a multicultural student population. This view is supported by the evidence presented in the study, which shows that multiculturalism helps education stakeholders to make better policy decisions by developing a broader understanding of factors influencing students’ educational experiences. Using creative means, they can also deploy their resources efficiently to manage pressing issues affecting students’ welfare.

Introduction

International students form an important body of the student politic in the United Kingdom (UK). In this regard, they remain a key priority in maintaining internationalisation discourse of higher education in the country. According to the common definition of international students advanced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), foreign students are comprised of learners who have crossed international borders in search of education services (UNESCO, 2020a). In other scholarly literatures, international students are referred to as non-citizens enrolled in a specific country.

For a long time, the success of higher education institutions has been reviewed quantitatively, where evaluation is based on the fulfilment of recruitment quotas by enrolling a specific number of students from different parts of the world.

This trend has led to the creation of a significant gap in the literature regarding the role of qualitative assessment in educational leadership. Partly, the problem has been manifested through the underrepresentation of voices of international students in educational leadership (Benner, Brown and Jeffrey, 2019). This failure in management has seen institutions of higher education miss opportunities to integrate the experiences of international students in improving the design and delivery of higher education services (Ammigan and Jones, 2018). Consequently, it means that the decisions made in such a system may be unreliable.

Education leadership is an important tenet of higher education because it determines the future direction of training activities in learning development. Relative to this assertion, Pound (2017) highlights the need to highlight differences between leadership and management by saying that former concept should fundamentally focus on making significant changes to a learning environment, while management should focus on maintaining the changes.

This process happens when leaders take the initiative and elevate existing systems to a higher level of understanding through a carefully managed transformation process. Such changes may be drastic and take a long time to implement. However, it is the duty of managers to maintain the system and ensure that it works according to the desired plan and integrating the views of diverse groups in education leadership is a major step in advancing this goal.

The role of education leaders in addressing the needs of international students has been undergoing significant changes in the last few decades due to globalisation and the need to integrate the views of different stakeholders in policy discussions. Relative to these changes, the role of educational leadership cannot be ignored in improving student and learning outcomes. In support of this statement, Şenol (2020) says that “education leaders have a high impact on shaping school cultures, school improvement, student learning and achievement so that their professional development is critical to their continued success as leaders” (p. 1).

Subject to the importance of understanding the role of education leadership in improving learning outcomes and the experiences of international students, there is need to employ the same tools in improving the quality of leadership in the higher education sector to address representation issues which have seen the views of foreign students excluded from policy formulation and development processes.

Research Aim

To enhance the voices of international students to improve the quality of educational leadership in the UK higher education sector

Research Questions

  1. What lessons on diversity can be borrowed from foreign students to improve student buy-in in educational leadership in the UK higher education sector?
  2. How can the voices of international students improve transparency in educational leadership in the UK higher education sector?
  3. What ways can the voices of international students be used to improve creativity in educational leadership in the UK higher education sector?

Improving Diversity in Educational Leadership

For a long time, diversity in the enrolment of student population has grown tremendously in the last 10 years. Supported by technological development and globalisation, the percentage of foreign students in UK’s higher institutions of education has increased due to the expansion of virtual learning as a digital form of education service. Similarly, there has been an increase in the percentage of minority group representation in various educational groups and forums.

For example, women have been increasingly represented in various educational leadership forums – a departure from the past where men mostly dominated these positions (UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, 2020a). However, a deeper insight into these findings reveals that white women have been the biggest beneficiaries of these changes while “women of colour” and other minority groups remain underrepresented in education leadership bodies.

Higher education in the UK contains one of the most diverse student populations in Europe because of the influx of students from different parts of the world. This progress has been built on a policy of diversity, which encourages institutions of higher learning to enrol students from different backgrounds in various educational programs (OECD, 2020a). The effective implementation of this policy has seen students from all genders, income backgrounds, and nationalities being integrated into the country’s education system. For example, as observed by UNESCO (2020b), today, students from all ages and backgrounds form the core of the higher education sector.

Researchers who have highlighted challenges that international students face when they come to new surroundings also mention the importance of maintaining diversity in the higher education setting (UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, 2020a). However, their recommendations have been poorly adopted because of practical challenges in integrating the views of international students in policy development.

The low numbers of foreign students who participate in educational leadership forums in the UK means that its decision-making system lacks diversity. By extension, this statement implies that the current decision-making model implemented by higher education institutions in the UK is rarely questioned because people who think alike constantly run it. Therefore, there is minimal incentive for critical thinking to occur, thereby compromising the quality of decisions made.

For example, stereotypical conceptions about students’ views cannot be questioned where there is no diversity in representation. Most importantly, the continued neglect of the voices of foreign students means that the policy decisions made in the UK higher education sector lack the international rigour needed to enrich students’ learning experiences. Particularly, universities are ignoring an opportunity to advance their educational agendas because they could easily get valuable feedback about their education programs by engaging foreign learners.

Part of the problem affecting the quality of decisions made in the higher education sector is the failure to understand the importance of diversity in decision-making. Research studies suggest that diversity can be achieved when institutions become more representative in terms of colour, language, age, gender, and ethnic orientation (Veenis, Robertson and Berry, 2020). In other investigations, diversity has been observed to predict people’s power to make decisions and determine their effectiveness in managing resources (Veenis, Robertson and Berry, 2020). In this regard, there is a need to select leaders who have the competence to operate in a multicultural learning setting.

Including the views of international students in educational leadership helps to promote diversity at the top decision-making organ of an institution. Techniques that can be used to achieve this goal have been contrasted with how designers promote diversity in the built environment. For example, Downs and Stea (2017) investigated how human spatial behaviour influences diversity and found that the latter concept helps to improve cognitive mapping processes, which are useful in improving existing systems of operation.

From an educational leadership perspective, these findings suggest that including the views of international students in policy development helps to promote diversity, which is integral in realising student buy-in. Furthermore, embracing the views of students who have diverse opinions may help education stakeholders to get information from multiple perspectives thereby enriching their ability to understand concerns raised.

Global education agencies, such as the UNESCO (2020a) suggest that intercultural adjustment is one of the major challenges affecting foreign students who study in the west. Consequently, integrating the views of international students has been proposed as a tool for promoting the diversity of opinions shaping higher education leadership. Fisher, Frey and Almarode (2020) supports this narrative by saying that diversity can be achieved by leveraging the collective wisdom of all students to make better policy decisions regarding the provision of higher education services.

They add that this process helps to promote equity and access to opportunities for students who come from different backgrounds (Fisher, Frey and Almarode, 2020). Therefore, integrating the views of diverse groups could be implemented as a measure of equity and fairness. Overall, the findings highlighted in this paper suggest that the failure to include the voices of international students in educational leadership denies institutions an opportunity to enrich students’ experiences, especially concerning communication among education stakeholders because diversity in decision-making allows them to communicate more effectively and make high quality decisions.

Improving Transparency in Educational Leadership

Transparency is a sacred virtue cherished by proponents of educational leadership because it promotes accountability and fairness in the learning setting. These important values need to be instilled among young learners and staff. The importance of transparency in managing education systems is emphasised even more in a higher education environment characterised by people who come from a multicultural but interconnected world. Transparency helps nurture a culture of sharing across different fields of higher education development, based on the successes and struggles of learning. The OECD (2020b) says that the process of creating a transparent culture must start with transforming school leadership.

It gave an example of Wale’s education system as a model for improving evaluation techniques because transparency has been used to enhance efficiency in service delivery. The OECD (2020b) says that a stronger system of accountability has been nurtured through the development of a culture built on trust and transparency. It has also been successfully used to develop new curriculum by integrating the views of additional educational stakeholders, such as parents in the development of their children’s curricula. This is the same framework proposed to integrate the views of foreign students in educational leadership. It suggests that their contribution should be sought at the formative stages of curriculum development so that they feel like they are part of the learning development process.

A culture built on transparency and which accommodates diverse student voices has also been reported to having transformed the Finnish education system by helping individuals to make better collective decisions (OECD, 2020b). Again, the integration of transparency virtues as a form of value system for adding students’ views in educational leadership has been analysed within the context of curriculum development because it promotes the shared interpretation of the meaning of learning.

The transparency of the education system has also been hailed for promoting participatory leadership, which has helped to bolster the quality of education decisions in the higher education sector (OECD, 2020b). Nonetheless, it is proposed that the best way to include the views of foreign students in educational leadership is to create a transparent system of leadership that is open to accountability.

A book authored by Alston et al. (2020) lends credence to the aforementioned view because it suggests that transparency helps to improve communication between authorities, students and staff. Particularly, the authors suggest that it helps to build relationships among education stakeholders, which are built on respect and a common understanding of the need to share information that is pertinent to the improvement of learning outcomes (Alston et al., 2020).

In this context of analysis, examples have been given of how transparency has helped to improve the quality of communication between students and authorities, especially when looking for ways to identify and eliminate barriers that affect their success and positive learning experiences (Shaheen, 2016). Similarly, the pursuit of transparency has been used to challenge retrogressive aspects of school culture with the goal of making them more responsive to student and staff needs.

Promoting Creativity in Education Leadership

In a world where students have many responsibilities and maintain a demanding schedule, the role of creativity in improving education leadership has been ignored. The UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (2020b) suggests that this problem has occurred because students have become busier balancing their school and work obligations. For example, in the UK, most students have a part-time job to supplement their financial needs (Ploner, 2018). At the same time, international students are only allowed to work for a limited number of hours in a week, thereby compounding the list of distressing factors they encounter when studying in a new environment, as they do not enjoy some of the employment privileges that their native counterparts have.

This is why many international students have said that financial issues is at the top of their list of concerns when studying abroad, followed by lack of friends and a poor grasp of new language (UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, 2020b). These problems have forced education leaders to look for creative ways of solving them without upsetting the primary goal of studying overseas, which is to gain access to quality education services.

Creativity is one of the most sought after qualities of a good or effective leader. It is regarded as an effective tool for promoting a healthy and productive learning environment (UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, 2020b). Creativity is a concept that is based on the reasoning that “working together” would help to improve educational outcomes. The characteristics of creative leaders is embodied in their ability to create conditions that foster such cooperation. It also outlines a framework for the integration of the voices of international students in education leadership.

The importance of fostering creativity through the integration of the views of foreign students in policy development has been highlighted in research investigations focused on early childhood education. Scholars have found that pooling children from different cultural settings in one classroom helps to improve their creativity and problem-solving skills (Ding, 2016; OECD, 2020c). Creativity was also found to significantly increase staff self-efficacy levels when they operated in a multicultural learning environment (OECD, 2020c). These competencies were further observed to improve the ability of students to learn independently, thereby contributing to the enrichment of their learning experience.

Relative to the above findings, a book authored by OECD (2020d) suggests that creativity is an essential tool for navigating 21st century leadership problems. In its analysis of innovative solution for managing present-day student welfare problems, the OECD (2020d) coupled the concept of creativity with communication and technology to explain how faster transfer of knowledge can be achieved when new ideas are adopted in educational leadership.

These findings were developed after analysing the need to promote religious diversity in educational development. They suggest that creativity is an important tenet of educational leadership that can be achieved through the integration of the views of all education stakeholders and an instrumental tool in promoting national competitiveness. Creativity was also found to be helpful in improving students’ self-esteem and productivity (OECD, 2020d). Overall, these findings show that the voices of international students can help to improve the quality of decisions made in education leadership by encouraging creativity in the decision-making process.

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to enhance the voices of international students to improve the quality of educational leadership in the UK higher education sector. Three research questions guided the review by identifying lessons about diversity that can be borrowed from foreign students to improve student buy-in in educational leadership in the UK, establish how their voices can improve transparency in educational leadership, and identify the techniques that authorities could use to integrate the voices of international students in promoting creativity in educational leadership.

The findings of this investigation have also shown that including their views in education leadership helps to instil trust and accountability in the management of education affairs. Similarly, by embracing diversity, there is better understanding regarding the unique challenges that foreign students face when studying abroad and lessons that could be learned to address them in future curriculum development or the advancement of any other aspect of educational leadership.

The findings of this paper have also demonstrated that integrating the views of international students in education leadership can help policymakers to come up with better solutions regarding different problems affecting students’ welfare. This is likely to happen through increased creativity, which is associated with learning environments that have leaders who understand how to manage a multicultural student population.

Evidence from Finland and the UK have been mentioned in this study to support such proposals and they have additionally shown that the appreciation of multiculturalism in educational leadership helps stakeholders to make better decisions by developing a broader understanding of factors impacting their educational experiences. Indeed, using creative means that have been enriched by the views of foreign students, they can efficiently deploy their resources to manage these issues.

Reference List

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