South Africa's Women Academics Praise Australian Project

Published 13 July 2001

On 11 August, ten senior academics from four Australian universities will travel to South Africa to undertake a week-long Concluding Workshop for the 20 key leaders in a Government-funded project entitled: "Leadership Development of Academic Women through Action Learning and Action Research".

The visitors will also assist their colleagues in writing and presenting their research findings at a conference, and subsequently publishing their project results.

This exciting project was funded at $168,300 by the Australian Government's overseas aid program, through the Agency for International Development (AusAID), and managed by IDP- International Development Project. It will conclude at the end of this year. The Program has been undertaken in both South Africa and Australia over two years (2000-2001).

The Project has aimed to develop leadership skills of academic women in six technikons in Gauteng. This has been pursued through training and support for staff development personnel and other senior academic staff of the institutions, to conduct collaborative Action Learning programs within and across institutions.

Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Education, Griffith University, and in the Graduate College of Management, Southern Cross University, successfully planned the Australia - South Africa Institutional Links Project. It has been hosted by Southern Cross University and has been staffed by a team of senior leaders:-

* Southern Cross University: Professor Sandra Speedy (Director of the Graduate College of Management) and Professor Angela Delves (Pro-Vice-Chancellor).

* Griffith University: Professor Marilyn McMeniman, (Dean of the Faculty of Education), Associate Professor Mary Farquhar, (Faculty of International Business and Politics), and Associate Professor Robyn Zevenbergen (Faculty of Education)

* University of Queensland: Associate Professor Nanette Gottlieb (Head, School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies) and Dr Linda Worrall, (Director, Communication Disability in Aging Research Unit)

* Queensland University of Technology: Associate Professor Penny McKay, (School of Cultural and Language Studies), and

* Dr Lyn Cundy. Senior HR Consultant to the Public Sector and Editor of the International ALAR Journal (Action Learning and Action Research).

Activities commenced in April 2000 with a one-week Residential Start-up Workshop in Gauteng to introduce key staff developers to the Action Learning and Action Research approaches and skills for implementation. These staff developers have since undertaken action learning projects with other women academics in the six technikons, with regular monthly progress review meetings.

Key participants in South Africa attended a ten-day Leadership Program in Australia in September 2000 during which time each 'shadowed' a senior Australian female academic, who acted as a mentor. They also participated in the Fifth World Congress on ALARPM (Action Learning, Action Research and Process Management) and presented their progress reports.

These South African women academics have praised the Australian project and appreciated the benefits it provided to them. As a professional staff development opportunity, it has emphasised the role of leadership of women academics in the six technikons, with participants gaining confidence and skills for further action learning and innovatory initiatives.

Project activities have developed the women academics' understanding, experience and skills of action research. These concepts and skills have been incorporated into regular teaching programs in the technikons for wider dissemination. Increased professional linkages, publications and networking of women academics in the two countries have been an additional feature of the Project.