In this blog, Professor Martha Caddell, Director of the Learning & Teaching Academy, introduces the Heriot-Watt Programme Directors Forum, a space where Programme Directors can find the support they need to develop in their role.

Programme Directors play a key role in setting the academic direction of programmes of study and providing academic leadership for their learning community of students and teaching team. The role also involves navigating a myriad of management and administrative requirements and establishing connections and collaborations across the university. For many Programme Directors at Heriot-Watt University this involves working across campuses, harnessing the strengths of a diverse teaching team to deliver an excellent programme of study.  

Previously the ‘invisible superheroes of learning and teaching’ (Cunningham & Wilder 2019), there is now increasing appreciation of the key enhancement role played by programme leaders and recognition of their need for tailored support. Sector collaborative work commissioned by QAA Scotland (see Caddell et al 2019) highlighted four spheres of influence where action is required to empower programme leaders:  

  • Development opportunities for individual programme leaders;  
  • A focus on collaborative teaching teams;  
  • An appreciative institutional context that offered appropriate recognition and reward; 
  • A sector-wide appreciation of programme leadership to raise esteem and practical support.

This work has sparked action at sector level and within institutions, with opportunities to raise esteem and offer practical support across these spheres increasingly being explored.  

Supporting Programme Directors at Heriot-Watt  

Heriot-Watt has recently established a Programme Directors Forum to build peer and institutional support for colleagues in these roles, working across these areas of influence and action.  

The Programme Directors Forum is a space to share practice and learn from others. Throughout the year, the Forum meets to discuss key topics, connecting Programme Directors to colleagues across the university. The Forum focuses on building community, sharing successes, and offering practical support. 

For 2021-22, the Programme Directors Forum is focusing on five key activities:  

  • The Programme Directors Forum discussion series: Joining these roundtable and sharing practice sessions will help PDs tackle practical challenges, build confidence in their role, and create connections across the university.
  • Developing The Programme Directors Toolbox: This practical set of resources will support Programme Directors in their role, stepping through the academic year from a PD perspective and offering guidance and practical tools to support them in their role.  
  •  Introducing Action Learning Sets for PDs and SPDs:  A chance to join a group of colleagues to offer each other support and share practice.  
  • Strengthening Global Teaching Teams: An opportunity to share practice in creating strong, collaborative teaching teams, collating and sharing case studies and practical tips for success.  
  •  Shaping the Future of Learning & Teaching at Heriot-Watt: As we move beyond pandemic working, we need to find space to think forwards. The PD Forum will play a key role in conversations around strategic change in curriculum, assessment and teaching.  

Get Involved 

  • Find out more about the Programme Directors Forum events here.   

Key Resources 

Resources and case studies from the QAA Scotland Collaborative Activity on Programme Leadership can be accessed here:  


Featured image by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.