Universities around the world are experiencing profound change: an ever-increasing range of new disciplines is coming into being; employers have become parsimonious in hiring newly minted graduates; new technologies are creating disruptive new opportunities for tertiary education; and public sector and philanthropic funding for universities are progressively being squeezed.

Every year, World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), a division of Qatar Foundation, conducts an annual leadership conference in Doha for heads of universities. The 2014 program, conducted in early November, was attended by heads of both public and private universities from sixteen countries, and focused on leadership and strategy.

Through behavioral and emotional intelligence assessments and participant surveys, we learned that heads of universities from different continents often face a common set of challenges.

Heads of universities are often promoted from the academic track, and may have limited experience in leading complex, multi-dimensional institutions. Moreover, the boards of trustees and the senior management teams with whom they have to interact may themselves have limited experience in governance and management.

Challenged to bring about transformational change, heads of universities often identify improved teaching quality and more effective use of information technology as critical levers of change. At the same time, they frequently do not give sufficient priority to market-facing opportunities and challenges such as student jobs placements and deeper relationships with the private sector.

Programs such as the WISE leadership program help university leaders to identify and address both common and unique leadership challenges facing them. We look forward to more such programs to prepare university leaders for the journey ahead.

Download a short report on the leadership assessments and strategy survey conducted at the WISE.