Leading from the Middle: Investigating the Roles of Algerian Academic Middle Leaders in Three Universities

  • Soumia Elmestari

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There has been a growing interest in middle leadership in Western countries, not least in the school sector. However, it has been less researched in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, including Algerian Higher Education (HE). This project sets to explore the professional practices and the views of academic Middle Leaders (MLs) in three Algerian university departments about their leadership and management roles following significant changes in Algerian HE. The study explores the difficulties encountered by MLs, identify the kind of skills, knowledge, and attributes that they need to have for effective practice of their leadership and understand the contributory factors to their professional development.

Through a qualitatively-focused mixed-method study, documentary evidence was used to understand the context in which they operate. The quantitative data obtained through the online/paper-based surveys with twenty-two participants were combined with semi-structured interviews and field notes to capture the participants' views for in-depth analysis with nineteen participants. The academic MLs in this study have job titles such as Deputy-Deans, Heads of Departments, and Course Directors within three university departments in Algeria.

The key findings indicate that the leadership context and HE system structure mold how academic MLs operate. Their roles and responsibilities were significantly complex and dynamic. Their role was identified as predominantly administrative. Their responses showed readiness for the support, not only to lecturers' Continuing Professional Development (CPD) but also to encourage colleagues to take leadership positions. It appeared that tensions and challenges surround the role of the MLs at different levels: people, institutional and HE levels. The organisational culture was also found to significantly affect how the MLs lead. The study's findings revealed that their professional learning journey is related to factors linked to experiential learning, self-directed learning, collegiality, learning from significant people in the job, having two careers simultaneously, and the benefits of motivational factors. Other factors related to previous experiences outside of academia were learning from administrative roles, teaching and other work experiences. Their accounts suggest no formal preparation for their role by their universities. The study findings provide new insights into understanding middle leadership roles in the Algerian HE context.
Date of AwardOct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAssia Slimani Rolls (Supervisor) & Cristina Devecchi (Supervisor)


  • Higher Education
  • Middle Leadership
  • Change
  • Relational Leadership

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