A Phenomenographic Study Exploring Differing Conceptions of Leadership Education and Development within Higher Education

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study examines students’ qualitative variations in their perceptions of leadership education within Higher Education where there is little evidence of previous research. The aim is to establish the extent to which current leadership development and pedagogy within Higher Education are relevant and effective. This qualitative, phenomenographic study was conducted within the context of the Business and Law Faculty at the University of Portsmouth. Research questions addressed pedagogical models and theories that are the most relevant for leadership education, how the current teaching of leadership is perceived and what pedagogic conclusions and recommendations can be made to enable young business leaders to overcome future leadership challenges. Eleven students who had just completed a leadership development module, and for validity, four educators of leadership who had knowledge of the module were interviewed. For verification purposes, 26 survey responses from former students were analysed. The phenomenographic analysis entailed grouping meaningful utterances from the data into seven ‘pools of meaning’ which were classified into four ‘categories of description’. These are (1) forming positive relations and networks, (2) learning through encouragement and discovery, (3) the ability to put theory into practice with critical analysis and (4) transforming for the professional environment.
These were placed in an all-encompassing hierarchical order to form the ‘Outcome space’. The unique contribution to knowledge is to advance understanding of, and conceptualise relational and emotional aspects of student learning and development, which extends learning theory. Contributions to theoretical knowledge include enhancements to an experiential learning cycle based on relational learning and a proposed addition to an employability model. Implications for pedagogical practice include a framework to enable students to form positive business networking and professional relations. An innovative and ambitious framework is identified for leadership education and development. It is argued that these provide the basis for a future research agenda into leadership curricula in business-related contexts which is derived from the recent data analysis and literature that aims to effectively prepare young business leaders to excel in their careers.

Key words: Higher Education, leadership education, personal leadership development, phenomenographic research, pedagogical practice, student learning theory.
Date of Award8 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHarriet Dunbar-Morris (Supervisor), Valerie Anderson (Supervisor) & Christine Theresa Neanon (Supervisor)

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