Universities are large, complex organisations that provide a highly stimulating environment in which to make a career. Over 250,000 professional staff are employed in more than 150 universities nationwide.  Universities offer a wide variety of professional roles, such as marketing, human resources, finance, planning, IT, project management, policy, and many more.

Higher Education is constantly evolving. Changes in government policy, the economy, demographics, technology, and society at large all have direct impacts on universities. To face such challenges we need leaders of the highest calibre. That's why Ambitious Futures invests in developing the careers of the brightest and best.

This programme provides practical work experience across a range of areas. You will develop your skills, build your knowledge and enhance your understanding of different work cultures and business areas. Completion of the programme will kick start your career in Higher Education and help set you on the path to a leadership role.

Applications for 2020 are now closed.

A Rotational Programme

A key feature of the scheme is the opportunity to experience different universities and different functional departments within them. This opens up new potential career paths and shows the diverse range of rewarding roles that are available in universities.

You'll be employed by your chosen university throughout the 18 months of the programme, and carry out three six-month work placements. The first and last of these will be at your host university, the middle placement will take you to a different partner institution.

Your placements will be project-based and wide-ranging. Working alongside experienced colleagues you will learn first hand about university policies, systems and processes. You will meet with a range of stakeholders both inside and outside the University, and so build up your professional networks. We aim for you to complete a variety of different projects in a fairly short space of time, so that you can see the results of your work implemented – a great sense of achievement!

  • Undertaking a full marketing refresh to support student recruitment and offer holder days
  • Reviewing systems and procedures for Language Centre enrolment for new and returning students across the University to deliver a more streamlined process
  • Developing a university-wide environmental plan to help the university achieve its aspiration to be “a green university”
  • Supporting external relations – digital and marketing – in implementing its 2020 global recruitment campaign, and the implementation of university-wide new branding
  • Working with academic and professional services colleagues across the university to develop and deliver a new academic policy framework and manual
  • As a member of the university’s corporate governance and institutional resilience team, working with colleagues to draw up business continuity and risk management plans for faculties and departments across the university
  • Revising and updating the Finance website and intranet. This includes reviewing and documenting key finance processes and data and information flows.
  • Working for a subsidiary company of the university charged with generating income from commercial activities aligned to the university’s core business. As a member of this team, supporting the roll-out of two new business products, plus a review and evaluation of their business plans.

Why Join

“To those wishing to apply, especially if you’re a minority applicant in any way, I say: do it. It’s a brilliant scheme and from my experience the sector really appreciates and can learn from people like you.”

Pritesh, 2016-17

“Joining the Ambitious Futures scheme was the best graduate decision I could have made. From day one I’ve been assigned interesting work with lots of responsibility and autonomy. If you’re interested in HE and want to creatively tackle some of the sector’s biggest challenges, really consider applying for Ambitious Futures.”

Lucy, 2018-20



Professional Development

Alongside your practical placements you will follow a programme of professional development. Called “Preparing for University Leadership” this programme has been specifically designed for the scheme by the University of Nottingham’s Leadership and Management Academy.

The programme consists of four online learning modules, plus a personal and reflective learning module.

You will be supported in your e-learning tasks by tutors from the Leadership and Management Academy.

Each module culminates in a one day workshop for the whole cohort.

In addition, you will:

  • Take part in three group coaching sessions over the 18 months
  • Be given one year’s membership of the Association of University Administrators (AUA)
  • Attend the annual residential AUA conference
  • Engage with your Ambitious Futures peers through online networking and discussion boards
  • Have a mentor
  • Have the opportunity, through your host institution, to meet with senior executives of the organisation, observe at high level meetings, including Board/ Council meetings, and take part in other projects and development events.

Eligibility Criteria

Essential requirements for 2020 entry:

  • You will have graduated (undergraduate or postgraduate) since July 2015, or you expect to have graduated by the start of the programme in September 2020
  • If you do not have a postgraduate qualification, you must have achieved or be predicted to achieve at least a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree
  • You must be eligible to work in the UK for the length of the programme (until end of February 2022)
  • You will be passionate about pursuing a high profile career in the university sector


To continue to deliver world-leading university education in an increasingly competitive market we need to attract the best graduates to lead and inspire. That's why we're looking for high calibre individuals with the ambition to drive their career forward.

Having made the most of your time at university, you may value the chance to give something back.  You will be strongly motivated by the opportunity to shape the future of a rapidly-changing sector. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are vital, as you'll be working with and influencing a variety of the brightest people both on the graduate programme and as your career progresses.

Partners for 2020

The confirmed partner institutions for the 2020 intake are:

Successful candidates will complete their first and third placements with their host University. The second placement will be with a partner University from the list above.

*Brunel University will only will only accept applications from their own graduates
**Successful candidate will undertake all 3 placements at the University of Exeter 

Application Process

There are 3 key stages to our recruitment process. Throughout each stage, candidates are assessed against 9 core competencies:

  • Motivational fit - do you understand the programme and what you will doing. Have you got the passion, enthusiasm and energy to make a difference?
  • Leadership - Taking a proactive role in influencing others. Showing initiative with a positive can-do attitude. Motivating colleagues.
  • Teamwork, respect and self-awareness – working collaboratively with a diverse range of people. Emotionally intelligent and mindful of your impact on others.
  • Bigger picture thinking - Understanding of the HE sector and how own work is aligned to and contributes to departmental success. Ability to plan and deliver within set policies, procedures and legal constraints.
  • Delivering results – Prioritising activities and finding creative ways around obstacles. Resilient under pressure and manages time effectively
  • Dealing with change - Taking on new challenges and seeing change as an opportunity to improve things. Ability to identify solutions and support others through the process.
  • Thinking innovatively - Considers issues from a number of different angles. Comes up with creative and original solutions. Spots opportunities to learn and develop.
  • Analysis and decision-making - Objective and methodical approach to analysis of information. Ability to make well-reasoned decisions and also when to defer.
  • Communication, influencing and knowledge-sharing - clear and effective written and verbal communication skills. Adapts communication style to the needs of the situation, audience and message. Listens and learns effectively from others.


Assessment Centre Dates

Bristol : Fri 13 March
Brunel: Fri 13 March
Cardiff: Thu 19 March
Dundee: Fri 06 March
Exeter: Wed 18 March
Glasgow: Mon 16 March
Goldsmiths: Fri 13 March
Lancaster: Tue 10 March
Nottingham: Wed 11 March
QMUL: Mon 09 March
Sheffield Hallam: Mon 09 March
SOAS: Mon 16 March
UAL: Fri 06 March
Uniac: Wed 18 March
Warwick: Tue 17 March, Wed 18 March

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