The Graduate Programme for University Leadership run by Ambitious Futures has been recognised for its development of the future leaders of higher education by Times Higher Education (THE Awards).

The 15th and largest ever THE Awards ceremony took place on 28 November 2019 at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. It celebrated the extraordinary achievements of UK universities and their staff and championed the tireless efforts of vital charities.

Up against five other shortlisted nominees, the national Ambitious Futures programme was presented with the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Leadership Development’ award sponsored by Advance HE.

The judges found that "this innovative approach helps to develop personal resilience, adaptability and emotional intelligence in high-achieving graduates".

As the only fast track graduate programme tailored for the higher education sector it is delivered in close collaboration with our partner universities. Successful candidates are selected via a rigorous three-stage assessment process. 

Trainees undertake three six-month placements in two different universities. In this way they gain first-hand experience of three different functional areas, and two contrasting institutional cultures and environments.

In parallel with their practical placements trainees follow a bespoke professional development programme. They engage in group coaching, mentoring, workshops, and receive AUA membership and conference attendance.

The programme strengthens the connection between talent, strategy and performance and can add significant value and competitive advantage. Ambitious Futures trainees can help to transform services and processes and manage the effects of change across strategic and operational priorities.

Sally Jones, the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer for Ambitious Futures, is keen to expand the programme, develop the talent pipeline for the higher education sector and continually enhance the employability of its trainees.

Editor of Times Higher Education, John Gill said: "Our hope, as ever, is that the successes can, where possible, be rolled out and scaled up so that others can benefit from the innovation and creativity on display.”

Chief Operating Officer at Brunel, Paul Thomas, is a founding champion of the scheme and has pushed for Brunel students to make the most of the opportunities offered by the programme.

"At Brunel we recognise the talent of our students and see how our institution and the sector will benefit from their fresh outlook and drive to succeed. I hope the THE award can raise the platform of the programme so that both our students, and other universities, are eager to get involved," said Paul Thomas.


If you wish to be involved in the programme or require further information, please contact:

Sally Jones, Chief Operating Officer on 0115 951 5752 or

Sam Woolley, Programme Manager on 0115 748 4483 or


Christine Abbott and Sam Woolley from Ambitious Futures accepted the award from Alison Johns, Advance HE, along with Brunel’s current Ambitious Futures trainee, Simone McNichols-Thomas.

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