Uma Malar Maniam

Uma Malar Maniam


My study is associated with issues involving departmental heads’ capacity in leading. Leaders in higher educational settings are challenged to meet rapid changes from time to time. These challenges and changes have certainly put the spotlight on leadership in higher education. Particularly in a developing country such as Malaysia, fuelled by internationalisation, the higher education institutions (HEIs) have gradually influenced the notions of leadership including leaders in departmental levels. Clearly, departments are smaller than the whole institution and more complex than the lone academic or faculty member (Bolman & Gallos, 2010) but, leaders play pivotal roles to bring about significant changes that are desired by institutions. This process of change is intimately connected between the departmental head and other staff working in same or different departments in the HEIs.

Departmental heads are the backbones of every department in an institution. They are different in many ways. Every departmental head holds different job designation, credibility, formal and informal roles and responsibilities, and also experiences which inevitably demonstrate distinctive leadership. Thus, it leads to practical questions such as “Who are perceived as effective leaders in higher education institutions?” “What are the effective leadership styles or/and approaches practised by these leaders?”, “How the leaders think in dealing with problems in their leadership roles? “Are there any strategies used to strengthen the notion of effective leadership for the benefit of leader, follower and institution?” Bearing these questions in mind, I wish to develop further insights into this area of study by focusing on reframing the thoughts of departmental leaders when face critical incidents in their leadership. 


Truly, the acculturation of Malaysian and Indian cultures has helped to enrich my knowledge seeking attempts. I was always passionate about three things, music, dance and teaching. In the same order, I started learning Indian classical music at six followed by the Indian classical dance at seven. I won several devotional singing and dancing competitions. I also completed both certificate and diploma in Bharathanatyam (Indian Classical dance) with the 1st class ranking from a recognised university in Trichi, India. I love sharing what I learn. Professionally, I decided to become a teacher and qualified a BA in English Language Studies from the National University of Malaysia. This qualification was a pathway to start my career as a language tutor. I received an award as the Best Teacher Trainee in 2004 from the Ministry of Education, Malaysia. The award proved my hard work and interest in teaching. I began teaching in language centres, private school and technical college. Due to the demand of academics in higher education institutions, I completed MA in Education, specialising in TESL from the most esteemed university, University of Malaya. It was a great privilege to work in the same university as a language tutor for almost two years. I had the opportunity to complete a Level 5 CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification awarded by Cambridge in 2015. Before starting my doctoral studies, I was appointed as an acting head of department in a private college.            

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I have a personal and professional motivation in this topic. As an academic and former head of department, I witnessed many incidents related to leadership issues throughout my career in the past. The positive and negative effects of leadership have influenced my career trajectory. From my workplace observations, departmental heads were dealing with leadership problems from multiple facets and mostly unsupported. I think the voices of departmental leaders in higher education must be heard to advocate future leaders to lead and influence others effectively.  

What makes me passionate about my subject?

Leadership and management are essence of effectiveness in any educational settings. Identifications of debatable issues in leadership and management will help to change policies and practices. I hope my study will shed light on how departmental heads can be supported and encouraged in order to meet various demands in higher educational institutions. These leaders are backbones of colleges and universities. Therefore, without understanding their roles, responsibilities and needs, higher education institutions could possibly ‘sink’ in the ocean of internationalisation. More research in this area can bring about positive changes

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Upon the completion of my doctoral studies, I wish to work as a head of department in any established or new higher education institutions either in Malaysia or other countries to strengthen and contribute knowledge in the field of leadership and management. I hope to help in the change of policy making and recruitment of academic leaders. I am also eager to be involved in research and publications.