Janet Beer is Vice Chancellor of The University of Liverpool.
It was both intriguing and flattering to be included in the Power List – thank you to Wonkhe and Linstock for stimulating the debate.
As with lists of most-loved films or favourite novels, this compilation creates some interesting talking points. Firstly, only 12 out of 50 places went to women, and only one is in the top 10. I don’t think we should be too surprised about this, high level politics and leadership positions are still dominated by men.
But as Chair of the Equality Challenge Unit and a member of the 30% Club’s Higher Education Working Group, I know there are some reasons to be positive about progress in this area. The good work of Essex and Birmingham was recognised at last week’s Guardian University Awards in the Advanced Staff Equality category and, across the sector, many institutions are making a real difference, for example through the Athena SWAN charter.
These initiatives are crucial – by recruiting, promoting and supporting staff at all levels, greater diversity in leadership will emerge. What’s more, in this list, we can clearly see that the leadership of many sector agencies is predominantly female; these women are important influencers in a broad range of policy and practice arenas.
My coming of age in terms of policy formation occurred during the seven years I spent, from 2000-2007, as a Special Advisor to the House of Commons Education Select Committee. Before then I hadn’t really lifted my head above the concerns and interests of my discipline. Working with the Chair, Barry Sheerman, to ensure that the most interesting and knowledgeable people in the sector were invited to give evidence, I began to take a much broader and less parochial interest in higher education issues.
Those sessions informed and fuelled many debates and produced some high quality reports which really helped to stimulate discussion and understanding of the complexities and nuances of policy formation. More often than not recommendations went unheeded but I remain convinced that the interrogations of sector actors and politicians added depth but also colour to the debate.
To return to the matter in hand…the VCs who decorate this list are all people who have, in one way or another, put their heads above the parapet. Some are current, previous or future chairs of UUK, Russell Group or University Alliance – speaking up for higher education and its centrality in the social and economic life of our nation. It is sometimes said that we are a divided sector but we all, unstintingly, wave the flag for continued investment in the intellectual, physical and moral fabric of our nation – an investment given tangible reality in higher education.
And in case you were wondering…. my number one favourite film and novel would be Casablanca and The Portrait of a Lady.