We were encouraged to read a piece on the AHUA site last summer authored by David Lewellyn, vice chancellor at Harper Adams University, arguing that more university registrars and chief operating officers should become vice chancellors.
That is, until we reviewed person specifications for VCs or DVCs or PVCs, and confirmed that in most if not all cases, you either need a doctorate, a professorial title or an academic track record.
This, then, excludes academic administrators (who are more likely to be female) who probably have both academic and professional qualifications but are unlikely to have a doctorate or professorial title. This means we are perceived to be ok to manage “that thing” at “that level” but not manage “that other thing” at “that higher level”.We don
That means it’s just not as simple as putting ourselves forward. We can’t when we are missing what is deemed to be a key requirement of an executive role. The question, then, is whether a doctorate or professorial title should be a key requirement of an executive role?
The Fawcett Society’s recent Sex and Power 2020 report highlights the fact that women only make up 30 per cent of vice-chancellors, only one example of the ways that men continue to dominate powerful public sector roles. There are a whole raft of talented women in other roles who would make excellent academic leaders and managers. But no-one is fighting the corner of academic administrators to get further than senior management roles.
Academic administrators could join ‘em to beat ‘em in that they could get a doctorate or professorial title but how does a doctorate in a possibly rather esoteric subject make academic administrators better leaders and managers? And, more crucially, gaining a doctorate (or professorial title) only helps that individual, not every other academic administrator who’d make a decent DVC or VC.
Brave new world
As the business of higher education changes (yes, we know we are all loath to call it a business….but), so the skill, knowledge and experience base of our leaders need to evolve. That evolution should include a commitment to seeking a broader range of experiences within senior recruitment. As all good writers of regulations will attest a well placed “normally” or in this case “or equivalent” would widen the pool of potential applicants.
This would enable the sector and governing bodies to ensure form follows function – what do we need of a leader and manager of a higher education institution? Demonstrable knowledge of how a university operates within the context of an evolving higher education sector; proven experience of strategic and operational management; and evidence of leadership skills?
Academic administrators have vision and drive; they have strategic and operational experience gained at senior levels; they are flexible; work internally and externally to the institution; communicate and negotiate; they manage resources; lead change projects; formulate policies and procedures; understand a diverse student population; report to Senates and Councils; they manage staff; understand both research and teaching; are able to influence and motivate; are creative positive disruptors; and each has their own specialist skillset, such as digital capabilities.
We don’t need a doctorate or professorial title to prove we can do this and it’s time the sector recognised that this is the 21st century and… #this administrator can!