The visibility of senior leaders and awareness of their roles and duties is a common challenge in universities.
While institutional leaders are often involved in media engagements, formal committee meetings, events with stakeholders, meetings with groups of staff and sometimes social media activity, they don’t always have a huge amount of time to spend with students. It was interesting therefore to see this report from Canada which surveyed students on their views on senior leaders in universities.
It’s a survey full of surprises. For example:
About half of respondents had met their faculty or department chair (51%), and nearly two-fifths said they’d met their department’s dean (38%). Just under a third had met their registrar (29%), while half had not (54%). Over three-quarters of respondents had not met their institution’s president or principal (75%), a vice-president or assistant vice-president (79%), or member of the board of governors (78%).
I’m genuinely amazed that the figures for contact with senior leaders are so high.
The survey also asked students what they thought each of these senior managers actually did:
Students believed that deans selected the programming to be offered that year (50%), ensured a high-quality education (46%), and oversaw the student experience (37%). Only 15% of respondents said that they did not know what deans did. Panelists most commonly said that they did not know what the provost did (47%), and about a quarter of respondents were unfamiliar with the roles and responsibilities of the board of governors (28%), and/or president (25%).
And with registrars:
The majority of our panelists believed that registrars were primarily responsible for student records (68%); a third believed that the registrar also played a role in determining the programs and courses that would be offered (33%), tuition, and fee changes (30%). The latter likely relates to the way that the registrar’s’ office supervises and supports the distribution of financial aid at many institutions.
Then this summarises what students believe these individuals do:
Naturally I’m particularly interested in the views of the role of the registrar. Part of the challenge of this in a UK context though is the huge variety of duties across the sector. As this recent AHUA blog observed, while there are substantial commonalities in some dimensions of the role, there is some divergence in others:
Looking at registrar roles in overview there are two extremes, with at one end of the spectrum some jobs which are highly governance-focused, and at the other some registrars with very broad managerial roles. Most registrars though occupy the space in between these two extremes and enjoy a wide range of duties.
The range of these duties is revealed in the report, Never a Dull Moment: The Role of the Registrar and are pretty varied, including:
- Data protection
- Legal services
- Academic administration
- Student services
- Corporate affairs
- Health and Safety
- Institutional strategy and planning
So the students in the Canadian survey do seem to have a reasonable idea about the role of the registrar and I suspect are better informed than many UK students would be.
The survey also covered the attitude of students towards the range of senior managers in question. The survey showed that half of the students felt neutral towards senior administration (51%) while the rest were divided between positive and negative feelings. There was much higher satisfaction though where students had personally met three or more different kinds of senior administrators. I suspect though that meeting this many senior managers in a large UK university would be pretty unlikely for the vast majority of students.
Although the survey overall is perhaps surprisingly positive (albeit in a Canadian context) it does indicate that there is plenty of scope for improving the relationship between senior leaders and students and that the more personal contact there is the more positive the understanding of and views about senior staff results.
It would be extremely interesting to see the results if a similar survey were to be undertaken in the UK.