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HE Power List 2016: An introduction

Launching the 2016 HE Power List, Editor Mark Leach introduces the top 50, our approach to the judging, as well as some reflections on the turbulent year just passed.
This article is more than 7 years old

Mark is founder and Editor in Chief of Wonkhe

What a difference a year makes…or eighteen months to be precise. We published last year’s Power List before the 2015 General Election – and putting this year’s edition together, it felt that we had accidentally stepped through some sort of vortex and into a parallel universe. The era of George Osborne and David Cameron seemed like a half-remembered rumour. Ed Miliband a possible Prime Minister? We really had a serious conversation about that during last year’s judging session.

So we decided to put back the 2016 edition a little bit, to allow the referendum to play out and the kaleidoscope to settle. We assumed that the summer would bring some changes on the scene – but we had no idea how dramatic the referendum and the fallout would be. In future years we’ll continue to publish the list in September to mark the start of a new academic year and political season. We’ve also looked ahead a little bit to the coming year and asked who is likely to leave their mark over the coming months?

This year we’ve opened up eligibility for the list a little wider: 2015’s only represented English HE but this year we factored in Scottish and Welsh higher education too. It was a tough call, our primary concern was being able to fit in all the different movers and shakers from these HE and political systems that only ever seem to pull further apart in approach and personality. As a result there are lots of new entrants this year – mostly leading Scottish and Welsh vice chancellors and politicians who are setting the agenda in their nations, but who are also having a wider impact on all of UK higher education. Their march up the list has also narrowly squeezed out some familiar faces who featured last year.

Below each ranking you can see how far up or down the list some people have moved, who has stayed the same, and who are new entrants this year.

We compile and publish this list every year to shine a light on how decisions are made that impact on UK HE and help the sector better understand its relationship with the outside world.

As the list strikingly shows, politicians at home and abroad continue set the agenda for universities. We’d like to think of ourselves as autonomous, but the reality is that universities are tightly bound up in the political and economic decisions of the day, and so many of the decisions that affect us remain remote, unwelcome, and certainly outside of our control. Academically free perhaps – but imagine the sector as a ship and ask yourself: who’s driving it? Sure, there are centres of power and key influencers, and plenty who will offer their advice about the direction to take. But we’re never quite as in control as we’d like to be. And it remains unsettling.

As well as the list itself we have a treasure trove of analysis with more to follow – you may not want to digest it all at once: I hope that there’s enough to think about here for several coffee breaks.

To those who made this year’s list: congratulations. Making it on to the to 50 is an achievement in itself. We started the judging session with several hundred possible contenders. For those aspiring to rise up the ranks next year and beyond: be careful – it’s likely to be a dangerous climb.

Read more:

The 2016 Power List

HE Power List 2016: The changing nature of power in a cynical world – by Jon Bennett

HE Power List 2016: Cecil Rhodes and students’ influence – by Smita Jamdar

HE Power List 2016: If a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity – by Aaron Porter

HE Power List 2016: The death of the ‘Osborne Supremacy’ – by David Morris

HE Power List 2016: Influence of alternative sector grows year-by-year – by Richard Brabner

HE Power List 2016: The Brexit big-hitters – by Jonathan Simons


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