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Policy advisers research – your help needed

Vice Chancellors are increasingly looking towards professional policy advisers to help them navigate the changing higher education landscape and implement reform within their own institution. Richard Brabner is conducting some new research in to this emerging profession for the Leadership Foundation, and needs the assistance of wonks across the UK in responding to a survey to better understand these roles.
This article is more than 6 years old

Richard is Director of the UPP Foundation.

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In 2010 the “Lighthouse Group” – an informal network of policy advisers and executive officers* working in UK institutions was established. At the first meeting there were fewer than 10 institutions represented, the Group now has over 50 members. Vice Chancellors are increasingly looking towards professional policy advisers to help them navigate the changing higher education landscape and implement reform within their own institution.

The role of the policy adviser can vary widely, depending on the nature of the institution and personality of its leader. Duties can include gatekeeper, public affairs, speechwriter, and “fixer” (i.e. making sure faculties and schools follow the strategic direction of the institution). The growth of policy advisers in the UK follows the model in the United States, where ‘Presidential Assistants’ have been in post since the early 1980s. Indeed, in the US there is a fully formed professional association called the National Association of Presidential Assistants in Higher Education (NAPAHE), which attracts hundreds of delegates to its annual conference. For more information on this role, Mark Leach wrote about policy advisers in 2012, and it is well worth a read.

Whilst Vice-Chancellor’s are, in increasing numbers, relying on policy advisers there has been little focus (other than Mark’s article) on why they have emerged and what they do. As a result, I have been commissioned by the Leadership Foundation to write a stimulus paper on the role of ‘policy advisers’ in higher education institutions.

This paper will look to establish the following:

  • Why and how these roles have recently emerged
  • How these roles contribute to supporting leadership (roles and responsibilities)
  • The characteristics of the role (where policy advisers sit within an institution, pay grades etc)
  • Future development of the role

This paper will be based on research from a survey of people in these roles, and qualitative interviews of policy advisers and VCs.

This is where the Wonkhe community can help! If you undertake such a role at a UK HEI, please fill in this survey. It shouldn’t take longer than 20-30 minutes and by contributing to this research, you will help the our community better understand the nature of the role and the challenges it brings. Find the survey here.

Alternatively, if you know someone in this type of role, please forward this survey to them!

*Policy Adviser/Executive Officer are common job titles for the newish role that tend to be (but not exclusively) within VC’s offices. Other job titles often include Chief of Staff, Head of Policy, Senior Executive Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor etc.

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