Paul Greatrix, Registrar of the University of Nottingham, writes a great blog about the trials and tribulations of being a senior manager at a large University.
This week he has started what I hope will be a long series of think pieces (The Imperfect University) about University leadership. The first looks at whether academics make the best University leaders. It’s a gentle critique of a series of research that has been published recently ‘proving’ that academics make the best University leadership:
“There is a suggestion here that it is sufficient simply to appoint a top academic. That, somehow, everything will come good if only the university can find the right leader, someone with the strongest academic credentials, with the most citations”
“I might remain mildly annoyed at the suggestion that someone like me could only ever offer benighted misdirection to a university, what really irks about all of this is the idea of mutual exclusivity: whatever the background of the leader, s/he will not be acting alone and will have a team of colleagues working with her/him to deliver success. Universities may well often best be led by leading academics but no one individual, whatever their background, is going to be able to do everything on their own. Universities are just too big, complex and diverse.”
I couldn’t agree more (although, being one of those ghastly bureaucrats myself, I would say that wouldn’t I?!). Read it in full here.
At one point he argues, quite strongly I think, that a university that is well supported by administrative staff will be leaner and more efficient. I used to make this case when I worked at the Quality Assurance Agency. The organisations was constantly criticised for being bureaucratic and tying poor, defenceless academics up in knots (I seem to recall that Paul was one of those critics too)! In fact, it did nothing of the sort. The Agency worked tirelessly to make sure that what it did was aimed at supporting universities and academics to set minimum standards that would be widely applicable and recognised across the HE sector. The processes for reviewing and making public judgements about universities were painfully negotiated over long periods to make sure that the burden was not too high.
The case in favour of having a system by which universities could compare academic standards was best made a couple of years ago when the Vice Chancellors of Oxford and Oxford Brookes could not find a good way of explaining whether a qualification from one was comparable to another.