Students flogging it

Should universities be concerned?

Good report in the Chronicle about students hawking goods on campuses and the fact that university staff don’t seem to have a response or, in some cases, even an awareness of the issue.


When classmates market products on campus, it’s hard not to notice. Students handing out logo-emblazoned T-shirts, complimentary energy drinks, and invitations to corporate sponsored “parties” have turned many universities into de facto commercial zones. It’s an appealing arrangement for both sides: Companies get inside access to a large market at a low cost, and students earn extra cash and lines on their résumés.

But a handful of administrators have voiced concern about student marketing, saying that it violates university policies and could jeopardize contracts with other companies on campus. Observers outside academe question the effects of such marketing on campus culture and student life.

Still, few colleges have procedures in place to handle the practice, so relatively little is done to stop it. And some administrators don’t even know it’s happening.

“I personally have not heard of it or seen it,” said William F. Merck II, vice president for administration and finance at the University of Central Florida. “I think if it were at any significant scale, we would have picked up on it.”

One of the major energy drink producers is particularly big in the student market and you only need to look at the “Red Bull University” site to get a sense of their approach. More detail can be found in this interesting case study report which highlights the strength of the word of mouth model for this company and the ways students are involved as part of this approach.

Campus Group is a company which organises marketing to students for a wide range of clients:

They note that the student market is a particularly lucrative one as students are making independent purchasing decisions for the first time, they are concentrated in small locations and tend to be early adopters. Moreover, student spending power is estimated at £15 billion per annum in the UK. It’s perhaps understandable therefore why so many companies will want to target students and why they will use students themselves to do this. Campus Group describe their student brand managers thus:

To reach students, it’s important to be a student. Our Campus Brand Managers are the eyes, ears, voice, hands and feet of our clients. Recruited on the basis of coursework, interest, and experience, our Brand Managers are specifically selected to represent your brand and target relevant students. Trained to fully understand the objectives and targets to be met, they are involved from the beginning of the campaign by bringing their insider knowledge and creativity to the campaign.

Is it a win:win then or should universities be concerned? I have to admit I don’t like the approach at all and find the presence of brash, highly visible promotional material deeply irritating. Challenging it however is pretty difficult. Whilst the more obvious activity can be prevented, much of the promotion simply isn’t visible to staff and therefore hard to do anything about. So is it really a case of out of sight, out of mind? I hope not but whilst there are companies looking to get a slice of this £15 billion market and plenty of students keen to make some money as brand managers it is unlikely to stop.

Rich celebrations

Two ceremonies to celebrate the achievements of Dr Tony Rich

I was privileged to attend two ceremonies in February to celebrate the achievements of Tony Rich, formerly Registrar and Secretary at the University of Essex and a mentor to me for nearly 20 years. The first event was the naming of a new teaching centre at the University:

The Tony Rich Teaching Centre

Entirely appropriate given Tony’s passionate commitment to teaching and learning. The naming was followed by a wonderful ceremony further celebrating his life and work and culminating in the award of an Honorary Doctorate.

Honorary degree award

It was a really special and poingnant event and great to see such a big turnout including many former colleagues from Essex, friends and family, a number of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars and lots of people from the Colchester and the region.

As another attendee pointed out to me, universities really do this kind of event extremely well. It had just the right mix of formality, seriousness and pomp combined with informality and personal touches.

The oration paid testament not only to Tony’s career and particularly his 12 years at Essex where he had led and contributed to significant change but also his major contribution to the educational, cultural and sporting life of the town, county and region over many years. It was an outstanding list of achievements.

Among those present was Jonathan Nicholls who is raising money for the University of Bristol’s Cancer Research Fund in honour of Tony:

The London Marathon will take on an extra-special meaning for one Bristol alumnus as he aims to complete the gruelling 26 mile course in honour of the University of Bristol’s recently retired Registrar Dr Tony Rich, who is battling the disease.

Dr Jonathan Nicholls (BA 1978) has already raised nearly £10,000 in sponsorship for his efforts, which were prompted by the heartbreaking diagnosis that his close friend Dr Rich has incurable cancer.

Dr Nicholls, who works as Cambridge University’s Registrary, will be joining seven other Bristol alumni runners who are raising money for Bristol University’s Cancer Research Fund, which supports vital research into cancer prevention and treatment.

He and Dr Rich first met as administrators at the University of Warwick in the 1980s and have been close friends ever since.

Dr Rich started work as Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Bristol at the end of the 2010/11 academic year, having previously worked as the Registrar and Secretary of the University of Essex since 1999, but retired recently due to ill health.

He is now asking friends and colleagues to support Dr Nicholls as he prepares to conquer the world-famous marathon on 22 April.

Jonathan’s sponsorship page is here. Do please support him.

Overall a wonderful event celebrating an outstanding individual.

The Imperfect University: More and more regulation

More Regulatory Woes

A recent speech by the Universities Minister focused on his apparent desire to reduce regulation for institutions: “We are in a government that understands the value of autonomy,” Mr Willetts said.

Mr Willetts talked about the possibility of reducing data collection requirements as well as the likelihood of universities escaping some EU regulation following the shift to majority private funding as a result of the new fees regime.

Both of these would be welcome steps. The burden of excessive regulation is a significant problem for universities. It might be thought that as the size of the public contribution to higher education funding declined this would be reflected in a reduction in red tape. Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, universities are left with the feeling that the weight of regulation tends to keep growing rather than reducing.

So will the reduction in public funding really mean less government involvement in university affairs? Sadly, no. Rather than cuts in government funding to HE resulting in a bonfire of red tape, there is a whole host of new or augmented regulations, including:

  • The new fee arrangements which institutions are all deeply engaged in preparing for the implementation of at present
  • Changed student number controls, with the uncertainties of AAB+ and bidding for the 20,000 students at the margin
  • The move to more comprehensive annual access agreements with OFFA
  • The changed financial memorandum between institutions and HEFCE
  • New visa arrangements for Tier 2, staff, and Tier 4, students, together with monitoring arrangements for the latter
  • The Key Information Set (KIS) which will require all universities to provide more information to prospective students
  • The proposed introduction of a Student Charter
  • The idea of extended transcript information for all graduates through the Higher Education Achievement Record
  • The revised Quality Assurance Agency institutional review method
  • The increased burden of Freedom of Information requests
  • Developments in the work of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator
  • Charities regulation.

This is only part of the picture. The cost to the sector of compliance with this regulatory framework is significant. And this really is not what universities need right now. Part of the burden is data collection and the Information Landscape Project, announced by the Minister in the same speech, is intended to address this:

The BIS White Paper ‘Students at the Heart of the System’ discusses a new regulatory framework for HE in England and explicitly tasks HESA, working with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Better Regulation Group and the Information Standards Board for education and skills, to redesign the information landscape in order to arrive at a new system that meets the needs of a wider group of users; reduces the duplication that currently exists and results in timelier and more relevant data.

Will this make a difference? We will see. Universities have been here before though and have yet to see a real impact on regulation.

Policy, Regulation and Lies?

So, how big is the accountability ‘burden’ on institutions? Looking back over the past dozen years there are several attempts to measure and to reduce or improve regulation. In 2004 PA Consulting, following up an earlier report on accountability costs, investigated changes in accountability costs as perceived by the universities they contacted. The study cited a number of changes since 2000 including the introduction of a revised QAA framework and reduced requirements from HEFCE in terms of bidding, tendering and consultations. The paper concluded, on the basis of its survey, that the accountability cost to the sector had declined over the four year period to the equivalent of £188m (at 2000 prices), a reduction of 25%. However, it is also noted that this was the equivalent to the ‘annual income of two large universities’ (at that time) and therefore ‘a cause for continued attention’. Something of an understatement, especially given the ‘slightly disconcerting’ range of additional accountability requirements identified in the report. These findings were commented on favourably by the (then) Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education in his presentation of the Government response to the Interim Report of the Better Regulation Review Group (in 2004).

The Better Regulation Review Group was succeeded by the Higher Education Regulation Review Group (HERRG). HERRG was established to ‘introduce a stage of informed scrutiny into the policy making process’. The impact of both groups was, arguably, negligible. It is difficult to muster much confidence that the latest incarnations of this kind of task force will be any more beneficial in terms of reducing the bureaucratic burden.

There is always a gap between policy as formulated and as implemented. The simplistic nature of the instrumental interpretation of relationship between policy and evaluation is rational but disconnected from reality. Unfortunately though, evaluation is often seen in this way, as the provision of information to policy makers or stakeholders who prefer simply described and preferably numerical outcomes. The disappointment at the lack of measurable output inevitably leads to a desire for further regulation in order to deliver greater confidence in the results of policy. The consequences of this though can be inimical to the intended ends of the original policy and corrosive of trust.

Victims of our own success

The role of HE in creating the professional labour force of the UK public sector is one example of how successful universities have been and how vital is their role in contemporary society. Given the importance of universities then the desire for intervention should not come as a surprise but the interventionist approach which characterises regulation in HE is also part of wider trends and a diminution of an historical trust which no longer appears to offer adequate reassurance of the quality and standard of HE provision. This decline in trust results in heavy transaction costs and, associated with the move towards controlling institutions via contract and regulation, matters have to become more explicit rather than implicit. It is difficult though to see this reduction in trust in institutions as anything other than a long term and irreversible trend. The very nature of the national quality assurance framework, for example, would seem to reinforce this and it is difficult to imagine that the historical basis of trust can be reconstructed.

Regulations - lots of them

Other angles

Some other interesting views: Martin Wolf [1] has argued that universities are, in effect, a nationalised industry which accepted their financial dependence on the state with the foundation of the UGC in 1919. The government has asked institutions to assure quality without providing the funds needed to ensure it and the less generously the government funds, the more it interferes with the universities. That has certainly been the experience in the last few years. Salter and Tapper [2] suggest that, whereas Robbins saw total institutional freedom as necessary for the efficient operation of universities, in the 1980s the principle of HE regulation was established to ensure the efficient use of public funds and then, having developed this far, specific accountability arrangements were needed.

The costs of regulation of HE outweigh the extremely limited benefits. Indeed the Better Regulation Task Force report says that the HE sector has ‘earned the right to more autonomy’ and that multiple audits, excessive data requirements and over-restrictive funding are ‘symptomatic of a lack of trust between government and the HE sector’.[3] The Chairman of the Task Force observes that ‘there is no evidence that the sector is particularly prone to management or financial failings or failures to deliver on academic performance’. The statement suggests that earned autonomy is a key theme for government which wants to see it applied more in HE. The report refers to the PA Consulting study (quoted above) which estimates the accountability burden for HE to be £250m per annum and notes that the National Audit Office regards HE as a low risk sector in terms of fraud and malpractice.

The changes made in HE regulation in the first decade or so of the 21st Century have not resulted in the reduction in burden and cost which is called for. The claimed 25% reduction in the burden of regulation between 2000 and 2004 seems extremely modest in the light of the above (incomplete) list of regulatory interventions which includes a number of new requirements replacing the eliminated accountability demands.

Private HE institutions, which are expected to increase in number under the new fee regime, will benefit from significantly lighter regulation. However, for everyone else there remains the seemingly iron law that as government funding declines the volume and range of government regulation inevitably increases. So, less money and ever greater constraints on how it can be spent. No matter what the Minister may say.

It could be worse?

Things may be difficult in universities but they could be an awful lot worse according to a recent story in the TES about the appearance of Geoff Russell, chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), before the Public Accounts Committee which was considering how bureaucracy should be reduced in the FE sector:

Mr Russell’s retirement may be imminent but, as the hearing made clear, few expect the red tape that has stifled the sector for so long to be untangled any time soon. The committee was informed that, for every £5 that goes to FE, £1 is swallowed up by bureaucracy. The biggest difficulties, MPs heard, are caused by colleges having to deal with very different data obligations and regulations from several agencies simultaneously. A general FE college offering higher education provision, Mr Lang explained, has to accommodate the requirements of four different funding bodies – the Department for Education, the Young People’s Learning Agency, the SFA and the Higher Education Funding Council for England – as well as policy directives from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

That’s pretty expensive and works out at more than £150 per student according to the National Audit Office. Things may be bad for the universities but at least they aren’t this bad. So, should we feel lucky?

What is to be done?

There has been only one substantive change in the last decade to the mass of regulation loaded onto institutions: the ending of subject-based inspection of universities (Subject Review or TQA as it was originally known). Whilst undoubtedly welcome and beneficial, the gain the ending of such inspections represented has more than been replaced by other forms of regulation. So the burden continues to grow. One step forward, two steps back.

What then are universities to do? In order to respond to the ever increasing burden of regulation I would suggest that the following steps are worthy of consideration:

  • Don’t put too much faith in Ministerial rhetoric when it comes to reducing bureaucracy;
  • When working out how to deal with all of the different regulatory demands try to sort what really matters from what is less important – assuring quality and standards, and complying with the demands of the QAA is pretty important as is legal compliance with health and safety, employment and equality legislation but other regulations may be less significant;
  • Protect core activities, ie teaching and research, from the impact of regulation as far as is possible;
  • In most cases, go for minimal compliance rather than ‘gold-plating’ of procedures to respond to regulation – this often means steering away from what may be seen as ‘best practice’;
  • Object to new regulations wherever possible – work with others for greater effect;
  • Don’t be deflected from delivering the agreed university strategy by regulation.

Will we see a reduction in the regulatory burden as Mr Willetts claims? We might, but it is unlikely to make a big difference. My advice? Don’t hold your breath.


[1] Wolf, M (2002), ‘How to save the British Universities’, Singer and Friedlander Lecture, delivered on September 26 2002 at Magdalen College, Oxford

[2] Salter, B and Tapper, T (2000), ‘The politics of Governance in Higher Education: the Case of Quality Assurance’, Political Studies, 48(1), pp66-87.

[3] Better Regulation Task Force (22 July 2002), Press release for Higher Education: Easing the burden, London: Cabinet Office.

HEGlobal – helping UK higher education internationalise?

International advice for Higher Education

HEGlobal, the new portal for helping universities develop transnational education capability, has launched:

There is a consensus across government that engaging in and promoting international education and skills is strategically important to the UK for three main reasons: firstly it presents potentially significant commercial opportunities; secondly, it is an important soft power tool which supports the UK’s image abroad; thirdly, integrally linked to the above, it is key to maintaining the reputation of the UK education sector as one of the best in the world. However, although the UK’s education and skills sector is already doing well internationally, evidence suggests that we risk not taking full advantage of growing global opportunities. Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and elsewhere want to improve coordination across government by tasking the UK Higher Education International Unit to lead on a sector-wide initiative to do more to help UK higher education institutions (HEIs) increase their transnational education (TNE) capability.

An admirable initiative? Maybe. There is a useful set of links to relevant agencies together with brief profiles of a lot of countries in which universities might be interested. But this feels very much like a starter pack for institutions completely new to international activity. Nothing particularly wrong with that except that I’m not sure there are many institutions which aren’t in a significantly more advanced position than the target level of the advice. So it does raise the question about the audience for this site.

The FAQ section gives a bit more information about the intentions here:

HEGlobal has been established to act as a gateway to information sources, advice and guidance on all elements of transnational education (TNE) from finance through to in-country market intelligence and on-the-ground expertise. There is a substantial amount of support and expertise available to the sector already. HEGlobal has been designed to bring together information on all sources of available support in one place, thereby raising sector awareness, as well as signposting individual institutions to sources of further assistance on a range of relevant topics including finance, strategy, legal and quality insurance.

HEGlobal consists of a website which documents the services and information available to the sector on TNE, as well as a telephone helpline and email inquiry function.

It is not a centralised repository for all research and data on TNE, but instead brings together a range of sector stakeholders providing support to higher education institutions in developing their TNE activities. HEGlobal is a sector-led initiative and one of its greatest strengths is its intelligence-gathering function. By providing a mechanism for the sector to highlight existing needs, HEGlobal will facilitate the development of additional resources for the higher education sector to complement and enhance those already available.

Again, it is hard to see what this gateway is offering beyond what universities have already done for themselves or have the capacity to undertake. On the face of it, this all looks good and useful. In practice though it seems unlikely, in its present form, that it will offer a huge amount of value to institutions. Even those with small-scale TNE activities will probably not find a huge amount of new information here.

But what this really exposes though is the contradiction in policy between supporting this form of internationalisation whilst at the same time imposing visa regulations which hamper international student recruitment to the UK and give the impression that we aren’t open for business.

University requires a ‘personal lifestyle statement’ for all staff

Shorter University creates a stir

In the largely secular UK HE sector, we tend to escape this kind of controversy. Inside Higher Ed though has a report on what from a UK perspective looks like an extreme constraint on staff and students at Shorter University in the USA:

When Shorter University introduced four new faith statements in October, it took just five words — “premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality” — to start a controversy.

Those words are part of the university’s new “personal lifestyle statement,” which all employees must sign starting next year. The statement requires that faculty and staff be active members of a local church. It forbids drug use, drinking in public (including at “restaurants, concert venues, stadiums and sports facilities”), and any sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Since the Board of Trustees voted to approve the statement, a small but continuous uproar has broken out around the campus of 1,700 students in Rome, Ga., including protests, public criticism and threats from alumni to withdraw donations.

Faith statements or lifestyle requirements are not unusual at Christian colleges. But at Shorter, the statement is the clearest indicator of the impact of a court battle the university lost six years ago, when the college and the Georgia Baptist Convention went to the Georgia Supreme Court to determine who would control the college’s board of trustees and, ultimately, its direction. At the time, Baptist colleges around the country were breaking away from their state conventions. In some cases, disputes were about doctrine, such as policies on gay students and faculty. In other cases, including Shorter, they were about institutional control.

The statement itself can be downloaded from the University’s web pages and includes the following declaration:

I agree to adhere to and support the following principles (on or off the campus):
1. I will be loyal to the mission of Shorter University as a Christ-centered institution affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.
2. I will not engage in the use, sale, possession, or production of illegal drugs.
3. I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.
4. I will not use alcoholic beverages in the presence of students, and I will abstain from serving, from using, and from advocating the use of alcoholic beverages in public (e.g. in locations that are open to use by the general public, including as some examples restaurants, concert venues, stadiums, and sports facilities) and in settings in which students are present or are likely to be present. I will not attend any University sponsored event in which I have consumed alcohol within the last six hours. Neither will I promote or encourage the use of alcohol.

Really rather far-reaching.

Responding to the controversy, the University has published a statement to clarify matters:

As a Christian university, we view higher education as a ministry. Our faculty and staff are in positions of responsibility in relation to our students. Having an effective witness means that there are certain expectations that are made related to the personal behavior of our faculty and staff. Shorter expects faculty and staff to live a sexually moral life. That means fidelity in a biblical marriage between a man and a woman and abstinence outside of a biblical union.

Whilst this in many ways feels utterly wrong in the context of UK higher education and, even in faith based institutions in this country would seem extreme, it is perhaps not that far removed from where we are going in schools – a recent story in the Telegraph suggests that free schools and academies must promote marriage:

The schools will be made to sign up to strict new rules introduced by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, setting out what pupils must learn about sex and relationships.

Headteachers will be told that children must be “protected from inappropriate teaching materials and learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children”.

But the decision to spell out an explicit endorsement of marriage in the curriculum for tens of thousands of children is highly politically significant, and likely to be welcomed by Conservative traditionalists who have been concerned at a perceived failure by David Cameron’s Government to deliver on pledges to support married life.

So maybe we are closer to Shorter than we think. Although thankfully not in higher education.

Landmark blog post – voting now open

Blog democracy in action (kind of)

Having recently passed that social media coming of age marker of the 5000th tweet I’m now rapidly bearing down on the 500th post here on Registrarism (and later in the year will hit 500k unique visits but let’s not get too carried away). So, exploiting the pseudo-democratic feel of online polling I thought it would be in order to ask you, dear reader, to exercise your franchise and vote for what you want the 500th post to be.

Picture of a ballot box. Just to reinforce what's going on here

Remember, all votes count equally, so vote early and vote often.

The choice is yours! Poll will close when I get the answer I want and the post will appear sometime in March.

Get voting.

The best book ever written about university life?

Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica

A reminder about or introduction to a brief and essential piece of reading for everyone working in higher education.


The almost timeless (well, apart from the fact it only features blokes and has an ever so slightly Oxbridge feel) Microcosmographia Academica is of course the essential text for all those with a keen interest in academic politics and university management.

Read it. Now. You know it makes sense.

Evaluating University Internationalisation

On the benefits of evaluating international activity

A nice short article by Eva Egron-Polak, Secretary General of the International Association of Universities (IAU) published by the Academic Coordination Association.

Egron-Polak argues that there is a beneficial emphasis on evaluating internationalisation at present and that this trend means that international activity is being taken seriously and that all kinds of such activity is being fully and properly scrutinised. Moreover, it means that universities are continuing, quite properly, to debate their approach to internationalisation, in other words to ask ‘why are we doing this?’.

Although she acknowledges that terminology is difficult here and internationalisation has as many different definitions as there are institutions, Egron-Polak argues that there is real value in the kind of assessment undertaken by the IAU through its Internationalization Strategies Advisory Service (ISAS) where “the aim is to know whether or not the internationalisation goals are being achieved; and if we fall short of that, why this is the case, and what is required to redress the situation”.

The overall outcomes of the ISAS programme are quite interesting:

And, despite the vastly dissimilar contextual realities in each university, each ISAS project still confirmed that the dominant understanding of internationalisation of higher education remains relatively narrow or only partial. Consequently, internationalisation tends to be implemented in a limited manner. And when institutions embark on an assessment, they are likely to focus on just a few, basic aspects, using a limited set of (usually quantitative) indicators, such as the number of international students on campus, the number of exchange partnerships, the teaching of foreign languages and the hosting of visitors from abroad.  Despite the clear importance of these indicators of internationalisation, are they really a mark that the goals of internationalisation have been achieved?  How much do they tell us about the impact of these actions on the learning that takes place?  How well can the academic community reply to the ‘why’ questions that can be raised about these actions, particularly when they require institutional investment?

So actually it looks like many institutions really have quite a long way to go to develop a more comprehensive conceptualisation of internationalisation. This seems to me to be rather disappointing but perhaps not entirely surprising. It does take time to develop beyond the basic issues of student numbers and exchange agreements and it is perhaps therefore inevitable that some universities will be further down the road than others. In all cases though, stepping back and asking the ‘why’ questions in relation to different international activities does seem sensible.

True Crime on Campus §18: Black eye incident

True Crime on Campus §18

More extracts from real Security reports. The challenges never end for our hard working and extremely helpful Security staff:

0830 Patrol Security Staff discovered all of the items from a Kitchen in Derby Hall had been thrown out of a window and onto a grassed area. The items were damaged and disposed of. The Hall Manager has been informed.

1140 Report of a person acting suspiciously in the Student Shop Portland Building. Security attended – the person was spoken to. They identified themselves as a student – the reason they were acting in the manner they were was that they could not decide what to purchase.

1300 Report that a person had fallen over on a grassed area adjacent to DHL Pavilion Security attended. The person reported that they had pain in their elbow they were advised to seek medical attention.

1800 Report of a person putting flyers under the windscreen wipers of vehicles parked on Beeston Lane. Security attended, the area was checked, the male could not be located. The flyers are promoting an event at Rock City on the 29 January.

18:36 Security were called to Nottingham Medical School as the firm alarm had been activated. Fire Brigade attended, the detector could not be located. Fire Brigade requested that we reset the panel. At 22:05 Security discovered that the smoke had come from the Pantomime Party as they had been using fake smoke for their performance. Fire Safety Officer informed.

2259 Report of a person lying on the floor of Cripps Computing Centre. Security attended – the person was identified as a student who had been drinking heavily. The student was spoken to and taken to his term address.

0343 A student contacted the Security Control room for advice on how to treat a black eye. Security attended Ancaster Hall. The student stated that they had been struck in the eye by a flying chicken nugget while in McDonald’s in the City. Security checked the eye and gave advice.

0710 Report of the theft of a Mini Digger from the Building site of the new Chinese Studies Building at Jubilee Campus. Security attended Police informed.

0755 [note the time] Report of a male drunk on a pedal cycle on the Science Site. The male was spoken to by Security Officers but was too drunk to reply. Police were contacted. It was discovered that the male was staying in Cripps Hall with his friend. The male was returned to Cripps Hall.

0140 Security provided access to Rutland Hall for a student who had lost his room key, trousers, socks and shoes in a graveyard.

Never a dull moment on campus.

Another university league table variation

A league table of universties’ social media ‘visibility’

Econsultancy have published a league table of Russell Group universities’ social media profiles or their ‘visibility’:

The visibility score we use here is based on the total number of links a web domain has scored on the six social sites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Delicious and StumbleUpon, while accounting for different weightings we give to links on individual social sites.

The content linked to includes

news page stories about new research studies and initiatives are quite common. While heavily shared links included software simulations, web cam images, jokes and podcasts.

The league table is as follows:

Social visibility of Russell Group universities

University of Cambridge. Visibility score: 462,823

University of Oxford: 442,758

London School of Economics: 286,859

Newcastle University: 186,184

University College London: 176,202

University of Warwick: 169,462

University of Manchester: 143,186

University of Edinburgh: 131,053

Queens University Belfast: 118,137

University of Glasgow: 72,211

University of Bristol: 70,656

University of Nottingham: 64,381

University of Leeds: 63,802

Imperial College London: 47,321

Cardiff University: 46,053

University of Southampton: 44,106

King’s College London: 31,762

University of Liverpool: 20,444

University of Birmingham: 15,873

University of Sheffield: 9,912

It’s a bit crude but nevertheless fascinating. And it is quite striking how big the gap is between Oxbridge and the lower half of the table. Many of us have a lot to do to catch up.

More distinctive provision: new course on Beyonce

Responding to market demand?

A recent report suggests that a US university is to offer a class on Beyonce.

Beyonce is many things: singer, dancer, living pop icon, wife, mother, and namesake of a new breed of horsefly. She is also the subject of a new course being taught at Rutgers University, “Politicizing Beyonce.”

Taught by lecturer and doctoral student Kevin Allred, he tells Focus that “this isn’t a course about Beyoncé’s political engagement or how many times she performed during President Obama’s inauguration weekend.”

A post last year summarised the latest position in the provision of bonkers degrees and earlier items covered similar ground including a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga. Also we previously looked here at the launch of an MA in Beatles Studies and the offer of a degree in Northern Studies as well as offering a podcast on “bonkers or niche” degrees. Most recently there was, shockingly, an MA in horror and transgression at Derby. So, this is simply another one in a fine tradition.

Back to Beyoncé:

The university’s news site gives this description: “The performer’s music and career are used as lenses to explore American race, gender, and sexual politics… Course topics include the extent of Beyonce’s control over her own aesthetic, whether her often half-naked body is empowered or stereotypical, and her more racy performances as her alter ego, Sasha Fierce.”

Fuller details can be found at the Rutgers site for those minded to enrol. It’s this kind of market responsiveness that will become the hallmark of the successful university of the future.

The Imperfect University: who should lead universities?

Academics make the best university leaders

Or do they? For the first piece in this series I thought it would be appropriate to revisit and develop a post from early in 2011 on leadership in universities. The focus here is very much on the who rather than the how of university leadership – that’s a much bigger topic we’ll come back to in due course.

Amanda Goodall, who has done a lot of work on this, recently published a brief piece on why academics make the best university leaders. It’s a powerful argument and it is difficult to disagree with Goodall’s thesis – top universities do need top academics to lead them. Goodall’s recent book, Socrates in the Boardroom, makes this quite compelling case in more detail.

And yet. 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:

Why should scholars lead universities? In short, it is because the knowledge acquired through having been a career academic, provides the necessary wisdom to make the right decisions when that person becomes a leader.

The core business of universities is research and teaching. My research suggests that in specialist organisations, such as universities, experts not managers make the best leaders and that the performance of universities improves if they are led by presidents, vice-chancellors or rectors who are outstanding scholars.

Take Queen Mary, University of London. It went from 48th position in the Times Higher Education RAE ranking in 2001 to 13th in 2008. Who led Queen Mary? Adrian Smith, one of the most distinguished academic leaders in post at the time.

My research shows that the higher up a university is ranked globally, the more likely it is that the citations of its president will also be high. In other words, better universities appoint better researchers to lead them. Interestingly, US universities select more distinguished academics as leaders compared with universities in Europe and the rest of the world.

It is not only current performance that is affected. The research shows that the higher a president’s lifetime citations, the more likely it is that the university will improve its performance in future research assessment exercises. Why?

Leaders who are scholars have a deep understanding of the core business and, therefore, are more likely to create the right conditions under which other scholars will thrive. Similarly, professional managers will create the necessary conditions for other managers. These are not interchangeable situations.

The outstanding scholar leader is therefore arguably necessary to create the conditions for success but might not be sufficient. Goodall also argues that:

An administration beset with burdensome managerial processes will likely have a negative impact on the productivity of researchers

Again, agreed, but if a university simply disregards the importance of developing a first class administration to support first class teaching and world-leading research then it will end up with disorganised, chaotic and expensive processes which hinder rather than help – it is this scenario which has the most negative impact on the productivity of researchers. It’s like building an excellent football team but paying no attention to the pitch, stadium or finances. You might perform well for a time but not sustainably. And sooner or later those star players will get fed up with washing their own kit, selling programmes and clearing up the stands after the game.

There is also the suggestion here that if only the “power” of the manager could be reduced then academics would be free to deliver on the core business:

The increase in managerial processes is correlated with a rise in the number of university managers: between the years 2003-04 and 2008-09, the number of managers employed in British universities increased from 10,740 to 14,250 (up 33%). During the same period, academic staff rose in numbers from 106, 900 to 116,495 (up 10%) and students rose from 220, 0180 to 239,605 (up 9%), according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that specialists in universities – academics – should be expected to concede power to generalists, or managers.

The category of managers identified here makes up only around 7-8% of all non-academic staff in universities and the HESA data doesn’t reflect differences in the way institutions record different kinds of professional staff. For example, some universities will now describe the most junior non-academic staff, who might previously have been categorised as secretaries, as managers, simply because of general moves away from more traditional nomenclature.

However, the key question here is what are these managers doing? In the best institutions, their primary concern is to support and encourage the best academics to do what they do best, to minimise the distractions and to reduce the unwelcome and bureaucratic incursions of the state into academic life.

Top leaders need top lieutenants too. Leaders need to be free to lead and therefore need to focus on the core business as Goodall says. To enable this to happen, the management needs to be strong, supportive and effective. Not dominant but a key element of the infrastructure for success.

Two other views on administrators and academics as university leaders

Geoffrey Williams has argued that administrators cannot deliver enlightened management in universities. According to Williams only academics can do so:

Administration, like death and taxes, has always been here. Universities need enlightened management; the reality is that only faculty can provide this. Universities also require and employ professional managers. The situation is similar to that in hospitals, another world that requires great dedication from its staff. As everyone knows, if you leave a hospital solely in the hands of professional administrators, the patient is forgotten. Likewise, if you leave a university solely in the hands of a professional manager, there is a risk that both students and research will no longer be to the fore.

David Allen offers a rather different perspective:

Only about one in three employees of universities are academics, but given the academic purpose of universities they tend to have the biggest input in shaping the job and person description, at least in general terms, for VC and other leadership appointments. I take it as a given that senior managers in universities, even if they are not academics, must be able to empathise with academic values and to create strong, positive relations with academic colleagues. Universities are not and should not be command and control organisations. Managers need to proceed by persuasion and the force of the evidenced better argument. Creativity, tension, individuality and resistance to change are often embedded in the academic DNA. Academics have many and varied strategies to bypass managerial processes and edicts which they perceive to inhibit their activities and it is clearly more difficult for a manager who lacks academic credibility to achieve acceptance. A VC/DVC/PVC with an academic pedigree starts higher up the grid and has more of a reservoir of goodwill when difficult choices have to be made. This needs to be balanced with the changing requirements for Vice-Chancellors to be credible with business, not least in relation to fundraising. Academic credibility needs perhaps to be balanced more with other requirements for senior management success rather than as a sine qua non and a barrier to entry to the competition for otherwise well qualified candidates. This would increase the talent pool available for consideration from both within and outwith the sector.

Allen argues sensibly for an open minded approach to recruiting university leaders rather than Williams’ (and Goodall’s) more exclusive approach. All of this suggests it is perhaps unhelpful to focus solely on this issue of who is better equipped to lead and look at the broader picture of how the conditions for institutional success are created, developed and sustained. And there are examples of a number of institutions, admittedly a handful, where vice-chancellors have been appointed from non-academic backgrounds.

Not a solo effort

So, whilst 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.