Archers Academics

Beyond @LegoAcademics

Inspired by the novelty of Lego Academics and by the chance meeting (by my wife) of an Archers namesake at a conference I wondered how many Archers characters also had academic counterparts. (For those not familiar with the world’s longest running radio soap opera see the Wikipedia page which helpfully summarises the plot and background to this everyday story of country folk.) Anyway there are quite a few #ArchersAcademics it seems:

First up is Linda Snell, MD, MHPE, FRCPC, FACP: Linda Snell is a Professor of Medicine and Core Faculty member of the Centre for Medical Education, McGill University.

Brian Aldridge (not the academic version)

Brian Aldridge (not the academic version)

Almost appropriately Brian Aldridge is Clinical Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Jill Archer can be found in the Social Work department at Lakehead University in Canada.

There are quite a few Roy Tuckers out there but one, quite appropriately, is to be found at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and gets some decent scores on Rate My Professors. Choice comment from a student: “This teacher is cool. He loves his wife to death & you will hear about his sex life often.” A bit less of that kind of thing in the current storyline might be welcomed by some Archers listeners.

Alistair Lloyd AO RFD ED is a distinguished alumnus of Monash University. Mr Lloyd (PhC 1956) joined the Victorian College of Pharmacy Foundation when it was founded in 2001 and has since served as Foundation Chairman.

David Archer (Not the  Ambridge one)

David Archer (Not the Ambridge one)

Closer to home, Neil Carter is based in the Department of Politics at the University of York.

And perhaps most excitingly close to the image one might have of the ever-happy badger-loving farmer, David Archer is Professor in the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago.

So, that’s my first attempt. Are there any other academic Archers namesakes out there?



Jobs in

Some handy data on higher education employment trends

HEFCE has published ‘interactive’ data on the trends in employment of staff in the higher education sector for the ten years, 2003-04 to 2012-13. The data is divided into two main categories: academic roles, such as professors and research assistants and then professional and support roles, including managers and directors. Just over half of the total staff numbers are in the second category.

Looking first at professional staff numbers there has been some growth over the last 10 years although it has dipped from its peak in 2009-10:

prof services numbers

Over the 10 years, professional and support staff numbers have therefore increased by 8 per cent to reach almost 150,000 in 2012-13. In the same period, numbers of academic staff employed at higher education institutions have increased by more than twice that amount: by 20 per cent to reach 125,900 in 2012-13 as the following shows:

Ac staff numbers

There’s more:

For the first time in 2012-13 detailed information on job types is available: higher education institutions in England employ 700 institutional strategic leaders and 1,715 senior managers among academic staff, approximately 3,415 members of staff are in an academic leadership role, 13,855 are employed as professors, and 11,725 are research assistants. Among professional and support staff, approximately 8,070 are managers and directors, 28,365 are employed in professional occupations and 33,585 are non-academic professionals.

Although less precisely, the report notes that:

The English higher education sector has approximately 135 vice-chancellors

I was hoping for a little more certainty on that one.

There are some interesting graphs and charts to look at here but I think ‘interactive’ is overstating the extent of user involvement a little.

Breakfasts of champions?

Academics and their breakfasts

Greatly amused by this story in Inside Higher Ed about a new website which encourages academics to photograph and consider their breakfasts:

What you eat for breakfast may not merit space on your C.V, but a new website called Academic Breakfast is based on the idea that how professors start their days matters.The website invites academics to post a photograph of their breakfast, and to answer six quick questions: where they live, their institution, their job, their research in five words, their breakfast in five words, and their food philosophy in 10 words. Many of the philosophies mix the importance of doing the right thing in terms of nutrition and the environment, but also enjoying food.

Not sure this is going to catch on as a breakfast idea

Among the food philosophies shared are “eat healthily but indulge your honest cravings without any guilt” from a McGill University graduate student and “Treat the planet and all beings well; have pleasure” from a California State University at San Marcos sociologist and performance artist.While there are plenty of healthy foods visible, one can also spot breakfast items — Diet Coke, cold pizza — that might not appear on nutritionists’ recommendations for the morning. Several people included shots of their morning pills. And while most of the photographs depict the food before anyone started eating, there are also shots that were taken mid-meal.

The full glory of the Academic Breakfast Tumblr is here and it certainly proves that everyone has different approaches, academic or otherwise, to the first meal of the day. It’s a bold and innovative idea. But whatever next? No doubt someone is already working on Deans and their Doughnuts, Provosts who love Pancakes and Vegetables which look like Vice-Chancellors.

Oprah in the classroom

I’m a Celebrity – get me in there

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting article on the appointment of celebrities as visiting academics at US universities. Celebrity adjunct culture as it is described brings many challenges, not least of which is the resentment of existing staff at the pay and perks afforded the star academic. But it can be positive too:

Celebrity hires can work out well, says Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, but institutions must be more open about their motives. “Universities have tried to find pedagogical cover for their publicity ventures,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to attain publicity for your school, but there needs to be more truth in advertising what these positions are all about.”

Celebrity professors, says Stephen M. Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs, can be particularly helpful for lower-profile institutions that want to improve their name recognition. When the University of North Florida hired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African social-rights activist, as a visiting scholar in 2003, for example, the institution was not shy to publicize its professorial catch.

As the article notes, there were positives and negatives with a number of celebrity hires, including:Oprah Winfrey

David Petraeus

Eliot Spitzer

Michael Dukakis

Arnold Schwarzenegger

and, most strikingly


Meanwhile, back in North Florida:

Earle Traynham, the university’s interim provost, says he recalls university officials asking Archbishop Tutu to participate in a handful of fund-raising events while he was on campus. During his single semester at North Florida, Mr. Tutu led several noncredit mini-courses, as well as one semester-long course titled “Truth and Reconciliation,” focusing on his time heading South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a post-apartheid restorative justice body.

It is not uncommon, some administrators say, for institutions to pay more than they would ideally like to hire a high-profile adjunct professor if they perceive a potential payoff. That payoff, says Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, may come through things like positive publicity or fund-raising opportunities.

So, pluses and minuses. But you are unlikely to get much in the way of a REF return out of them.

Where are the statues of great academics?

There really aren’t a lot of them about

Perhaps it’s because so many are involved in committees and are therefore disqualified by G K Chesterton’s comment: “I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees”.

But really there aren’t huge numbers – I can recall statues of Newton and Darwin and there is one of Alan Turing I think but not someone like Professor Herman Pálsson, a wonderful Icelandic scholar who taught at the University of Edinburgh for nearly 40 years (to pick one of my favourite tutors at random).

The position is a bit different in China as this picture shows:


This is a picture of our Vice-Chancellor with a statue of our Chancellor Emeritus, Professor Yang Fujia, a notable Physicist and former President of Fudan University as well as member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Look more closely at the picture though and you will notice that there are more statues behind them. In fact there are 94 in this particular park, all leading academics originally from Ningbo (also home of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China). This is just extraordinary. The idea of a city having one or two statues of academics would be surprising but a whole park full of them? You just could not envisage it happening in the UK. At least not right now. But why not?

Perhaps part of valuing universities “for their intrinsic, as well as economic, worth” (Page 17, Coalition Mid-Term Review, 7 January 2013) should be about reminding everyone just how great academics at UK universities are (wherever in the world they are from). So come on BIS, why not commission a few statues.

Risk of managers swamping universities?

Some seem to think that management numbers are growing too fast

HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency has recently published its annual summary of staff numbers in higher education. The headline data follows:

Academic staff

Of the 181,185 academic staff employed at UK HEIs, 44.2% were female, 12.4% were from an ethnic minority and nearly a quarter (24.8%) were of non-UK nationality.

17,465 academic staff had contracts conferring the title of ‘Professor’. Of these 19.8% were female, 7.3% were from an ethnic minority and 16.7% were of non-UK nationality.

Non-academic staff

As well as academic staff, there were a further 200,605 non-academic staff employed at HEIs in 2010/11. The majority (62.4%) of these staff were female. 10.0% of non-academic staff were from an ethnic minority and 9.3% were of non-UK nationality.

16,395 non-academic staff were coded as ‘Managers’. Of these 52.4% were female, 6.0% were from an ethnic minority and 5.9% were of non-UK nationality.

This is the definition of ‘Managers’ used by HESA:

Non-academic Managers are defined as those individuals who are responsible for the planning, direction and co-ordination of the policies and activities of enterprises or organisations, or their internal departments or sections. Senior academics who act as vice chancellors or directors/heads of schools, colleges, academic departments or research centres are coded as academic staff.

To summarise this HESA offers a handy infographic:

On the face of it this all looks pretty innocuous but it seems that, despite the relatively small number of managers in the sector, around 4% of the staff total and smaller than the professoriate, the rate of growth of managers has been faster than academics. For some, according to the Times Higher Education, (which seems to use different data in places) this is a bit of a problem:

The percentage increase in the number of managers in higher education in recent years is more than twice that for academics, an analysis of new figures has suggested.

Data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal there were 15,795 managers in higher education in December 2010 – up by almost 40 per cent on the 11,305 employed in the 2003-04 academic year.

That was compared to the 19.2 per cent increase in academics since 2003-04. It means there is now a manager for every 9.2 academics compared with a ratio of one to 10.8 seven years earlier.

Sally Hunt, University and College Union general secretary, said: “Despite the fact that there has been a large increase in the number of students in recent years, there has been a larger increase in the number of managers than academics.

“We have raised fears about the changing nature of universities as the market in higher education continues to grow. However, institutions and government must never lose sight of universities’ key roles in teaching and challenging students.”

Meanwhile, statistics released by Hesa on 1 March showed staffing levels at universities fell by 1.5 per cent last year.

The figures showed there were 381,790 people working at UK higher education institutions in 2010-11, down by 5,640 from 2009-10.

These numbers though really are not large and manager numbers have grown by just under 4,500 at a time when academic numbers have grown by over 16,000 (which makes the point from Sally Hunt factually incorrect).

The UCU comment suggests it is taking its lead from David Willetts.  He made a similar point in a speech made to a UUK conference back on 9 September 2010:

There are other ways of cutting overhead costs. In 2009 the number of senior university managers rose by 6% to 14,250, while the number of university professors fell by 4% to 15,530. On that trend the number of senior managers could have overtaken the number of professors this year. I recognise that universities now are big, complex institutions with revenues from many sources which need to be professionally managed. But we owe it to the taxpayer and the student to hold down these costs – we are now in a different and much more austere world. Again, we are not going to shirk our share of responsibility for tackling this. We will to do away with unnecessary burdens upon you that require the recruitment of more administrators. Do tell me – and HEFCE, of course – of any information requirement or regulation which you believe comes at a disproportionate cost. They have to go: we cannot afford them.

So this is the moment to be thinking even more creatively about cost cutting. I congratulate you on your initiative in inviting Ian Diamond to chair a UUK group on efficiency savings. You are right to get to grips with this. We can work with you on this agenda without getting sucked in to micromanaging our universities. No returning to a time – a century ago, actually – when one vice chancellor reacted to a Board of Education demand for figures on staff teaching hours by complaining that “Nothing so ungentlemanly has been done by the Government since they actually insisted on knowing what time Foreign Office clerks arrive at Whitehall.”

As noted in a recent post, these claims about reducing regulation ring rather hollow and, given that government demands on universities have increased rather than declined, this does perhaps provide one explanation for the growth.

How signifiicant is all this though? While the staff group ‘managers’ has grown faster than academic professionals at all universities and at Russell Group universities (but not at Nottingham as it happens), this is a small category of staff representing only 7-8% of all non-academic staff. The definitions of the various staff groups provided by HESA do allow some judgement in the allocation of staff to the various groups and there is some evidence of differing practice at different institutions. However, the definition of academic professional is straightforward and unambiguous and it is clear that at Nottingham such staff have grown considerably more than non-academic staff since 2003-04.

Universities need managers to function effectively. They are key to enabling academic staff focus on delivering excellent research and first class teaching and for protecting academics from the worst regulatory excesses of government. So this modest growth is really nothing to get excited about.

Administrators cannot offer ‘enlightened management’

Some views on administrators and academics as university leaders

Geoffrey Williams has recently 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’ more exclusive approach. All of this echoes an earlier post on the issue of whether academics do indeed make the best university leaders and in particular why it is unhelpful to focus solely on this issue of who is better equipped to lead:

…if a university simply disregards the importance of 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.

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.

Twitter banality = academic credibility?

Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks

A piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an experiment at a US college to investigate students’ views of their teachers’ use of Twitter. The article also highlights a number of academics using Twitter in creative ways to support their teaching. It’s a small and slightly dispiriting study:

Kirsten A. Johnson always wondered whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites affected her credibility in the eyes of her students.

So the assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College designed an experiment for 120 students at the college and has just reported the results. It turns out that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. The study, co-authored with Jamie Bartolino, one of her students, appears in the most recent issue of Learning, Media and Technology.

The researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors” named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton. One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings), and the third with a combination.

To Ms. Johnson’s surprise, when the students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring—which adds up to credibility.

So it would seem that academics should just forget about using Twitter for anything useful in the classroom. Unless they are unconcerned about their “competence, trustworthiness, and caring”. Meantime, we’ll wait for the experiment looking at attitudes to administrators who post personal tweets.