Graduate Programme for University Leadership Now Recruiting

An outstanding programme for graduates looking to develop careers in university management.

Recruitment for this year’s round of Ambitious Futures, the Graduate Programme for University Leadership, has recently gone live:

The university sector is one of the most innovative, vibrant and exciting environments in which to build your future career. If you’re looking for a graduate programme that leads to a highly successful and dynamic career in an entrepreneurial, global business, The Graduate Programme for University Leadership is it.

Are you ready for a career in a world of discovery?

This cutting-edge programme will show you how the challenging and stimulating business of a university operates. You’ll meet some of the most talented people in the country, if not the world, and gain an inside view into the sector’s management and business processes. A key aspect of your training will see you working alongside a diverse range of partners, from students and employers to funding bodies and commercial organisations.

It’s the opportunity to contribute to a life you have already experienced and enjoyed, and make a difference to the learning of future generations of students. What’s more, you’ll be working at the heart of fast-paced and world-leading commercial organisations that, rather unusually, are not primarily motivated by profit-making.

The University of Nottingham has run a similar programme for number of years (and indeed has played an active role in the development of this national scheme). You can find details of the Nottingham offer here.

It’s a fantastic scheme and one I’m really pleased that the University of Nottingham is part of. The sector really does need to train and develop many more professional service leaders and this programme will be a major contributor to that as it continues to grow.

Also good to see the recent book on Managing your Career in HE Administration refer positively to the value of Ambitious Futures too.

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A long list of management principles

Important maxims to live and work by? Or just a long and forgettable list?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting piece on a set of rules the new president of the University of Akron has issued to his senior staff:

If Scott L. Scarborough gets his way, the University of Akron will have the cleanest administration in higher education.Literally.Mr. Scarborough, the Ohio university’s newly minted president, has asked all of his senior administrators to commit to a set of “Leadership and Management Principles” that he says will ensure success. The president’s big no-nos, which are outlined in 28 bullet points, include: Failing to pick up trash. Failing to maintain an orderly and clean work environment. Being late to meetings. Losing one’s cool. The inability to answer a question directly and succinctly.

 

Looking at the first set of success factors it would be hard to describe them as particularly novel or visionary. Here’s a sample:

 

principles
And here’s the list of mistakes:

mistakes

It’s an interesting approach. I suspect though that there are very few memorable ones in here. Apart from the picking up trash one. Which really should not need a reminder.

The 2013 International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities

A report on the conference held at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

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Last November delegates from UK, Australia, Middle East, China, India gathered in the unique setting of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China to explore the challenges of managing universities in an era of globalization.

The conference, supported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, was organized to bring together senior managers and leaders to share best practice around developing and operating campuses abroad, and builds on Nottingham’s strengths as a successful research-led UK university with an excellent reputation for international leadership and management.

The conference opened with an overview (from me) of Nottingham’s experience of operating campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia.

This first presentation led on the benefits for both universities and their students of opening campuses abroad, highlighting Nottingham’s strengths as a successful research-led UK university with an excellent reputation for international leadership and management. Clarity of vision, long-term commitment and a detailed understanding of the local context were crucial to success.

The session outlined the programme for the event which covered every dimension of international higher education leadership, from strategy development to global branding, virtual provision to researching in China and many aspects of student and staff experiences.

The four-day specialised conference offered speakers from many other international institutions with expertise in globalising higher education. These included  senior managers from i-Graduate, Benoy, The Parthenon Group, The Association of Business Schools, the British Council and other universities, Murdoch University, the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of Scotland. Nottingham’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Greenaway, as well as the University’s the Director of Marketing, Communications and Recruitment, the Assistant Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning and the Deputy Director of Human Resources all participated in speeches and workshop sessions. Nottingham’s international leaders, the Provost and CEO of The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), the Provost and the Vice Provost of UNNC were also involved.

Full details about the International Leadership Conference can be found here.

The University of Nottingham Ningbo China as an exemplar of global higher education leadership

Professor Nick Miles, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, launched proceedings and spoke passionately of the successes of UNNC and the enormous opportunities for further growth and development in China. The campus had achieved much and staff had overcome many challenges and now occupied a prominent position in the Chinese Higher Education system. In addition to exploring the local, regional and national context, he addressed strategic issues, the quality of the education provided and the high calibre of students, graduate employability (which sees 100% progress into jobs or higher level study), quality assurance, cultural issues and staffing matters.

Context

Nottingham represents a new model of global higher education. Students and staff are offered study and travel opportunities to help position them for success, and Nottingham conducts coordinated research on some of the most pressing global human concerns and social problems simultaneously in three different but complementary national contexts.

The University established its first overseas campus in Malaysia 13 years ago and has since won two Queen’s Awards – one for Enterprise in International Trade in 2001 and another in 2006 in recognition of Nottingham’s position as the world’s first foreign university to receive a licence to open a campus in China.

The University has been building international links for decades. In 1950, the first group of Malaysian students arrived in Nottingham, beginning an over 60-year association with the University which has seen Nottingham graduates such as YAB Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, become leading members of society. In 2000, The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus first opened its doors to just 90 students in Kuala Lumpur. Since then, our student body in Malaysia has grown to almost 5,000 – including more than 70 nationalities – based at our 125-acre dedicated campus site in Semenyih.

The University’s links with China also date back many years, featuring well over 90 collaborations with Chinese universities. In 1999 the University elected academician Professor Yang Fujia as its Chancellor. With the then Vice-Chancellor, Sir Colin Campbell, they developed a vision for a new hybrid style of university in China. In July 2003, new legislation in China was passed permitting the establishment of foreign campuses in China. The University of Nottingham was the first university to receive a licence to operate a campus under this legislation. The result was the opening in 2004 of the campus in the prosperous and successful city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. The University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus now has over 5,800 students.

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Strategy development

David Wright, Senior Advisor to the Parthenon Group explored the full range of issues involved in developing a global strategy for higher education institutions. Delegates considered key dimensions of strategy and discussed the continued growth in student numbers, the operation of international offices in universities, the emergence of the ‘Agent Corporation’ as a major player in the global student recruitment market and different aspects of channel management for institutions in developing their strategies.

The Chinese higher education market

Understanding China’s market for higher education was the theme for Jeremy Chan Regional Head of Research and Consultancy in East Asia for the British Council. Jeremy set out a comprehensive picture of China’s economy, demographic and political developments. Although he noted that population changes had led some to suggest that the appetite for higher education for students within China and those who wished to travel abroad it was his view that the growing affluence of the population overall meant that student numbers would continue to grow in the coming years. The UK remained the top partner for transnational education in China although its activities were heavily biased towards undergraduate provision unlike, for example, the US and Australia which had larger postgraduate numbers involved. Branch campus operations, where the University of Nottingham Ningbo China had led the way, were also being pursued by an increasing number of other leading Western universities.

Routes to internationalisation

Professor Christine Ennew, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, explored the motivation of universities in mapping new routes to internationalisation in higher education across academic, cultural, political and economic dimensions. She argued that higher education has always been international in character and unconstrained by national borders but the challenge now was to deal with the sheer scale of such activity and to manage internationalization effectively. A range of different models of international engagement were explored and the many challenges, pitfalls and benefits considered.

Global reputation, branding and communications

Emma Leech, Director of Marketing, Communications and Recruitment at the University of Nottingham UK explored the challenges faced by higher education in establishing global branding and reputation and informed delegates of the approach which had been taken by Nottingham in developing its position. The challenges of plotting a distinctive course and sustaining reputation were discussed. A further session looked at transformational communications and the need to harness engagement across institutions to support change with specific reference to online opportunities. A range of possibilities were explored including social media, which, whilst challenging to manage effectively,  could be used creatively to engage students and to assist with change management. At the heart of such activity though was the need to communicate with clarity and to ensure transparency.

Making teaching count

Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland offered a passionately delivered case for the fundamental importance of teaching within higher education and for its thorough professionalization. Noting that all too often academic staff tended to rely on their own, often extremely dated, student experience as the basis for their teaching methods, he argued strongly that all teachers should be trained to teach. Not only did they need to understand and build upon the experiences of today’s school children, tomorrow’s undergraduates, but all teachers had to be accustomed to exploiting technology in order to enhance the learning experience. Professor Mahoney went on to propose a European or even a global academy for teaching and learning in order to support, promote and reinforce the vital status of teaching.

Student matters

Student satisfaction, benchmarking the global student experience, data and feedback were covered in whirlwind presentation by Will Archer, Chief Executive of iGraduate, which tracks student views across the globe. Drawing on the example of one leading university he explained how Student Barometer data could be used to drive change and improvement in the student experience.

Professor Julie Sanders, Vice-Provost for Teaching and Learning at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, and Professor Wyn Morgan, Assistant Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Nottingham UK, discussed approaches to developing and delivering an international student experience. Covering issues around changing student profile, promoting global citizenship, the challenges of internationalizing the curriculum and creative approaches to classroom activities, the presenters offered a comprehensive picture of the student experience in a very different context. Hot topics such as blended online and face to face learning, use of social media in teaching and the rise of MOOCs in China were also the subject of debate.

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Online learning

Virtual spaces as places for learning and the role of postgraduate online global higher education communities was the topic for Professor Clare Pickles, Academic Director (Education) for Laureate Online Education and Director of Online Studies for the University of Liverpool’s Professional Doctorate in Higher Education. Clare provided a comprehensive overview of the ways in which her students work and collaborate online and how they are aided by faculty and student support advisors located around the globe. Delegates also learned about the development of an online graduate school and Clare’s own YouTube channel through which she provided updates to students on current higher education issues as she travelled round the world.

The business end

Paul Marshall, Chief Executive of the Association of Business Schools (ABS), explored the challenges of running business schools in a global higher education environment. Noting the remarkable fact that 90% of MBA students in the UK were international he went on to observe that too many business schools looked too similar and offered the same provision. Whilst 16 business schools in the UK and 59 worldwide had triple accreditation, which was seen as a major selling point, it was not clear that students valued accreditation at all. All faced major challenges, wherever in the world they operated, and ABS was undertaking a range of activities to support and guide change in the sector.

Research in China

Undertaking research in China offers huge opportunities for new areas of work but also some challenges. Professor Fintan Cullen, Dean of Arts and Education and Acting Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China., led a lively session involving academic colleagues from English and Contemporary China Studies and three current PhD students from Education, the Business School and Economics. The major attraction for researchers was the fact that many areas of activity in many disciplines had not been subject to serious investigation and therefore the territory was very open for all kinds of research. Delegates were fascinated to hear the research students outline their studies in consumer behaviour, international university branch campus leadership and the import challenges for foreign companies operating in China. All agreed that the unique opportunities offered by the presence of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China made research activity hugely attractive. Such research would often push against boundaries but care was required to avoid breaching them. Further discussion covered the training provided for new PhD supervisors and the progress in building a graduate community in the University.

People

The many challenges of international staff recruitment were covered in a session led by Peter McCracken, Deputy Director of Human Resources at the University of Nottingham.  Addressing everything from contractual issues, tax matters, visas, the particular complexities of operating in China and the importance of pre-interview campus visits and comprehensive induction arrangements, the session gave rise to a whole host of detailed questions from delegates. The make up of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China’s staff was also explored and the presenter acknowledged that the challenges faced continued to change and evolve although huge progress had been made.

Leading in global higher education

Changing patterns of leadership in a global higher education environment was the theme for Jon Baldwin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Professional Services) at Australia’s Murdoch University. In an entertaining survey of different models and structures of leadership in universities from the collegial to the bureaucratic, all of which were in some way contested he noted that a recent study published by the UK’s Leadership Foundation had concluded that “nothing efinitive can be said about leadership in higher education”. One key example he explored was the different leadership approaches which had been taken by different universities to the establishment of overseas branch campuses. The most insightful analysis of HE leadership though he attributed to a taxi driver who, after hearing a detailed explanation of the Registrar’s role, summarized it in a distinctively positive way: “all indoors and no heavy lifting”.

Striking parallels

Graham Cartledge CBE, Chairman of Benoy, the major international firm of architects, provided a distinctive angle on the issue of global leadership in taking delegates on a tour from “Cowsheds to Kowloon, beyond and back” which set out Benoy’s international

Graham Cartledge

Graham Cartledge

growth story. The journey since the early days of the company in Newark in the 1970s and a difficult set of circumstances in the recession of the early 80s led to a number of breakthrough moments over subsequent years including the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, the redevelopment of the Bullring in Birmingham, the creation of Media City in Salford and the Westfield shopping centre in East London. Since then the company had grown hugely and internationally and undertaken major projects in Hong Kong, China and Abu Dhabi. Benoy realized early on the opportunities provided by the growth of China’s economy and now had a major presence there and over 300 staff based in East Asia. The company retained a strong entrepreneurial ethos and sought to move staff around its offices to ensure a sustained culture and that the company could respond in a consistent manner. Thinking internationally and acting locally was a key feature of Benoy’s strategy and the effective sharing of knowledge across the organisation was seen as an essential success factor. Delegates were hugely impressed with the presentation and the many parallels with global higher education developments.

Leading the global university

In a keynote presentation the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Professor David Greenaway, set out the origins of the University’s internationalization strategy and the recognition that the future was in Asia which ultimately led to the establishment of campuses in Malaysia and China. He stressed the long term commitment to continuing to work in both nations and the development of new research strands – including in global food security via the Crops for the Future initiative in Malaysia and the new International Academy for the Marine Economy and Technology in Ningbo, the fourth largest port in the world. Clarity of vision, integration of systems and processes across three campuses and the strength of local leadership were highlighted as key success factors.

Conclusion

Overall, conference participants enjoyed an outstanding and diverse range of sessions and the lessons learned for leading global universities. Delegates were thanked for their contributions and it was hoped that they had benefitted from exploring these major strategic themes across higher education in the unique and real context of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

Shared Services in the USA

It’s probably not quite what they were hoping for.

Inside Higher Ed reports on a bold plan at the University of Michigan to address shared services within the institution. The idea must have seemed such a good one at the time – centralise large parts of departmental administration into a single place in order to improve productivity and save money ($17m was the planned saving). The approach, described rather unfortunately as “lift and shift” seems to have run into a few problems though:

For one thing, department chairs were kept in the dark about the effort and then given what faculty members have described as “gag orders” to prevent them from talking about it. Now professors and graduate students are speaking out publicly, and it’s clear they are unhappy about losing staff members with familiar faces from down the hall to an off-campus facility.

For another, the plan is no longer expected to save nearly as much as once hoped: just $2 million or $3 million in its first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term, according to a university spokesman.

University of Michigan August 2013 210 (Weill Hall)

They probably didn’t move to this building

That savings doesn’t factor in $1 million a year the university will pay to lease a new building to house the staff in one place. Or the $4 million the university expects to spend fixing up that building. Or the $11.7 million contract Michigan has with the consultant Accenture for advice about how to save money. All told, an effort to save money might barely break even in the short term, though officials expect savings to ramp up in the long term.Michigan is just the latest campus to turn to “shared services,” a cost-saving approach being tried at an increasing number of colleges across the country, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Kansas, the University of Texas at Austin and Yale University.

The idea is simple. Instead of each academic department having its own staff to handle bookkeeping, departments should rely on a pool of staffers. The theory is each of the employees in the pool could specialize in quickly dealing with certain paperwork instead of trying to be jacks-of-all-trades in departments across campus. One staff member would get really good at travel reimbursements, for instance, while another focuses on payroll.

So, all a bit messy. Whilst such shared service developments can work it does rather seem as the consequences of this kind of big bang approach might not have been fully anticipated in this case. It will be interesting to see if the promised savings do materialise. And whether the departments get the right level of service too.

The Graduate Programme for University Leadership

An excellent programme for graduates looking to develop careers in university management.

Recruitment for the Graduate Programme for University Leadership has recently gone live and the pitch is a good one:

The university sector is one of the most innovative, vibrant and exciting environments in which to build your future career. If you’re looking for a graduate programme that leads to a highly successful and dynamic career in an entrepreneurial, global business, The Graduate Programme for University Leadership is it.

Are you ready for a career in a world of discovery?

This cutting-edge programme will show you how the challenging and stimulating business of a university operates. You’ll meet some of the most talented people in the country, if not the world, and gain an inside view into the sector’s management and business processes. A key aspect of your training will see you working alongside a diverse range of partners, from students and employers to funding bodies and commercial organisations.

It’s the opportunity to contribute to a life you have already experienced and enjoyed, and make a difference to the learning of future generations of students. What’s more, you’ll be working at the heart of fast-paced and world-leading commercial organisations that, rather unusually, are not primarily motivated by profit-making.

The University of Nottingham has run a similar programme for number of years (and indeed has played an active role in the development of this national scheme) and you can find details of the Nottingham offer here.

It’s a great initiative and one I’m really pleased that the University of Nottingham is part of. The sector really does need to train and develop many more professional service leaders and this programme will be a major contributor to that as it grows in future years.

A Huge Outsourcing Deal

Texas goes large.

A while ago via The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on massive outsourcing activity in Texas. Whilst outsourcing in itself is not that unusual, the scale of the deal done by Texas A&M University is pretty extraordinary. Last summer the university outsourced all of its main dining and facilities services to Compass Group USA this summer for an estimated $260-million in savings and revenue over the next decade:

Controversy over the decision to outsource flared on the College Station campus last spring, but then quieted after Compass Group, a North Carolina-based company, hired almost all of the university’s 1,600-some dining, maintenance, custodial, and landscaping workers. It began providing those services in the university’s stead in August.

Questions about the move persist, however, as the deal reverberates beyond the Brazos Valley. The Texas A&M system is inviting its other universities and even colleges elsewhere to take up the framework of the Compass Group contract.

As college administrators continue to face fiscal pressures, outsourcing becomes more attractive, even when it means cutting jobs. The College Station campus has lost 14 percent of its state appropriations in the past two years, and while it managed to stave off across-the-board tuition increases in that period, it saw its student-to-faculty ratio increase from 19:1 to 21:1.

Zoológico de Berlim.

The move to outsource “was all about, in tough economic times, finding the revenues that you can pour into the classroom and the research laboratory,” says John Sharp, the system’s chancellor, who drove the effort.

Texas A&M officials were already considering outsourcing the campus dining services when Mr. Sharp announced in February, after just six months on the job, that proposals were being accepted to take over not only the university’s dining operations but other services as well.

That announcement was met with resistance from faculty, staff, and students, many of whom expressed concern for the hundreds of university workers who would be affected. Others saw the decision as having come “from above,” in a move that “overrode the autonomy of the university to make its decisions,” says John N. Stallone, a professor of veterinary medicine and speaker of the Faculty Senate, who remains unconvinced of outsourcing’s benefits.

Although there was clearly some opposition it has not stopped developments as since then, the University has also outsourced landscaping, building maintenance and “custodial services” jobs across its 16 campuses. Leaving aside the question of why a university needs “custodial services” this is another major step which will result in savings of, it is claimed, $92m over 12 years.

I can’t find any details on how well these services have been operating since the outsourcing move but it in a separate development it has recently been announced that the President of Texas A&M is to stand down after a relatively brief tenure.

[Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura used under Creative Commons licence]

Measuring Collegiality

Can you test for academics’ collegiality?

And would you want to?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on the launch of a new test to help determine academics’ collegiality or,as they put it, whether a faculty member is “a bully or a jerk or an all-around pain in the neck.”

Two higher-education consultants believe they have an instrument that does just that. They call it the Collegiality Assessment Matrix, and they are promoting it to colleges as a tool for both professional development and faculty evaluations.

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“I’m more collegial than you lot”

The two consultants, Jeffrey L. Buller, dean of the honors college at Florida Atlantic University, and Robert E. Cipriano, a professor emeritus of recreation and leisure studies at Southern Connecticut State University, say the test offers something colleges have long needed: a reliable means of identifying good and bad behavior in the academic workplace.

The instrument is objective enough, they say, to enable colleges to weigh collegiality as a distinct criterion in making decisions related to faculty members’ reappointment, promotion, or tenure. By using it, the consultants say, colleges can confront faculty members over actions that vex their colleagues and either coach them on how to behave better or, if necessary, show them the door.

It’s not clear to me why you would want to do this or why such a test would substitute for simple awareness of behaviour and sensible day-to-day management. Really can’t see it catching on.

2013 International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities

A reminder about this forthcoming conference taking place at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

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The 2013 event, which takes place from Monday 4 – Thursday 7 November 2013 will mark the third anniversary of the International Leadership Conference. The conference has previously welcomed delegates from the UK, Denmark, China, Colombia, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Belgium. The event is designed for senior leaders to discuss and share best practice on important topics around the internationalisation of higher education.

Full details about the International Leadership Conference can be found here.

Is this the university of the future?

A new model. Designed by consultants

Worried about the future of higher education? Concerned about the impact the new fees regime is going to have on your university? Bit nervous that everyone is talking about ‘disruptive innovation’ in HE without really knowing what it means? Then fret no more. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a proposed ‘reinvention’ of the university at UNT-Dallas. Developed by external consultants this will draw on all the very latest up to the minute thinking about higher education. Look and learn:

Now UNT-Dallas administrators are considering a new model, based on the work of Bain, that would use those disruptive, efficiency-minded ideas as tools to reshape this fledgling university, which has a full-time-equivalent enrollment of only about 1,000 and a 264-acre campus with exactly two buildings. The prospect excites local civic leaders but has left faculty members here scared—and feeling like pawns in the emerging national debate on how to make colleges more affordable and accessible.

The tools to succeed

Bain’s model calls for a narrow set of career-focused majors in fields like business, information technology, and criminal justice, as well as for a year-round trimester calendar. It would de-emphasize research by faculty members so they could teach as many as 12 courses per year, and it would rely on heavy use of so-called hybrid courses, which would replace some face-to-face teaching with online instruction.

It would focus not only on the adult students the institution serves now but also on motivated 18-to-22-year-olds, and it would pay students to take on some advising and administrative tasks normally handled by staff members. It would also reimburse students for their final two trimesters if they’re on track to graduate within four years.

Genius. Year round teaching. Very few courses. Stop research. Less class contact. Use students to replace administrators.

This really is the university of the future.

The Imperfect University

Because universities are difficult, but worth it

I’ve been doing this Registrarism blog for well over four years now and have become increasingly concerned that any vaguely original content tends to be somewhat crowded out by brief commentary on topical (or, more likely, slightly dated) higher education matters. I feel therefore that I need to offer up a bit more of the former. This is also the advice from from my bespoke focus group (Top Management Programme 17 fellow travellers) that I should use the blog for something useful and not just trivia (where ‘True Crime on Campus’ is my own little lolcats). So here we go.

It seems to be the nature of the registrarial business that you become accustomed to writing briefer pieces rather than more substantive work. I have for some time toyed with an idea for a book on university management (“all you never needed to know about HE management” – Times Higher Education, “a bit dull” – The Guardian) but now fear that it really is just too much of a long haul. So I am going for the episodic. I could claim that am going to use the inherent virtues of the blog format in order to deliver something special and different and uniquely attuned to the contemporary university environment but the truth is I have neither the time nor the inclination to do a proper book. Also this ensures that matters will be thrillingly topical at all times too. Or perhaps not.

So, building on the foundations of those who’ve been there before I suspect at some point we will have a look at Newman (not Paul) and Barnett on the conception of the university. And, from a different angle, Shattock on how it all works – what university management is really all about. But perhaps more than any other the biggest influence here is likely to be Cornford whose Microcosmographica Academia really is the benchmark on this topic and the yardstick against which everything else must be judged. And I already know I will fall short – not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as biting, annoyingly, at their ankles (I bet that’s been said before but I can’t remember where).

So, to summarise the case: universities are difficult places to work in, hard to get into, to study in, to navigate through (physically and virtually) strange, perverse, slow moving sometimes but incredibly dynamic at times too. But although difficult and challenging in all sorts of ways, they are also extraordinary in what they do. For example in developing graduates, producing outstanding research, generating new knowledge and capital, providing resources to communities, being a source of societal critique. What I want to do in this series is highlight the difficulties and the good stuff but also all the ways in which we can, those of us who work in or take an interest in higher education, make our way in this extraordinary environment. Some of these pieces will inevitably involve reworking some previous posts but this will hopefully be in an interesting and different way.

Universities aren’t perfect and working in one can be extremely challenging and frustrating but also hugely exciting and stimulating. I’ve only ever worked in higher education, in four quite different institutions but all special and marvellous in their own way. Part of the wonder of it is being surrounded by colleagues and students, many if not most of whom are smarter than you, who are always challenging and questioning everything you do and the way you do it.

So, I want this series to be something of a primer on the imperfections of university life. Perhaps this is overly ambitious and maybe it will never really get that far but I do want to offer some observations about what I think works and what doesn’t and what some of the important issues are in universities today. Universities are full of imperfections and university management doesn’t need to be perfect to help sustain the conditions for success. Part of the answer is to tackle the most important things rather than being distracted by the trivia, to seek improvement where possible but acknowledge you can’t do everything. One of the really hard bits though is working out which are the most important things to do now which will make a difference tomorrow.

Universities are, arguably, among the most forward looking institutions in society, and more concerned with the long term than any other (secular) bodies. They should be prized, revered and lauded and, despite the fact that much of what appears and will follow here may seem to focus on the challenges, difficulties and imperfections, the underlying sentiment of this series will be one of extraordinary high regard for higher education, everyone who works in universities and all of their achievements. But complacency kills. Not necessarily immediately, but eventually. And so the Imperfect University series, the episodic antidote to complacency, starts here.

(The first piece in the series, on leadership, will appear next week.)

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.

Nottingham wins a THELMA

THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011: Outstanding Communications and Marketing Team

The full details of the results in each category can be found on the THE site. An earlier post reported the nominations Nottingham had received.

On a really entertaining evening this was a terrific win for the University of Nottingham. And this is what the judges said:

“Highly innovative, collaborative and novel in its approach to marketing.”
These were some of the judging panel’s comments about the University of Nottingham, where effective marketing has “changed public perceptions about the institution globally and supported a cultural sea change internally”.
Nottingham set out ambitious yet achievable targets to enhance the univer- sity’s brand, while at the same time saving at least £200,000 by resourceful tendering and bringing web marketing work in- house. The team oversaw a university-wide rebrand, as well as updating Nottingham’s visual identity and logo. Its efforts are credited with contributing to a 14 per cent increase in the number of undergraduate applications and a 29 per cent rise in the number of postgraduate applications.
Nottingham calculated its media coverage for the year at an advertising value of £24 million. It also raised its overseas profile by participating in the 2010 Shanghai Expo world fair.
Cary Cooper, chair of the Academy of Social Sciences, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and one of the judges, said: “The marketing and communications team at Nottingham has demonstrated [itself] this past year to be highly innovative, collaborative and novel in its approach.” He praised the team for using the full range of social media to reach out to students, as well as for a public relations campaign highlighting the university’s research.

This really is great and highlights the excellent work being done by colleagues in Communications and Marketing. Outstanding indeed!

Universities are “well-managed” shock

Remarkable speech at THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011

The THELMAs ceremony, on 16 June, was remarkable for a number of reasons. Not least the fact that Julian Clary was hosting. But perhaps the most surprising thing was the speech by David Willetts. First, it lasted barely a minute: realising that he was all that lay between the audience and their dinner he kept it extremely brief. Secondly, and even more significantly, he praised universities. He described us in glowing terms. He said we were well-managed. And well led. And that everyone working in universities was doing really rather well and that we were all highly valued.

I must admit to being rather gobsmacked by this. Whilst some might take issue with a possible mismatch between these words and some of the government’s other deeds, to me he sounded sincere. Given that the traditional mantra from Whitehall has been that universities are poorly managed and badly organised this was extremely refreshing.

Thank you Minister.

Nottingham shortlisted in THELMAs 2011

THE Leadership and Management Awards 2011 Shortlist Announced

Times Higher Education has published the shortlist for the 2011 THELMAs

Having sifted through almost 200 entries from 95 different institutions, we can now unveil the shortlist for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2011.

The shortlisted entrants are competing in 16 categories ranging from top library team and best in marketing and communications to the outstanding student services team and those who have delivered the best departmental administration. Other categories cover procurement, research management, university finance and human resources.

Ann Mroz, editor of THE, said: “Our annual awards always serve as a reminder of the extraordinary quality and dedication of those working in our universities and colleges.

“This year is no exception. Our sector, like every other, has already gone through some tough times and is facing more turbulence as the new funding regime beds in. But a glance at the shortlist for our Leadership and Management Awards is enough to instil confidence that we have the right people in place to continue to prosper and deliver the world-class higher education for which the country is rightly renowned.”

All very nice. But the best bit is that the University of Nottingham has six nominations. It really is extremely impressive and reflects fantastically well on the calibre, commitment and quality of delivery of our professional services staff. We may not win them all; we may not win any, but it’s still a really good achievement. Thank you THE!

More on Departmental Headship (as or versus Stalinism)

Following up an earlier post on this topic (with thanks to John Dale and the author for the prompt):

Nice post in which Mark Harrison draws on substantial knowledge and experience to compare and contrast Stalin’s Soviet Union with his reign as Head of Department:

The big difference was this: I had no barbed wire. With a few coils around the campus, I could have blocked off the exits. I’d have had to give guns and spotlights to the security staff. If I could have stopped my professors from leaving, I would have been able to do things to them that would lower their welfare, and they would have had to accept it. They would have grumbled, and then conspired against me, and I would have needed a political police within the department to listen, detect, and report it to me. I’d soon put a stop to that. Forced labour would be next. But I had no barbed wire. If they didn’t like the pay or conditions on offer, and could do better elsewhere, my colleagues would leave. Other universities that could use their talents more productively would make them a better offer, and I would have to match it or lose them. Without barbed wire, I could not accumulate personal power by treating others badly; I could get my way only through reliance on positive motivations.

But there are also some very strong positives here too. Well worth a look and I will get round to reading the article by Radice which prompted this.