Mobility Really Matters

The Imperfect University: Staff getting on their bikes

(an updated version of a post from a while back)

One of the things professional services colleagues sometimes complain about is that whereas  academic staff can be promoted in post – and indeed can progress all the way from lecturer to professor in the same academic department – they can’t. Instead to advance their careers administrators have to move – either elsewhere in the institution or to another university. This is often presented as a problem whereas I have to say I think it is much more of a positive position. Whilst there is something to be said for having people in post in administrative roles in central or academic departments who know their jobs inside out, who carry a sense of the institutional history and provide the continuity between rotating professors as heads of department, there is also a difficulty in such longevity in one particular role. Essentially the challenge is this – many intelligent, creative and able administrators, no matter how committed to a particular department or institution, can, unless they are given new challenges and fresh stimulus in their job, sometimes become dull, stale and bored. They may, no matter how able, become less productive over time as tedium and routine replaces challenge and excitement. I should stress that this is not always the case and is challenged as a proposition by some of my colleagues.

In my view the way to address this issue is not to argue for the opportunity for professional services staff to be promoted in role (although if their job does change radically then the regarding opportunity will exist) – this is the wrong way of approaching the matter. Rather there should be the possibility of moving staff regularly to new roles in different parts of the university to provide them with new challenge and stimulus. Ultimately this not only gives people more satisfaction in their work and makes them more productive but, because it broadens their experience too they become more employable in other roles and stand a better chance of securing a more senior role in their current or another institution.

Times Higher Education carried a piece a while ago on the development of university leaders and noted the success of the University of Warwick in this regard. One of those things for which the administration at Warwick under Mike Shattock and subsequently was famed was the propensity for moving staff around to ensure they gained new experiences and enjoyed exposure to new ideas and new work opportunities to keep them interested, stimulated and challenged. This was my experience at the University (I had seven different jobs in just under nine years at Warwick) and I found the experience hugely beneficial.

This is hard to do though. Given the structures in universities which often involve significant devolution to academic units and therefore means that administrative staff can be located in dispersed teams at Department, School or Faculty level the managed redeployment or rotation of staff can be extremely difficult to organise. Professional specialisms – in HR, Finance, IT, and Estates – make such rotation even harder although I would suggest that the previous decline of the generalist administrator has been reversed and it is perfectly possible for specialists to transfer into and succeed at more generalist roles (although rarely vice versa).

The Higher Education sector in the UK employs over 380,000 staff of whom 200,000 work in non-academic roles and professional services (HESA 2010/11 data). Whilst the career route is well defined and understood for academic staff (albeit an extremely tough profession to enter), entry to HE administration is less well defined. There is a national pay spine but grades for administrative staff vary across the sector. The entry level for graduates is generally understood but no common graduate scheme exists, unlike in the NHS which has had a well-developed national scheme for prospective NHS managers operating successfully for many years. A small number of institutions have operated local graduate trainee programmes down the years but they have not really taken off in any significant way.

In the absence of any national graduate entry programme and the challenges with managed rotation one alternative approach is to introduce a variety of work opportunities at the beginning of administrators’ careers. As well as providing a clear opportunity for entry to a career in higher education administration this was part of our motivation at the University of Nottingham for introducing our own local Graduate Trainee Programme in 2008.

An extract from the last advertisement for the programme gives a flavour of the opportunity:

This Graduate Trainee Programme offers an invaluable opportunity to prepare talented, hard-working and enthusiastic Nottingham graduates for a management role within this stimulating setting.

The programme is aimed exclusively at University of Nottingham graduates interested in developing a career in university administration. It offers an invaluable insight into this dynamic management activity whilst developing an understanding of:

  • markets
  • income streams
  • resource allocation processes
  • client bases including students, funding bodies, commercial partners and employers.

The programme offers four trainees the opportunity to experience key components of university operation and build an understanding of the institution’s strategy.

Over 12 months the trainees undertake a planned rotation of placements in different areas of the University, reporting to senior staff. Placements will be across Professional Services and Schools, and trainees may have the opportunity to work at one of the University’s international campuses in Malaysia or China.

Placement areas may include:

  • Academic Services
  • Business Engagement and Innovation Services
  • Research and Graduate Services
  • Human Resources
  • Finance and Business Services
  • Student Operations
  • Governance
  • Marketing
  • Admissions

Successful trainees will gain the transferable skills necessary to move on to positions within the University with a clear understanding of how a large university operates. Outstanding performance on the programme may facilitate a longer term opportunity at Nottingham.

This kind of programme gives trainees a wide range of experiences early, sets them up well, gives them a rounded view of university operations both from departmental and central perspectives. It also makes them extremely employable and almost all of the graduates of the Nottingham GTP have gone onto subsequent employment within the University or at other HE institutions.

Having run successfully for four years at Nottingham this model has now been adapted and developed as a national scheme, Ambitious Futures, supported by AHUA (the Association of Heads of University Administration) and now involving over 20 universities (including Nottingham) in recruiting for the 2015 intake.

The UK higher education sector really does need such a scheme and this programme is already developing a cadre of senior managers for the future who have not only undertaken a variety of roles in their home institution but have also had a range of experiences in another university too.

Excellent universities need outstanding managers who have broad experience and are able to take an institutional view where necessary. Mobility and dynamism of staff is key to achieving this and is in interest of both professional staff and their institutions. Ambitious Futures offers the prospect of achieving this in a widespread and sustainable way which can only be beneficial for universities in the UK.

 

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Jobs in .ac.uk

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.

The Imperfect University: Mobility Matters

The Imperfect University: Staff getting on their bikes

One of the things professional services colleagues sometimes complain about is that whereas  academic staff can be promoted in post – and indeed can progress all the way from lecturer to professor in the same academic department – they can’t. Instead to advance their careers administrators have to move – either elsewhere in the institution or to another university. This is often presented as a problem whereas I have to say I think it is much more of a positive position. Whilst there is something to be said for having people in post in administrative roles in central or academic departments who know their jobs inside out, who carry a sense of the institutional history and provide the continuity between rotating professors as heads of department, there is also a difficulty in such longevity in one particular role. Essentially the challenge is this – many intelligent, creative and able administrators, no matter how committed to a particular department or institution, can, unless they are given new challenges and fresh stimulus in their job, sometimes become dull, stale and bored. They may, no matter how able, become less productive over time as tedium and routine replaces challenge and excitement. I should stress that this is not always the case and is challenged as a proposition by some of my colleagues.

In my view the way to address this issue is not to argue for the opportunity for professional services staff to be promoted in role (although if their job does change radically then the regarding opportunity will exist) – this is the wrong way of approaching the matter. Rather there should be the possibility of moving staff regularly to new roles in different parts of the university to provide them with new challenge and stimulus. Ultimately this not only gives people more satisfaction in their work and makes them more productive but, because it broadens their experience too they become more employable in other roles and stand a better chance of securing a more senior role in their current or another institution.

Times Higher Education recently carried a piece on the development of university leaders and noted the success of the University of Warwick in this regard. One of those things for which the administration at Warwick under Mike Shattock and subsequently was famed was the propensity for moving staff around to ensure they gained new experiences and enjoyed exposure to new ideas and new work opportunities to keep them interested, stimulated and challenged. This was my experience at the University (I had seven different jobs in just under nine years at Warwick) and I found the experience hugely beneficial.

This is hard to do though. Given the structures in universities which often involve significant devolution to academic units and therefore means that administrative staff can be located in dispersed teams at Department, School or Faculty level the managed redeployment or rotation of staff can be extremely difficult to organise. Professional specialisms – in HR, Finance, IT, and Estates – make such rotation even harder although I would suggest that the previous decline of the generalist administrator has been reversed and it is perfectly possible for specialists to transfer into and succeed at more generalist roles (although rarely vice versa).

The Higher Education sector in the UK employs over 380,000 staff of whom 200,000 work in non-academic roles and professional services (HESA 2010/11 data). Whilst the career route is well defined and understood for academic staff (albeit an extremely tough profession to enter), entry to HE administration is less well defined. There is a national pay spine but grades for administrative staff vary across the sector. The entry level for graduates is generally understood but no common graduate scheme exists, unlike in the NHS which has had a well-developed national scheme for prospective NHS managers operating successfully for many years. A small number of institutions have operated local graduate trainee programmes down the years but they have not really taken off in any significant way.

In the absence of any national graduate entry programme and the challenges with managed rotation one alternative approach is to introduce a variety of work opportunities at the beginning of administrators’ careers. As well as providing a clear opportunity for entry to a career in higher education administration this was part of our motivation at the University of Nottingham for introducing our own local Graduate Trainee Programme in 2008.

An extract from the last advertisement for the programme gives a flavour of the opportunity:

This Graduate Trainee Programme offers an invaluable opportunity to prepare talented, hard-working and enthusiastic Nottingham graduates for a management role within this stimulating setting.

The programme is aimed exclusively at University of Nottingham graduates interested in developing a career in university administration. It offers an invaluable insight into this dynamic management activity whilst developing an understanding of:

  • markets
  • income streams
  • resource allocation processes
  • client bases including students, funding bodies, commercial partners and employers.

The programme offers four trainees the opportunity to experience key components of university operation and build an understanding of the institution’s strategy.

Over 12 months the trainees undertake a planned rotation of placements in different areas of the University, reporting to senior staff. Placements will be across Professional Services and Schools, and trainees may have the opportunity to work at one of the University’s international campuses in Malaysia or China.

Placement areas may include:

  • Academic Services
  • Business Engagement and Innovation Services
  • Research and Graduate Services
  • Human Resources
  • Finance and Business Services
  • Student Operations
  • Governance
  • Marketing
  • Admissions

Successful trainees will gain the transferable skills necessary to move on to positions within the University with a clear understanding of how a large university operates. Outstanding performance on the programme may facilitate a longer term opportunity at Nottingham.

This kind of programme gives trainees a wide range of experiences early, sets them up well, gives them a rounded view of university operations both from departmental and central perspectives. It also makes them extremely employable and almost all of the graduates of the Nottingham GTP have gone onto subsequent employment within the University or at other HE institutions.

Having run successfully for four years at Nottingham this model has now been adapted and adopted as a pilot for a national scheme, initially involving eight universities (including Nottingham) and co-ordinated by AHUA (the national association for Registrars and other heads of university administration). Further details of this year’s recruitment can be found here.

The UK higher education sector really does need such a scheme and this programme will develop a cadre of senior managers for the future who have not only undertaken a variety of roles in their home institution but have also had a range of experiences in another university too. In addition, they will benefit from a structured professional development programme under the AUA CPD framework.

Excellent universities need outstanding managers who have broad experience and are able to take an institutional view where necessary. Mobility and dynamism of staff is key to achieving this and is in interest of both professional staff and their institutions. The nascent national Graduate Trainee Programme which is developing under the auspices of AHUA offers the prospect of achieving this in a widespread and sustainable way which can only be beneficial for universities in the UK.

 

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.

Ways universities share information using social media

Universities using social media

social-media

A very interesting set of examples this: 10 Ways Universities Share Information Using Social Media

What this really highlights is how many more opportunities there are better to exploit social media for all sorts of useful information-sharing purposes. At Nottingham we use just a few of these methods consistently and therefore there remains plenty of scope for development. Some good progress recently but we have a long way to go to catch up with the leaders in this arena.