Vice Squad

The role of a vice-chancellor in a university is undeniably demanding. However, despite the increasing demands of the job, there are still no formal requirements, except for the one-day induction course offered by Universities UK. But how prepared are these newly appointed captains of the higher education industry, who take charge of more than £100m worth of finances?

According to Mike Shattock, who previously served as a registrar at Warwick University and now works as a visiting professor at the Institute of Education, a medium-sized university could have over 10,000 students and 2,000 staff members, with an annual turnover exceeding £120m-£150m. It is becoming more common for vice-chancellors’ salaries to surpass £100,000. While the CVs of vice-chancellors are diverse, the role’s standard path is to work their way up from a head of the department, to dean, and then to a pro vice-chancellor before landing one of the top jobs. Shattock argues that individuals need to start receiving serious training at an earlier stage.

Following the Jarrett report, serious training and courses for department heads started being developed in the late 1980s. The Universities UK (UUK) is currently undertaking a strategic review headed by the principal of Queen Mary, Adrian Smith, to investigate initiatives from various sectors and international comparisons and to build on existing initiatives in the higher education sector. The review will report back in July and be contemplated in UUK’s autumn conference.

Hefce’s John Rushforth, who leads the management improvement team, says that they are yet to commit 25% of their £10m management fund but are willing to invest in the training and development of university staff if its forthcoming strategic plan emphasises leadership, management, and governance.

Despite several senior staff and vice-chancellors having gone through the top management programme run by the University of Surrey since 1999, which is modelled on the cabinet office programme for senior civil servants, nobody is expecting the development of an MBA (vice-chancellor), considering the time constraints of vice-chancellors.

Several vice-chancellors believe that the key to effectively performing the job is to manage strategically rather than operationally. Deian Hopkin, vice-chancellor of South Bank University, says that management of risk is increasingly important. Furthermore, the challenges of the last 20 years have provided greater experience, operational skills, and aptitudes, providing significant exposure to significant areas such as strategy, human resources, equal opportunities, estates, and project management.

Utilizing the knowledge and expertise of others, particularly current and former vice-chancellors, is highly crucial according to experts. Bain, who previously worked as the director of London Business School and has experience in providing courses for potential executives in the private sector, believes that past VCs could greatly benefit an expanded induction program. This program would consist of a three-day scheme with a mixture of external individuals and former vice-chancellors who would provide insight into various topics such as handling pressure from local and national politicians, delegating possibilities and limitations, and collaborating with university registrars. Bain himself, would have been open to this proposal.

Mentorship is becoming increasingly important in higher education. Recently, Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge launched a program where 25 vice-chancellors and senior managers were twinned with executives from the private sector. Rushforth believes that it is not just the universities that stand to gain from this initiative and argues that not only does the corporate sector have valuable lessons to impart to vice-chancellors, but vice-chancellors have much to teach the private sector as well.

David Eastwood, the incoming vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia this September, has the benefit of his previous experiences as a pro vice-chancellor at Swansea and CEO of the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Additionally, he can also seek guidance from his colleagues who have offered informal assistance.

It may appear that future provision for vice-chancellors may not be neatly structured with courses, experience, action learning, and mentoring all playing a role in the process. However, as pointed out by Hopkin, "there is no single model for a university or a vice-chancellor. There are plenty of ways to learn about running a university and many individuals who are available to provide guidance, but there is no one size fits all solution."


  • oscargriffiths

    I am an educational blogger and father who loves to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I blog about a variety of topics including parenting, education, and technology. I hope to help others learn and grow in their own lives.