People skills needed

July 28, 2006

The report "Struggle to fill v-c job vacancies" (July 21) raises two issues. The first is that the emphasis of the new recruitment focus appears to be whether vice-chancellors can cope with financial and market pressures. There is not much explicit mention of leadership skills in managing people or creating an environment to take forward teaching and research, yet our experience is that without these it is hard to retain the confidence of the university's most valuable resource - its staff, who are increasingly buffeted by the market and financial pressures.

No one is suggesting that the ability to manage increasingly complex institutional finances in a context of markets and uncertainty is not an element of the skill set a vice-chancellor requires, but surely it would be tragic if the emphasis on market forces deters those best able to command the respect of their staff.

The second issue is whether the sector is now paying the price for vice-chancellors and others appointing people similar to themselves to senior management positions across the sector. The proportion of female vice-chancellors and other very senior managers is still far too small, while ethnic minorities and those with disabilities remain almost invisible at the most senior levels, with a few honourable exceptions.

There is a challenge, but it is one that permeates the sector at many levels - appointing the best people with the right skills through fair and transparent processes and being clear that those skills should not primarily be financial ones except where that is a necessary job requirement.

Roger Kline
Head of equality and employment rights, UCU

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