Leader: A title worth aspiring to

April 27, 2007

As elite clubs go, the British professoriate has never lacked exclusivity. But news that the number has grown in absolute terms and as a proportion of total academic staff should not be seen as a threat to professorial status.

A longstanding issue in higher education has been the clustering of experienced academics at the top of the lecturing scale, unable to progress because of a paucity of professorial openings.

This artificial restriction throttled potential and blighted academic career paths. Thanks to the research assessment exercise and the new pay framework change is now taking place. A rise in the number of female professors and in those from black and ethnic backgrounds is particularly welcome although there is still a long way to go.

Inevitably, there are some who fear that professorial authority and status will decline as numbers rise. They may look to the US where it appears as though every academic is a professor or assistant professor and ask, with some justification: "What does the title mean anymore?"

But most of the evidence, anecdotal though it may be, suggests that professors are having to do more to earn their title than their predecessors. UK universities still guard the title jealously and a professorship remains something to aspire to.

The great thing about the recent trend, however, witnessed by this week's figures, is that more brilliant and hard-working staff than ever before now have a realistic chance of achieving the ultimate academic career goal.

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