Leaders need a solid inside knowledge

January 23, 2014

Re “Leading question: scholar or executive?”, News, 16 January. There is a myth that top executives from one field do well in another. For example, it was thought that stuffy engineers were ill-suited to the brave world of maintaining UK railways – much better a bunch of management high-flyers; a few broken rails and fatalities later, we learned differently.

The most successful UK companies often appoint people who know the industry (it’s very rare for someone who is not steeped in retail to get a big job in the retail sector).

The best leaders I have worked for and encountered are those who have the strongest academic records.

The problems in academia, I believe, lie in the career path to the top and the attitude of the governing councils.

A big administrative job is often damaging to an academic career if it comes early; for lab-based scientists, it is in almost every case a one-way ticket: do it and there’s no way back to the old job. Often the people with the right skill set and academic credibility wait too long to climb on the rungs. Sometimes the people who get on early enough to reach the top are classic non-achievers. They fail upwards at one post after another (more accurately they never hold any job long enough for a proper judgement of their acumen; their next job comes simply because they held the previous one).

This relates to governing councils. Most often they have no real knowledge of universities, and they suspect the motives of academics. They can be easily swayed by “experience” and a good manner coupled to some apparently plausible vision that chimes with a position paper or article that they have recently read.

No doubt every Russell Group university (except Oxbridge) intends to be a top five institution. By definition three-quarters will fail, but is anyone sacked for not hitting the mark? And yet, at appointment, the ability of the vice-chancellor-designate to outline this top five vision would have been high in the governing council’s list of criteria.

Jim_sta via timeshighereducation.co.uk

 

This absurd debate stems from the fact that democratic accountability has been removed from most UK universities.

If academics elected their deans and heads of university, as is the case in most continental European universities, this “discussion” would not even take place because it would be rightly seen as ludicrous.

UK academics do not seem to mind that they are no longer able to elect officers of their universities and do nothing to counter their disenfranchisement.

Paradoxically, academics in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the former “totalitarian” Communist bloc, enjoy a statutory right to elect the officers of their universities.

Jan Culik via timeshighereducation.co.uk

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Clerical Exam & Assessment Officer UNIVERSITY OF GREENWICH
Professor in Music and Performance UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES
Professor in Design UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES
Professor of Storytelling UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest