Time to recognise administrators' skills 1

February 28, 2008

Last week's front cover grabbed my attention, as I thought that it would be on the long-standing difficult dynamic between academics and university administrators. But when I turned to the cover story ("Business divisions", 21 February), I was disappointed, as it focused only on the newer phenomenon of business managers entering higher education. This is unremarkable.

As universities are forced to become more businesslike, it's only natural to look to business for help. It is not surprising that universities are realising that 20 years' teaching and research experience is not necessarily the best qualification for management. What I find much more extraordinary is the enduring division between academics and administrators, and the continuing negative effect that this can have.

As a member of the University and College Union I was horrified by Malcolm Keight's comment that "universities are the sum of the work of academics". How does he think they would function without administrators and managers? More importantly, how does he think comments such as this affect the administrators working hard to make universities run successfully?

The more enlightened academics and academic managers work in harmony with administrators and appreciate their contribution. And yet most still seem to believe that administration is unnecessary and unhelpful, and some even think it is designed simply to make their lives harder.

As a manager of an administrative department, I spend much time trying to equip my staff to deal with this attitude and to work with academics as colleagues on an equal footing. Administrators do not invent hoops for academics to jump through; they perform essential roles so that academics are free to teach and research. They mediate between academics and the outside world and manage processes that enable students to apply to university, enrol, take assessments and graduate. I am yet to meet an academic who likes to be assigned any task that could be construed as administrative, so I can only conclude that academics ought to be thankful for administrators.

Administrators are highly qualified individuals who collectively give just as much to our sector as academics do.

Jo Dandy
Director of academic office
University of Northampton.

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