Title scramble

January 9, 2014

The story about academic ranks/titles at Kingston University (“Kingston v-c defends last post for principal lecturers and readers”, News, 2 January) raises again the conspicuous lack of standardisation across the UK’s universities, which serves only to confuse rather than to offer clarity – hardly a worthy aspiration for learned institutions.

Despite their (notional?) status as independent institutions, universities in the UK are unambiguously part of a national system of higher education; hence a consistent pattern of academic ranks/titles would seem to be appropriate. A clear opportunity was available – and astonishingly missed – to ensure comparability when the polytechnics achieved university status in 1992, but the absurdity of having “senior lecturers” as senior staff in pre-1992 universities and as junior staff in post-1992 universities has persisted, along with the anomaly of having “principal lecturers” in the latter but not in the former.

The US university sector is much more diverse than its British counterpart, and individual institutions (in general) have much more independence. Nevertheless, there is a clear-cut and consistent transparency across the US higher education system in terms of a hierarchy of titles/ranks spanning assistant, associate and full professor. Some institutions in the UK (eg, the universities of Nottingham and Warwick) have adopted what is in essence the US system of academic titles, which makes for even more anomalies in this country…but to what end?

This lack of consistency can also be found among the heads of UK universities, who adopt one or more titles (including chief executive, president, principal, vice-chancellor and warden). In the interests of clarity, why is this array not also standardised?

Richard M. S. Wilson
Emeritus professor
Loughborough University

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 3 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

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations