Working together with a shared vision 2

April 16, 2009

Give people an opportunity to complain and they will often take it. The days of the haughty academic looking down on administrators are numbered. It is often easier for both sides to recall examples of obstructive behaviour from the other. It is more difficult to demonstrate when administrators have provided efficient and insightful "added value" to an academic endeavour. Such evidence is often hidden and apparent only in retrospect, yet it is common.

The best administrators possess empathy for academics and understand the motivations that drive them and the pressures they operate under. Learning about academic life - career structures and development, the nature of scientific investigation, competition and collaboration, how scientific teams function, publications and funding - provides administrators with additional job satisfaction, over and above the sense of contributing to a worthwhile cause.

This contributes to the development of efficient and supportive administrative structures that aid the academic mission. Having the confidence to engage with academics on these issues, and taking an interest in academic work by visiting labs and team meetings, is crucial.

The best academics are usually good administrators and managers, whether they realise it or not. Recruiting and developing a successful research team, building a varied portfolio of grant funding for an overall research aim, collaborating with other organisations and disseminating research all require a significant degree of strategic planning, data analysis, communication and considered preparation.

The professionalisation of university administration is necessary, and plans are under way to achieve this. The European Association of Research Managers and Administrators is working on initiatives for the growing cadre of research support experts throughout the European Research Area. Our annual conference, to be held in Copenhagen in June, will address many of these issues.

In your article, one commentator referred to professional university administrative services as the "glue" that enabled organisations to work. As we move forward together, I would suggest that we consider "oil" to be a more appropriate analogy.

Paul Craven, Vice-president, European Association of Research Managers and Administrators.

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