Does your chancellor come up trumps?

April 15, 2005

Being head of a university is no longer a game for local aristocrats and industrialists. The stakes are high but The Times Higher can help load the deck in your institution's favour

The days of the figurehead chancellor are gone. The position that emerged at Oxbridge in the 15th century - a non-resident patron chosen for his position in the outside world - is rapidly evolving to keep up with the new demands of higher education.

While the vice-chancellor continues to lead the university and the chairman of the governing body still wields real power behind the scenes, the unpaid non-executive chancellor is today expected to do more than shake hands with new graduates and cut ribbons on new buildings.

The range of individuals who undertake such a role is impressive, as those who attended Universities UK's recent chancellors' reception at the House of Lords could not help but notice. There are 21 businessmen, 16 politicians, 13 drawn from the media and entertainment - including the new Durham chancellor, author Bill Bryson, and actress Diana Rigg at Stirling University - ten academics, seven from law and five members of the Royal Family.

All bring different abilities to their institution. Huddersfield University's Patrick Stewart lent a voice familiar to viewers of Star Trek to his university's TV advertisements and applications soared by 23 per cent. At the then University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Sir Terry Leahy, who famously led supermarket chain Tesco to market dominance, has also led efforts to coax alumni to donate to their alma mater.

Many commentators believe fundraising will become the principal role of the chancellor in coming years. This puts a premium on a famous name. Indeed, members of the Royal Family still have pulling power as hosts of fundraising events, although they are unable to lobby for their institutions. The new breed of chancellor tends to be more hands-on, whatever their background.

Former Tory chairman and European Commissioner Chris Patten has chalked up 80 official functions so far this academic year and has been prominent in the debate over the future of higher education. The skilled administrator Sir William Stubbs has been credited with helping to guide Thames Valley University back from the brink of collapse; Sir Peter Hall has lectured on Shakespeare, set up a masters course and become artistic director of the new theatre at Kingston University; and Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow spends four full days at Oxford Brookes University each year working with access committees, chairing panels and recording introductions for student coursework.

These cards attempt to encapsulate the strengths of some of the main categories of modern chancellor. There are, of course, anomalies. How far a particular chancellor lives from their university can impact on the number of visits, although the fact that George Mitchell, chancellor of Queen's University Belfast, is a US senator and Fujia Yang, chancellor of Nottingham University, is a nuclear physicist in China gives their institutions strategic advantages on the international stage.

And many of the chancellors are also members of the House of Lords - 30 of them - which bumps up their lobbying clout somewhat.

To play the game, select your chancellor from the categories on offer, matching their qualities - most rated between one and five - to complement those of your institution. Then pit your chancellor against their counterparts elsewhere as you compete to win students, income, influence and status.

Coming soon: Audit Culture Operation Game, in which you attempt to strip the prostrate academic body of every last bit of dignity and autonomy, and research assessment exercise Buckaroo, where you pile demands onto an imbecilic beast of burden.

The Businessman

Campus cred: 2 (higher among the Financial Times -reading spin-off academics, lower among sociologists)

Celebrity status: 1 (higher if implicated in a juicy corporate collapse)

Lobbying clout: 4 ("As I was saying to the minister in Whitehall...")

Fundraising potential: 4 (you could fit a new business school in that pocket)

Visits per year: 5

The Politician

Campus cred: 1 (higher if they wrote a good biography after losing office)

Celebrity status: 4 (may even attract a student protest)

Lobbying clout: 5 ("As I was telling the minister in the House...")

Fundraising potential: 3 (unless they were really hated)

Visits per year: 8

The Lawyer

Campus cred: 2 (they sound like they know what they're talking about)

Celebrity status: 1 (even if they once met General Pinochet)

Lobbying clout: 3 ("It would beinappropriate for me to comment, as I informed the minister at the club...")

Fundraising potential: 3

Visits per year: 4

The Academic

Campus cred: 5 (we love a Nobel laureate)

Celebrity status: 1 (except for Lord Winston's moustache)

Lobbying clout: 3 ("As I was asking the committee clerk..." but at least they know exactly what to ask for)

Fundraising potential: 3 (the alumni still care)

Visits per year: 10

Journalists and entertainers

Campus cred: 1 (except Patrick Stewart, who met Stephen Hawking once, and Melvyn Bragg, who met everyone else.And even sociologists would like the chance to impress Magnus Magnusson)

Celebrity status: 5 (that voice on the advert sounds rather familiar)

Lobbying clout: 2 ("I met that Peter Mandelson once", except for Greg Dyke who met Alastair Campbell)

Fundraising potential: 5 (who wants to go to dinner with a man who made millions from gravel extraction when you can meet the captain of the starship Enterprise ?)

Visits per year: 6

The Royal

Campus cred: 1 (lower among sociologists, genetically modified plant scientists, architecture lecturers, black studies professors, conservationists and so on)

Celebrity status: 5 (unless it's that bloke - you know, the one who lives in that house. Didn't he do something for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or the National Trust?)

Lobbying clout: 1 ("As my ancestors once ordered...")

Fundraising potential: 5 (what US billionaire could resist dinner with a royal?)

Visits per year: 3

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