Academics in the minority at more than two-thirds of UK universities

Analysis of Hesa data reveals the extent to which academics are outnumbered by support staff

September 3, 2015
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Support staff are in the majority at 71 per cent of UK higher education institutions, analysis by Times Higher Education has revealed.

Universities’ 2013-14 returns to the Higher Education Statistics Agency on staff numbers reveal that support staff were the majority at 111 out of 157 institutions. They made up 60 per cent or more of all staff at 27 institutions, excluding obvious statistical anomalies.

The highest proportion – 85 per cent – was recorded by London Business School. Among larger institutions (defined for the purposes of the analysis as those with at least 500 academics), the highest proportion of support staff – 63 per cent – was recorded by the University of Bradford. The University of Wolverhampton had 62 per cent and Durham and Aberystwyth universities had 61 per cent. The overall national average was 53 per cent.

Brian Cantor, vice-chancellor of Bradford, said that the university had recently launched a 10-year development plan “designed to deliver the university’s new strategy to be one of the world’s best technology universities”, which would see both student and staff numbers grow.

“As part of this plan, the university will see a significant growth in the proportion of academic staff,” he said.

A spokesman for Durham said: “Our support structures are appropriately resourced to support our academic staff in departments, faculties and colleges, across a wide range of activities.”

A spokesman for Wolverhampton said that its high rate of professional services staff was explained by its multi-site location, which required duplication of services, as well as the “wider range of opportunities to students” it offered “as part of our commitment to widening access and participation to higher education”, and its emphasis on providing careers and student support.

“Additionally, unlike some other universities we do not contract out or outsource any aspect of our non-teaching function,” it added.

London Business School did not respond to a request for comment.

An army of administrators

Some academics have expressed concern about the rise in the proportion of administrators employed by universities in recent decades. In his 2011 book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor in the department of political science at Johns Hopkins University, said that the growth had pushed up costs and corrupted universities’ scholarly missions. In a 2011 interview with THE, he suggested comparing the ratio of academic to administration staff in individual institutions to highlight outliers.

Hesa figures are based on contract type, so do not include academics who take on administrative roles. They also include those with blue-collar jobs, such as tradespeople and machine operatives.

Kathryn Fowler, vice-chair of the Association off University Administrators, responds

When analysis is restricted to staff with white-collar jobs such as managers, “professionals” and “administrative and secretarial occupations”, London Business School remains the most administrative heavy institution, accounting for 79 per cent of its total staff. But the University of the Arts London rises to the top of the ranking of larger institutions, with 52 per cent, followed by the Open University with 51 per cent. The national average was 43 per cent.

In total, more than half of staff at 14 universities were doing white-collar administrative jobs.

The lean option

At the other end of the scale, the lowest proportion overall was recorded by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with 35 per cent. Of the larger institutions, the Institute of Cancer Research had the lowest proportion, with 37 per cent. Arts University Bournemouth was the only other institution with a figure of less than 40 per cent, while just over a third of institutions had figures of less than 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, 31 universities had less than 40 per cent of their staff employed in white-collar administrative jobs, and only 12 had more than 50 per cent. Among larger institutions, the lowest proportions were recorded by the Institute of Cancer Research (33 per cent) and the University of Cambridge (35 per cent).

THE also looked at the average cost of each administrative post, combining the data on staff numbers with Hesa figures on university expenditure on staff.

The highest average cost (£82,000) was recorded by the Guildhall School of Music, followed by the University of Cambridge (£79,000). Neither Guildhall nor Cambridge responded to requests for comment.

However, the average cost of such posts was higher than the average cost of academic posts in just 16 institutions.

The lowest average cost, £26,000, was recorded by University College Birmingham. Of the larger institutions, the lowest figure, £30,000, was recorded by Canterbury Christ Church University.

10 campuses with largest support staff

Institution Proportion of support staff (%)
University of Bradford 63
University of Wolverhampton 62
Durham University 61
Aberystwyth University 61
University of Sunderland 60
University of Bath 60
Keele University 59
Aston University 59
University of Reading 59
University of Essex 59

10 campuses with smallest support staff

Institution Proportion of support staff (%)
Institute of Cancer Research 37
Ulster University 41
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 41
King’s College London 42
University College London* 44
London South Bank University 44
University of Oxford 44
Kingston University 45
Birkbeck, University of London 45
Coventry University 45

10 lowest support-post costs

Institution Average cost (£)
Canterbury Christ Church University 30,201
University of Chester 31,879
Durham University 32,728
Edge Hill University 32,735
University of Wolverhampton 32,741
Keele University 32,755
Newcastle University 32,775
University of Aberdeen 33,094
University of St Andrews 33,158
Swansea University 33,402

10 highest support-post costs

Institution Average cost (£)
University of Cambridge 79,104
University of the Arts London 63,656
University of East London 56,880
Cranfield University 55,033
University of Central Lancashire 53,123
Kingston University 52,869
University of Sussex 52,545
University of Oxford 52,181
City University London 51,701
King’s College London 51,149

Download full data on percentages of support staff

* Data for UCL includes that for the Institute of Education, with which it merged last year

Notes: Data are based on Higher Education Statistics Agency figures for 2013-14 on staff numbers and university expenditure. The figures on staff numbers are full-time equivalents. Institutions with fewer than 500 academic staff are excluded from these tables in order to focus on mainstream universities


Print headline: Faculty in minority at two-thirds of campuses

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Reader's comments (2)

Are academic-related posts such as subject librarians counted as support staff? My role includes both student support and a considerable amount of teaching so I don't think I count as part of an "army of administrators"
I stumbled across this article from a link in another article claiming that universities are over-run with administrators. A few minutes searching looking at the HESA data and definitions confirms that support staff is a much broader category than admin staff and includes librarians and many others in academic-related roles. It also includes catering staff, various estates staff and all sorts of other roles (including staff not contracted by the university if they are provided office space). This renders the article largely moot without understanding what the staff do. For example an agricultural staff may employ a farm manager and farm workers and these staff are essential to providing those students with a good education. A university with many halls of residence would imply many staff to secure, cater for and maintain those facilities, while a university that relies on private provision would not (and the students might pay more for worse accommodation). Meanwhile lecturers in some universities have very few admin support and end up doing it themselves and have less time for teaching or research.