Big names in the frame for Hefce leadership

Interviews begin for chief executive post: will a woman get the nod at last?

July 18, 2013

Leadership quality, from left: Sir Ian Diamond, Janet Beer, Dame Julia Goodfellow and Dame Julia King

England’s funding council has moved closer to choosing its next chief executive, holding interviews for arguably the biggest job in the sector.

Names said to be in the frame to lead the Higher Education Funding Council for England include Sir Ian Diamond, vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen; Dame Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University; Dame Julia Goodfellow, vice-chancellor of the University of Kent; and Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University.

Steve Egan, Hefce’s deputy chief executive, who has a background in accountancy, has been the favoured choice for some senior figures in the sector. However, Hefce’s previous five chief executives since its foundation in 1992 have all been former vice-chancellors.

There has never been a female Hefce chief executive or Universities UK president - the sector’s other most senior position - so the appointment of a woman would be warmly welcomed by many.

Hefce held interviews on 12 July for the post, thought likely to come with a salary of about £230,000 a year.

The appointment will be made by the business secretary, Vince Cable, on the advice of the funding council.

The choice of candidate may reflect the fact that research will be an even bigger priority for Hefce in the future. Research funding will form the vast bulk of the money it allocates as teaching grant diminishes and is replaced by tuition fee income.

Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, said that the looming prospect of the research excellence framework and its consequences “may make all the difference” to the choice. This was “in many ways a bigger issue for Hefce in the coming period” than tuition fees and student number controls, he added.

Wealth of experience

Sir Ian is a former chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (and author of a 2011 UUK report, Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education), while Professor Goodfellow is a former chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Professor King is a council member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and has a wealth of experience on the applied side of research, including senior executive posts at Rolls-Royce.

Her role as a member of the Browne Review panel will make her an unpopular choice for some, but it will have given her experience of politics and policy.

Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce’s current chief executive, becomes vice- chancellor of the University of Leeds on 1 October.

He is thought to be leaving because he favours a job closer to his home near York (Hefce’s offices are in London and Bristol).

Sir Alan is also said to feel that the Hefce role is no longer the job he took on in April 2009 - a result of the organisation’s shrinking importance under the new fees and funding system, in which it will allocate a far smaller proportion of total funding and carry less influence.

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