Business deans anxious over lack of vice-chancellor opportunities

Scientists and medics have the best chance of reaching the top job in the UK, leaving other disciplines looking for answers

January 16, 2019
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Want to become a vice-chancellor in the UK? You stand the best chance if you’re a scientist or a medic.

You are significantly less likely to reach the top if your academic background is in business and management. In fact, business school deans have become so concerned about the lack of their number leading universities that they commissioned a study to investigate the issue.

The paper, published by the Chartered Association of Business Schools on 16 January, says that only eight of 139 vice-chancellors in the UK (6 per cent) have a teaching or research background in business and management, even though 15 per cent of all students are on courses in this area, the highest proportion of any subject.

In contrast, 19 vice-chancellors have a background in the physical sciences – a far greater proportion relative to the student population – while biological sciences and social studies contribute 15 each, and 13 are engineering and technology academics.

Nine have a background in medicine and dentistry – again, a far greater proportion relative to the student population.

Exploring the reasons for the disparity, the Cabs report says that the perception that business and management “is more practical than academic still lingers” in many institutions, and that its relatively recent development as a scholarly field may have limited some practitioners’ progression.

The perceived autonomy and narrower remit of business schools may limit opportunities for deans to move into other senior roles, while the smaller pool of research funding available in the discipline may affect the reputation of scholars in the subject, and hence whether they have the required credibility with colleagues, the report says.

The report adds that some business deans “may not want to become a vice-chancellor even if the opportunity arose, as there are arguably more non-academic career avenues open to them than is the case for academics from other fields. Consultancy opportunities…may represent a more appealing balance of financial reward to effort.”

However, there is a sense that the tide may be turning. Of the eight vice-chancellors with a business background, four were appointed within the past year: Andrew Atherton at the University of Dundee, George Boyne at the University of Aberdeen, Amanda Broderick at the University of East London, and Jean-Noël Ezingeard at the University of Roehampton.

The Cabs report suggests that “changes that have occurred within the university sector over the last decade have created a more favourable climate for business school deans to transition to vice-chancellor”, a claim echoed by Barney Roe, the organisation’s director of communications and external relations.

“When you look at what business school deans are doing, they are running schools with large student populations, they are managing huge budgets and significant international operations, they are developing considerable business links, and they often have a quasi-independent brand or profile. So, they are well placed to become vice-chancellors, if that’s the route they want to go down,” Mr Roe said.

The Cabs report says business academics should build collaborations with colleagues elsewhere in the university to improve their chances of advancement into institutional leadership roles, and that they should consider taking on pro vice-chancellor or deputy vice-chancellor positions, potentially overseas.

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Reader's comments (1)

Having watched the effects of HBS methodology infecting and affecting Academia adversely over many years, and some of the HBS notable alumni are an excellent advert for not employing business school graduates/Academics as VC's, perhaps it's no bad thing. Unfortunately (in)Human Resources, another product of business school output, treats staff at all levels as simply cogs in the academic sausage machine, to be driven hard until broken/worn out whence they will simply be discarded to be replaced with cheaper new resources. And with University 'councils' being loaded by business people it's no surprise the last person they want is someone who understands just how business school trained people think being appointed as a VC, lest they wrest control from them.

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