Director of drive and energy

May 16, 1997

Tony Tysome on the background to the latest move in the Southampton Institute saga

On paper, David Leyland's performance as a manager in higher education looks impressive. Since becoming Director of Southampton Institute in 1989, he has overseen a 14-fold increase in student numbers, and pushed it forward from an institution running no degree courses to one offering 50 full-time degrees and 38 full-time Masters programmes.

His rise through the ranks began in 1977, following a successful career as a town planner in Britain and Australia, and as policy adviser to the New South Wales Premier. He headed the planning and landscape department at Birmingham Polytechnic, becoming dean of the faculty of the built environment in 1983. Three years later, he moved to Teesside Polytechnic to take up a position as deputy director of strategy.

His dynamic and entrepreneurial style has been seen as a real strength in leading an institution through rapid expansion in the early 1990s. But some believe it proved to be his Achilles' heel as the sector was forced to put the brakes on growth.

An independent report commissioned by the institute suggested that "in a process of consolidation a new style of leadership is required - very different from that which is so successful at a time of rapid expansion".

A former colleague at Birmingham Polytechnic described Professor Leyland as: "A good man for thinking strategically in periods of growth". But added: "With someone like that you expect casualties along the way."

One apparent casualty has been the institute's bid for degree-awarding powers. Critics claim the institute lost ground as it overstretched itself overseas - the subject of a critical Higher Education Quality Council report.

But even they admit that he has secured loyalty among his management team, despite a series of criticisms of management style over the past year.

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