Managers must be qualified to herd the academic cats

Qualifications would boost legitimacy and protect research, scholar argues. John Morgan reports

May 20, 2010

Research "can no longer be left to the whims and fortunes of individual academics" and must be overseen by research managers with specialist qualifications.

That is the argument made in a new paper, which says that such qualifications are vital to give research managers credibility within the academy.

The paper by Rosemary Deem, dean of history and social sciences and professor of higher education management at Royal Holloway, University of London, appears in the current edition of the Association of University Administrators' journal, Perspectives.

Professor Deem argues that both academic research leaders and research administrators have crucial roles to play in an increasingly tough funding environment.

She notes the context of "the current overt management of academic research in the UK, whereby research activity is now vital to most higher education institutions and can no longer be just left to the whims and fortunes of individual academics".

The paper, titled "Herding the academic cats: the challenges of 'managing' academic research in the contemporary UK university", concludes: "The wider availability of internationally recognised qualifications in research administration would help both academics and administrators to develop new forms of common capital and assist them in acquiring defined skills and knowledge."

This in turn would "help research administrators in their struggle for legitimacy in the eyes of academics", the paper states.

Professor Deem says that "working on success indicators for both research administrators and academic research leaders would make the herding of the academic cats seem much more rewarding".

She goes on to argue that the lack of such indicators makes it difficult for both parties to know whether they are performing well.

They also find it difficult working with researchers themselves, who value autonomy and are trained in criticism, she adds.

Professor Deem notes that many academics see research as a "semi-private" activity.

"As a consequence, they may see the implementation of research policies and strategies as an intrusion. Yet in the context of the aftermath of economic recession and financial collapse, when it is going to be much more challenging for universities worldwide to sustain research activity, the alliances between academics and research administrators could help to protect research."

Professor Deem cites research administrators' roles as "critical friends" in reading through draft bids for funding, coordinating interdisciplinary programmes and "tracking impact, enhancing public engagement and facilitating knowledge transfer".

Shared success indicators developed by academics and research administrators could help both groups succeed by bringing in more research funding, the Perspectives paper states.

This would offer "a more secure future for academic departments and institutions", Professor Deem argues.

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