Managers slip into roles once the preserve of academics

'Blended professionals' take on mixed portfolios of university work, writes Melanie Newman

September 4, 2008

A new breed of professional manager is moving into areas of university work traditionally handled by academics, according to a report from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

The report by Celia Whitchurch, lecturer at the University of London's Institute of Education, says staff are increasingly being appointed on the basis of previous higher-education, further-education or third-sector experience that allows them to handle "mixed portfolios" of academic and non-academic work.

The new breed of manager is likely to hold masters- and doctoral-level qualifications, to have a teaching or research background and to undertake tasks such as offering pastoral advice to students, speaking at outreach events and taking part in overseas recruitment visits and interviews.

These staff may move into pro vice-chancellor posts with portfolios such as student life or institutional recruitment, suggests the report, Professional Managers in UK HE: Preparing for Complex Futures, which is currently in press.

Dr Whitchurch interviewed middle- and senior-level staff in seven institutions in the UK, as well as in the US and Australia. She found the new type of manager, which she calls a "blended professional", in posts such as director of lifelong learning, director of research partnership, diversity manager, and learning partnerships manager.

They have "an ability to work in ambiguous space between professional and academic domains, capitalising on a sense of 'belonging' and 'not belonging' to both", the report says. Their work took in in-house research on new forms of activity such as foundation degrees or local business links.

One interviewee reported that the cross-boundary working could be a challenge: "The particular activities I undertake have an academic component to them ... people find that difficult because I'm not an academic ... that notion that you can encompass academic activities within an administrative set-up is very uncomfortable for a lot of people."

Dr Whitchurch said: "Professional staff are increasingly working alongside their academic colleagues on extended projects such as student transitions and community partnership ... At the same time as functional specialisation has occurred in areas such as marketing and enterprise ... 'blended' roles and identities have also emerged."

- The report will be available at


Celia Whitchurch's study identified four types of managers


These managers are located firmly within organisational and functional boundaries. Their roles are relatively prescribed and pre-determined.


These use an awareness of boundaries to perform cross-institution interpretive and translational functions and to build institutional capacity.


These are most likely to be influenced by off-campus networks. They perform roles such as institutional research and development.


These have experience that allows them to carry out mixed portfolios and to contribute in areas that straddle professional and academic domains.

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