Money jobs go unfilled

September 24, 2004

Many universities are struggling to find the right people to fill business-related vacancies that are springing up across the sector, a Times Higher investigation has revealed.

Government initiatives and financial constraints are forcing universities to create a variety of non-academic posts, including research-costing experts and fundraisers. But with all institutions fishing in the same small pool of candidates - often outside the higher education sector - many of these vital positions remain unoccupied.

Fundraising is one area in which universities are having particular difficulties. The government-commissioned Thomas report on university endowments, published in May, called for institutions to adopt a more professional approach to raising money, prompting a rash of new posts.

David Allen, chair of the Association of Heads of University Administrators and registrar at Exeter University, said: "There is an excess of demand over supply and universities are increasingly turning to headhunters to try to find fundraisers."

He added: "Headhunters used to be just for the very top jobs."

The government push for institutions to identify and recover the full economic costs of their research, meanwhile, has also generated a need for difficult new appointments. Peter Townsend, research manager at Loughborough University, said that his university was finding it harder than expected to appoint a costing and pricing officer to meet the Government's requirements. He said: "We are looking for an accountant as well as someone who understands the research process - that's a tough combination of skills to find."

Increasingly, human resource departments are considering people with no experience of the university sector to fill their gaps. Ray Lewis, personnel director at Manchester University, said: "We have got very ambitious strategic objectives that are mostly dependent on attracting high-quality people. In that respect we are no different from M&S or Tesco."

But some posts slot less easily into the private-sector mould.

Knowledge-transfer manager posts, an increasingly problematic area for universities, are often filled by people with a contract-research background and limited knowledge of the business world.

Philip Graham, executive director of the Association of University Research and Industry Links, said: "Ideally a knowledge-transfer person has to have a mixture of knowledge, including marketing, contracts, intellectual property, business and finance. Finding that is very difficult."

He added: "We are finding that you have to get people with just some of those skills and try to train them."

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