Move over dons, administrators now rule, says v-c

April 9, 2009

The days of the "donnish dominion" are over and university administration is perhaps the key profession in higher education.

This is the view of Sir Peter Scott, vice-chancellor of Kingston University.

At the annual conference of the Association of University Administrators this week, he said that despite being a "pretty mixed bunch" in terms of professional responsibilities, administrators probably had greater claim to being the crux of the university endeavour than academics, vice-chancellors or governors.

He said that he regretted the erosion of the power of the senate, and suggested that the influence wielded by senior academics was now more "executive and managerial" than "academic and collegial". "As for the donnish dominion," he said, "I'm not sure there's much of that left outside Oxford and Cambridge."

Professor Scott said that another potentially powerful group in higher education was governors. Their influence had expanded in the past 20 years, partly as a result of the "worship of the free market", he said. This development coincided with the birth of the "quangocracy", typified by government-linked bodies that viewed universities as "delivery organisations".

But none of these groups had as much claim to the title of the "key profession" in higher education as administrators did, Professor Scott said.

He compared universities to the National Health Service and said that anyone who had been in hospital would know that doctors were not the be-all and end-all of the medical profession - indeed, hospitals would not run at all without administrative staff.

Professor Scott said that a glance across the Atlantic to the US would show how important administrators could be. "In some (US universities), faculty are rather peripheral to the whole process," he said.

Maureen Skinner, chair of the AUA, said "I'm encouraged to hear that we the administrators are not powerless, and I'm particularly encouraged to hear that from a vice-chancellor."

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