New tests will probe employee suitability

April 20, 2007

Academics seeking promotion could soon be vetted for personality traits as well as experience. Phil Baty reports

Academics could be subjected to controversial "personality testing" before being approved for jobs or promotions as managers continue to examine corporate-style human resource management.

Anglia Ruskin University confirmed this week that it was conducting pilots for a "psychometric test" as part of a programme of staff career development.

Experts predicted that the tests, which seek to establish personality types and to predict how staff might behave in certain work scenarios, would be increasingly used for development and even recruitment as academic jobs become more complex.

John Rust, director of the Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge University, said that while the test might not always be appropriate in a sector that valued individuality and in which peer review and publications could be a reliable indicator of research ability, they could be useful.

Psychometric tests could be used to check for initiative, team-working and social skills - qualities stereotypically lacking in some otherwise brilliant, focused academics, he said.

Robert McHenry, a psychology lecturer at Oxford University who is head of business psychologists OPP, said he had used personality tests to help in appointing senior academics at Oxford. He predicted an increase in their use in selection for jobs at all levels.

"Academics are often chosen for their narrow specialism and find it difficult to co-operate or work in teams," he said. This means testing at the selection stage "can be terribly valuable", he said.

Union leaders this week warned that the tests could be "highly subjective".

"At too many institutions the people at the top seem to have little understanding of the basis against which staff should be judged,"

said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union.

"Academic achievement plus demonstrable ability to do the job continue to be what should count."

Anglia Ruskin declined to provide any details of its pilots but confirmed that the tests were being used in a gender equality initiative. They helped the university identify the "motives, preferences, needs and talents" of staff.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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