Could a football manager be appointed vice-chancellor of a university and steer it to the top of the academic premier league?
The idea is not as far-fetched as it may sound, according to one Manchester University researcher, who is analysing the experiences of managers who have entered higher education from a different sector. Many skills they have developed in other organisations and industries transfer well into university management positions, the results of a nationwide survey suggest.
Malcolm Harper, staff development adviser at Manchester, said the survey of more than 200 recently appointed managers entering higher education from other sectors found that most felt their skills were being fully used.
He said the research, funded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, would be followed up with in-depth interviews to discover more about what kind of skills people from other areas of work are bringing into the sector.
He said: "Although we haven't come across any former football managers yet, the research raises questions. How would someone like Sir Alex Ferguson run a university? What impact would someone like that have on an institution, and how would we make best use of his skill and help him fit into the organisational culture?"
Managers responding to the survey, which closed last week, have entered higher education from government bodies, healthcare, industry and manufacturing, telecommunications and business services.
Initial findings are that, while most feel happy with the way their skills are used, about 70 per cent complain that decision-making is too slow in higher education.
Respondents were equally divided on whether higher education was more innovative and creative than the sector they had left.