Sector fails to assist its former pro v-cs

December 7, 2007

Report urges structured career progression for post holders who find it hard to return to the ranks after the end of their terms. Melanie Newman reports. Universities must make better use of their pro vice-chancellors after their jobs come to an end, according to the Leadership Foundation.

A report on the changing role of pro vice-chancellors by David Smith at Leeds University's School of Education and Jonathan Adams of Evidence Ltd says: "The sector is not very good at looking after its senior people."

It adds: "The system undoubtedly needs to find a better continuing career structure, particularly where 'going back' is not really an option."

The pro vice-chancellor role is generally permanent in post-92 institutions, but is often fixed-term in older universities.

Dr Smith told The Times Higher : "There's no single approach to career progression. In some of these jobs there's an expectation of return to the academic department, in others there's an expectation it is permanent."

Pro vice-chancellor roles may be designated as part time, so in theory the post holder remains research active. But, the report says, "the reality for most is that the pro vice-chancellorship is more than a full-time commitment in itself in which the individual lives off their academic capital".

For those not moving to a vice-chancellor role, a return to research is difficult and early retirement or a move out of academia may be the only options.

"The research raises questions over whether the system should have a reliance on internal rotations, because it's clear that people don't want to go back to ordinary departmental life," Dr Smith said.

One pro vice-chancellor told The Times Higher : "The longer one stays on the management-administrative side, the more difficult it is to keep abreast of one's subject and the more impossible it is to return to the coal-face."

Changes to pension rules meant he had to work several years more than planned, he said, with no guarantee that his pro vice-chancellor role would be extended.

He said: "This is an ineffective way of managing universities or people ... I would expect universities to make more use of permanent deputy vice- chancellor/dean-type appointments, which can provide a real management route for academics."

Another pro vice-chancellor said: "The notion that one can do a job this demanding for a few years and then return to the 'ranks' amounts to a considerable waste of trained management resource."

Pre-1992 universities are seen as having a less coherent strategy on vice- chancellors than post-92s.

The pro vice-chancellor said: "The change for the pre-92s needs to involve a more professionally and seriously managed transition into pro vice- chancellorships ... and a move away from the idea that it is something people can dip into and out of."

Dr Smith's report also says some pro vice-chancellors are ill-prepared for the role and "not all seemed to recognise the challenge when they were candidates".

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