The Open University's Martin Bean would like a word

OU head’s search for speechwriter raises questions about size of v-cs’ offices

February 27, 2014

Source: Open University

What’s my line? Martin Bean is looking for a wordsmith to craft his speeches

Speechwriters may be synonymous with The West Wing world of US presidential politics, but could they be on their way to becoming fixtures in vice-chancellors’ ever-expanding entourages?

Such a question might well be asked after it emerged that the man responsible for some of the more left-field comments about the future of higher education is looking for a new speechwriter.

The advert for the role supporting Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, seeks someone who can “shape the international debate about higher education” – for a salary of £37,756 to £45,053 a year.

“You will be responsible for researching, writing and editing all of the Vice-Chancellor’s speeches, explaining often complex ideas in an engaging and inspirational way,” it says.

Mr Bean has spoken at more than 50 events around the world in the past 12 months, and receives some 200 speaking requests a year, according to a university spokesman. He also has to address internal university events and degree ceremonies.

The new speechwriter – who will replace the first holder of the post – will have to manage Mr Bean’s speaking engagements and to help other senior managers with their speeches.

The former Microsoft executive – or his speechwriter – has certainly been the source of some memorable recent contributions to the higher education debate.

At the Liberal Democrat Party conference last September, Mr Bean told his audience that FutureLearn, the UK’s platform for massive open online courses, would allow students to escape the authority of “The Man” – that is, a university that tells students “you’re a failure because you didn’t do what we said”. He said of FutureLearn: “We’re not going to talk about failures. We’re going to let people set their own targets – God forbid – and measure themselves against their own targets.”

He has also claimed that the rise of Moocs means that universities face a “Napster moment” – referring to the free online music sharing service that was credited with decimating the music business.

And Mr Bean was once reported to have said that FutureLearn would be “late to the party” compared with its US rivals “but will dance better than anyone here”.

The speechwriter role may be the latest sign that vice-chancellors’ entourages are growing. The role of “policy wonk” – sometimes called an “executive officer” or “policy adviser” – has also become more established in university leaders’ offices, it has been claimed, as institutions try to navigate changes to higher education policy.

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