UK's status divide 'risks brain drain' of administrators

Leading higher education professionals heading for executive teams of Australian universities

October 18, 2017
Australian farmers
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A leading administrator who swapped the UK for Australia has warned that more talented staff will follow suit if British universities fail to ensure that higher education professionals feel valued.

Tania Rhodes-Taylor joined the University of Sydney in February 2017 as vice-principal, external relations, having previously served as director of marketing and communications at Queen Mary University of London.

She told Times Higher Education that she had found at her new employer that “there isn’t the same status divide [between academics and administrators] that there is in some institutions in the UK”.

Ms Rhodes-Taylor was among the attendees at the Global University Engagement Summit, held at the University of Melbourne last month, alongside other British higher education professionals who have moved to Australia in recent years. These included Nick Blinco, Melbourne’s vice-principal (advancement), previously director of engagement at the University of Birmingham, and Ken Sloan, deputy vice-chancellor (enterprise) at Monash University, a former chief operating officer at the University of Warwick.

It might be considered notable that all of these had moved into vice-principal or deputy vice-chancellor roles and Ms Rhodes-Taylor said that, while she had moved to Australia for what the job involved, not the title that came with it, “in the UK people from my background are only starting to make it on to university executives”.

And while she said that she had been happy in her previous role, Ms Rhodes-Taylor said that the UK sector in general needed to improve the recognition given to professional staff, or risk losing more overseas. The criticism and funding pressure that UK universities are currently being subjected to might also drive administrators to consider working abroad, she added.

“I think there is a risk that, unless there is a recognition of the contribution that experienced professional staff can make to the university, they will leave,” Ms Rhodes-Taylor said. “As mobility becomes an option for all and as the UK sector is under such an onslaught at the moment, it makes the job less fun. If you are given an opportunity to make a really valuable contribution and you don’t feel valued where you are, why wouldn’t you?”

Another leading British administrator who has moved to Australia in recent years is Fiona Docherty, now vice-president (international, marketing and communications) at the University of New South Wales. Her last role in the UK was as international director and head of student recruitment at the University of Glasgow.

Ms Rhodes-Taylor said that administrators could bring important skills to universities' senior teams, often including experience from other sectors such as industry, government or charities.

“If you’ve worked for all of your life in an academic setting, you may have developed that external perspective, but you may not have done,” she said.

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Reader's comments (3)

Laughable. There IS a status divide because a the primary task of a university is teaching and research and only academics can and should do that. There is really important - essential - stuff that other professionals can do to support this. But while they see their role as managing or controlling recalcitrant academics, or overruling their years of accumulated tacit knowledge, or doing everything that resesearch on running high performance high commitment organizations says you shouldn’t the divide will persist.
I couldn't have put it better myself! There is a constantly rising tide of paperwork despite (because of) ever increasing numbers of administrators.
Ditto. The support services are important but they are support services - their role is there in their title. You are there to support the people who do the research, who do the teaching. And yet, we're the ones expected to bring in the grants and the research funding that keeps us all going on top of the money for teaching (oh yeah, we need the teaching staff to do that teaching stuff too) but you're the ones on permanent contracts. I'll have sympathy for support staff when they're on the sort of contracts researchers are on.

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