V-c job with 6,000 on selection panel

June 15, 2007

Ask most independent-minded academics what they think of the people who manage them and you are likely to get a long and often forthright answer.

But human resource chiefs at Birmingham University are risking a sustained ear-bashing by inviting all of its 6,000 or so staff to voice their opinions on the "skills and attributes" they would like to see in their next vice-chancellor.

At a time when many academics fear that traditional collegiality is being replaced by corporate-style management, the university has set up a series of focus groups run by the headhunting firm charged with finding a replacement for Michael Sterling, the current vice-chancellor, who retires in 2009.

A dedicated e-mail system and a consultation website have been set up to make it as easy as possible for all staff to be heard.

Heather Paver, the director of human resources, said that although it was not uncommon to involve some staff in the selection process for top jobs, it was rare for a university to involve all its staff.

"We were motivated by the need to make sure that this is as collegial a process as possible," she said.

The initiative "properly reflects how higher education is different from the private sector", she continued.

Ms Paver, who said the university had already received lots of responses after the process was launched last week, accepted that some comments might be frank about the qualities needed.

"We are anticipating, and hoping for, a robust debate over the leadership qualities needed in the new vice-chancellor. We have an ambitious strategy for the university, and we will need a strong leader to take us on that journey," she said.

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