Front-line leaders

May 18, 2017

The authors of the feature “Leading lights” (4 May) discussed research showing how the best academics make the best heads of department.

These very interesting findings chime with my own experience at a Russell Group university. The only good head of department I have had in my years here is a world-leading researcher, who has a much better understanding of what is needed to promote high-quality research and teaching than those who turn to administration as a career choice.

Our current head of department was recruited externally. His research profile is middling, and, of course, we all realise that the people who actively choose to take on a senior management role for at least five years aren’t going to be leading researchers. This results in a manager who has an incentive to follow the central university’s agenda to the letter, introducing constant change to justify his position as someone promoted to a professorship on an admin track and having very little sense of how to promote job satisfaction and an active research culture on the ground.

It’s an infuriating situation, but I hope that this research can point higher education institutions in the right direction.


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