Universities ‘need good professional managers, not elected principals’
UNIVERSITIES need better managers and not elected principals, a leading academic will claim today ahead of a review into how Scotland’s higher education institutions are governed.
Professor Petra Wend, principal of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said they needed “good managers,” but the merit of elected posts was “debatable”.
Prof Wend, who earns £160,000 a year as principal and vice-chancellor at Queen Margaret, will make her comments in a speech on the future of universities at the Royal College of Physicians.
She said universities in mainland Europe were looking to the UK by “professionalising” roles such as deans and vice-chancellors, and suggested students did not “always know best” when it came to the running of their institutions.
Her comments come ahead of a review of university governance set up by the Scottish Government and being chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, which is expected to publish its findings by the end of the year.
Earlier this month the University and College Union (UCU) called for a “re-balancing” of the roles of management and academics after it claimed the salary bill for senior management at Scotland’s universities had increased by a third in five years.
Prof Wend, who studied at the University of Münster in Germany and has held posts at London Metropolitan University and Oxford Brookes University, said: “In times of financial retrenchment, difficult decisions need to be taken.
“When this entails the reduction of staffing, it is very rare, in my view, to arrive at an outcome that hits the financial target by collective decision-making or even consensus.
“However, by proper consultation, transparent information and negotiation, one can come up with a way forward that is at the very least understood by all and hopefully respected by many.
“The times of plenty are over and therefore good ‘managers’ are needed who are also good leaders. Whether they can be found by election is debatable.”
In its submission to the on-going governance review, the UCU said total management salaries had risen from £12 million in 2005 to £16m last year, figures which were later disputed by university principals.
It also said senate bodies, which represent academics, were being “undermined” by management, and called for committees which nominate principals to have staff and student representatives.
Guidance on the review’s remit from education secretary Mike Russell has suggested setting up “supervisory councils” which could have a say in the appointment of principals.
Robin Parker, president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: “Over the last few years university senior management pay has spiralled out of control, reflecting the increased corporatisation of universities.
“One way to improve university governance and make institutions truly accountable to students would be to have elected chairs or rectors. Boards with elected leaders, rather than just appointed members, would be far more accountable and democratic, bringing back an emphasis on public benefit in everything they do.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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