A Very British Hierarchy

February 12, 2016

So this week, a search has begun for a new role at a prestigious Australian University – a Deputy Vice-Chancellor (External Engagement).  This covers all of what we might call the “advancement” functions.  And here is the controversial part: they are looking for someone with professional experience in those areas.  In other words, being an academic is not necessary to take up the role.

This follows a series of such high-profile roles in Australia, where they are looking for professionals from Development, Alumni Relations, Marketing, and Communications backgrounds.  They offer the chance to be a genuine part of the top team, helping to run the University by bringing your own particular skills, learned and honed over decades.  The US has long recognised that such roles are crucial to the effective running of a University, and Australia has leapt ahead of the UK in offering this kind of career advancement.  So why is it the case in the UK that, where such roles exist, they are mostly occupied by academics?

Don’t get me wrong – this is not simply another tedious addition to the “us v them” argument that has been so well rehearsed between “administrative” and “academic” staff.  It is a much more important point.

When you reach the level of Director of Development in a University in the UK, there is essentially nowhere else to go.  There are very few exceptions to this.  When I formed part of the group, led by Shirley Pearce, that examined the Workforce in HE Philanthropy, the lack of career opportunities after reaching the level of Director of Development was highlighted as a key problem.  A problem that would lead to a continuing drain on our best talent.

Very little has changed on this in the UK in the years since that report was published.  Despite myriad opportunities to do so, only one major University (Edinburgh) has appointed at the “Vice-Principal” level.  The result of this in recent years has been losing some excellent talent to Australia, where they are willing to offer a seat at the top table and genuine career advancement.

Many reasons are given as to why it isn’t happening in the UK.  Most of these centre on statutes, culture, expectations of senior staff, etc.  There is only one real reason – the will to make a change.

If our great Universities don’t wish to change, fair enough – that is their choice.  But we will continue to watch our best and most experienced advancement talent disappear overseas.  A talented fundraising leader makes a huge difference to what can be raised in any institution. Those organisations that lose talent will raise less as a result.

The Australian University I mentioned above will offer opportunities that we in the UK do not, along with sun, sea, and all the other advantages to life there.  They will be the latest beneficiary of the British inability to change established hierarchies.

-Shaun Horan, Managing Director

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