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Thirty years on: Leadership convergence between newer and older universities

  • 22 September 2022
  • By Rohan Selva-Radov
  • HEPI number Policy Note 37

In May 2022, HEPI published Policy Note 34, Digging in? The changing tenure of UK vice-chancellors, measuring the lengths of tenure of vice-chancellors at long-standing UK universities.

The year 2022 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the passage of the Further and Higher Education Act (1992), which granted university status to then polytechnics as well as Central Institutions in Scotland. Over the subsequent two years, 42 institutions were newly designated as universities, almost doubling the total.1 Some of our readers highlighted the omission of these universities from the May 2022 paper, with Professor Peter Scott, Professor of Higher Education Studies at the Institute of Education and former Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, questioning whether ‘it is really reasonable to draw conclusions about the tenure of vice-chancellors based only on pre- 1992 universities?’.

This Policy Note extends our analysis of vice-chancellors’ tenures to these post-1992 institutions, using a similar methodology to our previous publication. A primary aim of the 1992 reforms was to end the old binary divide between vocational and academic education and allow for greater diversity in the university sector. While this Policy Note does not seek to evaluate the success – or otherwise – of the 1992 Act, we show that the tenure of vice-chancellors is one area in which differences between older universities and former polytechnics have narrowed. At the time of their conversion into universities, the polytechnics’ directors had been in post on average for 1.4 years longer than their vice-chancellor counterparts, while the gap in 2022 is just 0.25 years. We use two metrics to measure tenure: ‘current tenure’, the length of time that a serving vice-chancellor has been in post, and ‘full tenure’, the duration of a vice-chancellor’s term on departing their role.

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