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Over half of leaders at top universities in post less than five years

More than half of leaders of the top universities in the world have held their position for less than five years, analysis by Times Higher Education (THE) has revealed.

Across 400 top universities, 203 university leaders have been appointed since 2015. The analysis further showed that 40 had been in the job for longer than a decade.

There are also variations between countries. Universities in the US tend to see presidents remaining in the role for longer, an average of 6.7 years, whilst in the UK the average is 4 years and 2.9 years in France.

Timothy Devinney, professor and chair of international business at the Alliance Manchester Business School, told THE that there was an issue in higher education where “few senior university managers stay in one location very long”.

“The way to go up in the game is to keep moving. Getting stuck in a position is the kiss of death for advancement.

“What you tend to see is people taking jobs…starting a load of ‘initiatives’ and then quickly using that to move on to something new. For many it is the getting of the job that matters, not the actual doing of the job or completing what they started.”

Further analysis by THE also showed that there is a lack of diversity amongst university leaders. THE’s analysis revealed that an average president is a 62-year-old with an undergraduate degree in a science subject from a top 300 university and originally came from the same country as his current institution.

Dawn Freshwater, vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia, said: “Diversity of university leadership is critical to our survival as genuinely independent bodies. We are no longer in a world where it can be safely assumed that white gentleman scholars are the right sort of people to do the work required. That was always a lazy, arrogant assumption. Now, it’s dangerous.”

“Intelligence and leadership abilities come from everywhere. They come from women as well as men, despite centuries of university advice to the contrary. They come from people who are not white; from people who did not go to Eton or Harrow or any of their equivalents.”


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