Academics or executives? Continuity and change in the roles of pro-vice-chancellors

David N. Smith, J. Adams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    The leadership roles of pro-vice-chancellors (PVCs) in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have evolved markedly over the last three decades while universities have been encouraged to shift towards more executive styles of leadership and decision-making. The change does not only reflect changing institutional needs, however, but an accommodation of deeper historical continuities around institutional autonomy and academic values. Most PVCs are drawn from the ranks of professors; typically have an Oxbridge, London or big civic background; and most are male. The role gains authority through influence, rather than command, and depends on academic experience and credibility to be effective. PVCs maintain a complex corporate-academic web balancing two, sometimes contradictory, roles: one firmly academic, concerning cross-institutional responsibility for core academic values and mission; the other more bureaucratic or executive, focusing on the burgeoning demands of accountability. The research cautions against a simple model of executive leadership. Understanding the needs of academic leadership and the contours of its practices remains paramount.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)340-357
    Number of pages18
    JournalHigher Education Quarterly
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


    • academics
    • change
    • pro-vice chancellors
    • executives


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