Sue Shepherd

Higher Education Researcher, Manager and Consultant



The Myth of Managerialism?

What the evidence suggests



Deem et al (2007) found the ideology of managerialism to have permeated universities. And indeed there is a prevailing academic narrative which holds that managerialism is both all-pervasive and problematic, and that academic authority is declining in inverse proportion to that of managerial authority. One of the aims of my research is to critically examine this rhetoric in relation to the appointment of Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellors (PVCs).


Although I have found some indicators of managerialism, it is not the ideal-type managerialism which holds that management is universally applicable or generic, but rather a context-specific 'academic managerialism'. The belief that PVCs should be academics remains undimmed and I found clear evidence of professional closure around these posts. So, rather than a diminution of academic authority, there has arguably been an assertion of it - albeit by a few elite professionals.

Viewed in this light, the continued predominance of academics in PVC positions might be interpreted as a defence against the incursion of generic ideal-type managerialism and/or general (i.e. professional services) managers who are perceived to be gaining in power. In fact, my research suggests that career-track PVCs and other senior academic managers are taking over the management jurisdiction and, hence, consolidating their power.


All Change at the Top?

Who PVCs are and where they come from



Despite the transformation in the higher education environment over the last thirty years and consequent increase in the scale and complexity of university management, the demographic and professional profile of Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellors (PVCs) has changed little over time. PVCs remain predominantly white, male professors.

Of the 215 PVCs as at August 2013:

  • 96% are white
  • 24% are female, up slightly from 21% in 2005
  • Nine in ten are professors


  • 6% are non-academics
  • 2% come from outside HE
  • Only one came from a previous post in the private sector




View my research profile at:






The Missing Women

Or why gender imbalance is still an issue


The relative lack of women at executive board level has become a major policy concern both in the private and public sectors as highlighted, for example, by the 2011 Davies Report Women on Boards. Within UK universities, gender imbalance at the most senior levels persists despite the fact that women account for over half of the student and 44.5% of the academic community. Still, only 21.7% of professors are female.


Within my study population of 45 English pre-1992 universities, as of August 2013 there were only five female Vice Chancellors (11%), including one in a Russell Group institution. At Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) level, just one in four are women. Worryingly, my research has found that the move to external open competition for PVC posts has had a significantly negative impact on the proportion of women getting appointed: only 15% of externally advertised PVC posts results in a woman getting the job compared to 27% where an internal appointment process is utilised.

Copyright Sue Shepherd 2014