Perspectives | Volume 24.2

Perspectives: Policy and practice in higher education is the AUA’s monthly journal which provides higher education managers and administrators with innovative material which analyses and informs their practice of management.

The journal is published four times a year, and is available to AUA members in both hard copy and online.

Members can access the full version of Perspectives online. Once you are logged in, you will see a button below. Click here to log in

In this volume:

How vulnerable are you? Assessing the financial health of England’s universities

Martine Garland

Creating connections to weather the storm of marketisation
Jon Rainford

Creating connections: polymathy and the value of third space professionals in higher education
Aranee Manoharan

Creating connections: expanding horizons for professional services
Kirsty Wadsley

Strategizing and managing change in Portuguese higher education
Amélia Veiga, António Magalhães & Pedro Videira

Book Review
Governing higher education today – international perspectives
edited by Tony Strike, Jonathan Nicholls, and John Rushforth, Abingdon, Routledge.

Andrew West

Editorial: How vulnerable are you?
David Law, Joint Editor

When, towards the end of 2019, we published the online version of Martine Garland’s article about the financial health of England’s universities we had no idea how vulnerable the university system might be to an unanticipated global crisis. At that time, nobody had any idea that we faced a global coronavirus pandemic. The crisis in world health, as I write, seems likely to claim the lives of a very large number of people and to shake the foundations of the global political economy. Any speculation about the local impact on universities in the UK seems marginal to the main questions about how people across the globe will cope, and how many will die especially where there are not efficient health care systems.

Of course, we should be confident that our UK universities, their students and staff, will provide solutions even if many institutions are damaged by the crisis. This is a critical challenge for the sector and one that will surely lead to significant changes in the ways that we deliver education and assess learning. Out of crisis will come progress, as so often before in history.

An epidemic that began in China is now having a profound impact on universities worldwide. I feel sure that AUA readers of this editorial, and the great majority of other colleagues, will join me in rejecting blinkered solutions. Although the virus began in China it cannot be seen as a ‘Chinese virus’, nor will the solutions we need be anything other than comprehensive and trans-national. Germs, like ideas and science, travel easily across political borders.

Dr Garland’s article reminds us powerfully that over specialisation in an institutional portfolio creates risk. She finds that those universities that are more financially diversified are less vulnerable to changes in their external environment. This was the conclusion she reached after substantial research and it will, no doubt, be proved to be correct in the context of the pandemic.

In this issue, following Martine Garland’s article, we have some shorter pieces that were submitted in the most recent AUA writing competition, sponsored generously by Invisible Grail. Our theme last year was ‘Creating Connections’ and this year it is ‘Why Do We Do What We Do?’. Details are published on both the journal’s webpages ( and the AUA’s website (

This issue includes three shortlisted submissions from 2019. In the current context, the 2019 theme remains extremely relevant. Jon Rainford, Aranee Manoharan, and Kirsty Wadsley all have good advice for us. Interestingly, all three are strong advocates of inclusive practice and demonstrate in their own career histories a commitment to widening participation. All of the thought pieces published here challenge some key assumptions about policy and practice in UK higher education (HE).

Rainford writes about ‘the storm of marketisation’ which has created division and competition. He is especially concerned that ‘good practice’ is sometimes seen as an asset, a competitive advantage that must be protected and not shared. But storms, like pandemics, ‘do not last forever … the skies may clear, allowing for a more collegial and optimistic future’.

Manoharan, in a hard-hitting passage, argues that ‘specialist knowledge’ is given the highest esteem in university administration and ‘the path of the generalist is often unfairly considered one of mediocrity’. As she illustrates, this is not only a characteristic feature of universities. Quoting the man who was responsible for the recent consolidation of Mozilla’s marketing operations, she states that one of the fundamental problems with business organisations is that they tend to create silos based on functional expertise. This inhibits internal and external communication and breeds suspicion. The remedy in HE, and in business, is to break down the barriers between specialists and become more ‘polymathic’.

Wadsley employs a professional development perspective. She advocates, as a starting point, engagement with colleagues in other institutions, regions, and countries, through professional bodies such as AUA or more discipline-specific bodies. Institutional support for this is haphazard. From her own experience in widening participation work, she sees insufficient structural change. Fundamental change requires greater connectivity, within and beyond the UK.

I am pleased to say that, throughout nearly a quarter century of publication, Perspectives has, and will continue, to address the concerns raised by Rainford, Manoharan and Wadsley. We are committed to the dissemination of good practice. We aim to communicate across professional boundaries. We present our readers with case studies of how colleagues working in different systems have confronted common problems.

Our international article in this issue is by three Portuguese authors. Amélia Veiga, António Magalhães and Pedro Videira write about managing change in Portuguese higher education from the perspective of governance. They argue that ‘managerialism triggered the rise of “boardism” as a distinctive governance praxis’ and examine, using survey data, the perceptions of teaching staff and non-teaching staff in public and private Portuguese higher education institutions. Their focus is on internal power relationships, and how managerial concerns have prevailed over academic endeavours. They cite, as an example, the subordination in the UK of the academic board to the board of governors as an example of ‘boardism’. When there are disputes, the power of the governing body trumps the academic viewpoint.

The final piece in this collection, a book review, is by Andrew West who has reviewed for us before. This is a section of the journal that we wish to develop, and it is not necessary for our authors to be experienced in the craft of reviewer. Any reader who wants to submit a book review is invited to contact us, particularly members of our Association.

In conclusion, I am saying thank you to all who are involved with Perspectives, and first of all the readership of the journal. I have been the Editor since 2012 and it is time for rotation. I hope to be able to continue to support and assist the AUA, including its professional development activities. For one last time I want to use the Editorial opportunity to ask all those who have told me that they have thought about writing an article to use some of their homeworking time to turn the thought into action. The relative isolation that is now becoming usual for all colleagues can be a great time for reflection. Why not set yourself the task of writing a short piece for publication?

I am very grateful to all who have written, reviewed and read the content of about thirty issues. It has been rewarding to be part of a team that makes an important contribution to the work of professional services colleagues in our universities. I am confident that the team will take Perspectives forward in the years to come and consolidate the success that has been achieved over our nearly quarter-century of publication.

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