Perspectives | Volume 24.1

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.

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In this volume:

Fundamental interconnectedness: a holistic approach to process improvements
Helen Matthews

Start-up company: how and why universities should nurture student friendships from day one
Lydia McGill

Creating your career, one connection at a time
Esther Bray

Creating connections: the role of universities in enhancing graduates’ social capital and challenging nepotism
David Gilani

The interface of science: the case for a broader definition of research management
Marta Agostinho, Catarina Moniz Alves, Sandra Aresta, Filipa Borrego, Júlio Borlido-Santos, João Cortez, Tatiana Lima Costa, José António Lopes, Susana Moreira, José Santos, Margarida Trindade, Carolina Varela & Sheila Vidal

The role of inter-university cooperation in the knowledge society
Libena Tetrevova & Vladimira Vlckova

What Works?
A two-way street; enhancing professional services staff engagement through effective career planning, development, and appraisal
Alex Holmes

Book Review
The College Dropout Scandal by David Kirp
Andrew West

Editorial: Why we do what we do
David Law, Joint Editor

In this edition of Perspectives, readers will find both the winning entries to the AUA/Invisible Grail writing competition and information about the next competition.

Following a vote by the audience at the AUA Annual Lecture on the next subject, we are now inviting thought pieces on the topic: ‘Why Do We Do What We Do? – Finding our Purpose’. The submission date is 31 August 2020.

In this year’s competition on the theme of ‘Creating Connections’, with generous support from Invisible Grail, we were able to award the first prize to Lydia McGill and three further prizes to Esther Bray, David Gilani, and Helen Matthews. We include their ‘thought pieces’ in this issue. As it happens, this year all the prize winners were members of the Association of University Administrators. This is the first year that we can say this. From November’s Editorial Board I can report both a continuing commitment to support the competition and appreciation for the contributions of AUA members, either as authors or as reviewers.

The NUS website tells prospective students: ‘University is where you’ll make friends for life’. For some that is clearly true. But not everyone finds it easy to make friends. Our first piece in this issue is by an AUA member who, for the last few years, has organised a Faculty Welcome Week at the University of Winchester. Lydia McGill argues that universities need to combat loneliness before it even has a chance to take root. One of the biggest opportunities comes in the form of the Welcome Week. Lydia’s piece, winning the first prize this year, was commended by the judges as ‘topical, heartfelt and with practical solutions’. Well done Lydia!

Our next competition uses the title of a seminal book by Edward Deci and Richard Flaste. Professor Deci, the lead author of the work first published in 1995, has become internationally known for his work on motivation. He argues that the best way to motivate people, as colleagues or students or in relationships of all kinds, is to support their sense of autonomy. Explaining why a task is important, and then allowing as much personal freedom as possible in carrying out that task, stimulates interest and commitment. This has often been found to be more effective than the familiar systems of reward for positive behaviours and retribution for negative.

Deci takes the view that all individuals are inherently interested in the world. He believes that we should nurture that interest in each other. As managers and colleagues, we need to stop asking ‘How can I motivate other people?’ and replace this question with ‘How can I help create the conditions for other people to motivate themselves?’. ‘Controlled motivation’ (carrot and stick approaches) may look like the shortest pathway to the desired outcome but this approach lacks an essential focus on commitment and values. Behaviour generated from controlled motivation is likely to revert to type without sustained use of established incentives (reward/punishment mechanisms).

‘Autonomous motivation’, which Deci advocates, encourages creativity, problem-solving approaches, and high performance. He also claims that adoption of his ‘self-determination theory’ will foster, in the workplace and in other settings, positive emotions and good health. Psychological and physical wellness are now well established as the foundations for success in all areas of life.

Our partnership with Invisible Grail aims to combine ‘controlled’ with ‘autonomous’ motivation. We are incentivising potential authors, but we are also establishing conditions which we hope will assist readers to become authors.

When we invited thought pieces about ‘Creating Connections’ we only gave four months to complete the task. This time colleagues have longer to consider the opportunity; but please do not put it off. The earlier you start, the more time you have to revise your piece: this is something that the great American writer, Mark Twain, would certainly have encouraged.

Twain is credited with many statements about how to write, including his apocryphal apology for a lengthy letter: ‘sorry that I have written you a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one’. He is also quoted as declaring: ‘it usually takes more than three weeks for me to prepare a good impromptu speech’. Many of the quotes you will see on popular websites are not referenced and some are not authentic. I used for this paragraph.

Twain certainly did carefully consider his own prose style and advised others on the craft of writing. He reflects, in his Notebook: ‘The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time, you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say’. This advice will, I feel sure, be helpful to all who submit work to our next competition.

It will also help if you remember another suggestion from Mark Twain, certainly authentic this time:

… use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English … When you catch an adjective, kill it. … I don’t mean utterly but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. (Letter to D. W. Bowser, 20 March 1880)

Writing short pieces for publication provides a great opportunity for reflection and to communicate with colleagues in the sector. We will be publishing the rest of this year’s short-listed pieces in the next issue of the journal. We are very pleased that Invisible Grail has extended its partnership with us because we share common ground. We have a shared belief in the power of narrative: ‘understanding your purpose, creating a vision and communicating this to others’. (quoted from

Submissions to our competition will be reviewed to assess how thought-provoking they are, and whether the personal opinions provided carry weight and are grounded in evidence (including the evidence of experience). All the winners this year clearly demonstrated that they trusted their own personal experience and were prepared to learn lessons from it. We also favour a practical problem-solving approach. The maximum length is 2,500 words, including any references or footnotes. Submissions may be shorter than this where appropriate. Please email our generic address to receive more details:

Inevitably, the pieces we are publishing here from the competition provide viewpoints on contemporary British universities: that is where their authors work. To provide a broader perspective, alongside these pieces, this issue includes two articles written by authors based in other European countries: Portugal and the Czech Republic. The topics are different, but they overlap. The first is about the professional identity of colleagues who are part of the teams who organise and extend the research and innovation (R&I) ecosystem of universities. The second is about the scope, importance and applied forms of inter-university cooperation in a small post-communist economy, the Czech Republic.

The article by Portuguese authors will be of interest to readers in the AUA because it continues a discussion that has often been held, including AUA channels, in professional arenas in UK higher education. What term best describes those who are part of the ‘ecosystem’ but who are not the primary producers of knowledge? Our colleagues from Portugal have chosen to speak about themselves as ‘Professionals at the Interface of Science’. They see themselves as an informal network of professionals that work at the conjunction of scientific disciplines and assist the communication of research findings. Their main objectives are ‘the valorisation and development of the professionals that support and add value to the national R&I ecosystem’. As a community they bring together ‘non-academic and semi-academic professionals’ holding all levels of academic degrees and working on the broader areas of the so-called research management domain, ‘including communication and dissemination, knowledge and technology transfer, valorisation and impact, science strategy and policy support, research funding, project management, laboratory management and other areas of scientific affairs’. It would be interesting to hear views from colleagues in ARMA (the UK’s professional association for research leadership, management and administration).

The authors of the Czech piece about partnership use the ‘triple helix’ model. This model is a globally recognised analytic tool for the analysis of interaction between three key actors in HE: universities, industry/business, and government. The interaction between the three principals is closely related to the commonly accepted concept of three academic missions in HE: teaching, research, and outreach/services to society. The core of this piece is empirical rather than definitional. Through survey methods, and analysis of data, the authors evaluate the scope, importance and applied forms of inter-university cooperation. Their article shows that co-operation is valued and encouraged in the Czech HE system and that it plays a larger role where there is a focus on technical, scientific and medical disciplines. I heard echoes of numerous reports from UK sources when I read that the further development of cooperation is ‘mainly hampered by the lack of financial resources and the workload of academics’.

Our last piece in this issue continues the ‘What Works?’ theme that Jordan Kirkwood developed in his article for Perspectives 23:4 (117–121). This article aims to expand on Kirkwood’s piece from an institutional perspective, and to attempt to provide some of those ‘tried in practice’ solutions based on empirical data. Alex Holmes conducted research into how professional services staff access and engage with professional development activities. His conclusion is that effective solutions for the staff development of professional services colleagues have to be based on regular, open, and honest two-way conversations. ‘Where career development planning is treated as an integral part of management and leadership by managers who understand and appreciate its importance, staff clearly report feeling valued and engaged’. The cost may seem expensive, but the institutional benefits of retaining happy, productive, and motivated staff justify investment in meaningful staff development.

Finally, I would like to call attention to our plans for a themed issue in 2020 on Equity and Access to Higher Education. We are looking both for critical analysis of case studies that will help draw out lessons for readers, and for empirical studies in this area. We welcome submissions from authors who can use their own experience to provide illustrations of the general points that they wish to make. As part of our commitment to the enhancement of practice, we encourage new authors to respond to this call and reflect on how they contribute to equity and access initiatives.

Papers should normally be around 3,500 words in length, but longer or shorter papers may be considered. Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. All submissions will be subject to our normal acceptance procedures. The deadline for submission is 30 June 2020.

David Law Higher Education Consultancy
David Law
Joint Editor

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