Academic manager job description
Professional spotlight: academic manager
The German academic system has been in transition for years now. New framework conditions require new strategies. The profession of academic manager is growing in significance: they manage, control and organise the universities and research institutions. However, in many places, they must still fight for recognition. An interview with Carsten Feller, co-founder of the Netzwerk Wissenschaftsmanagement, on the lack of identity, absence of career paths and why the job is still worthwhile.
academics: Academic management is a comparatively young profession. Why do universities and research institutions even need academic managers these days?
Carsten Feller: In recent years, the significance of academic management has primarily grown for two reasons: on the one hand, competition within the German academic system is increasingly intense. On the other, universities are more independent than in the past. Both lead to the requirement of improved strategic management. The existing tasks are complemented with additional management tasks, in the field of the new professions for example.
academics: How important are academic managers for universities and research institutions?
Feller: They play a decisive role. Let us take the example of excellence initiatives: there are not any excellent universities without excellent management. Behind every successful university is excellent management expertise.
"Management tasks are extremely varied and necessary in many areas."
academics: Is the role of academic manager meanwhile recognised as an independent profession?
Feller: The profession is currently gaining shape. The sector is undergoing an identification and development process. Other countries, such as the USA and Great Britain, are ahead of us in this: the profession has long been established there. This primarily has to do with a far more intense competition between the universities in these countries for a long time now. Germany is still behind in this development.
academics: Which roles do academic managers typically assume?
Feller: Academic managers mainly work at universities, non-university research institutions, scientific organisations, and ministries. Management takes place everywhere that independent control tasks are performed.
academics: What are typical tasks?
Feller: It is difficult to narrow it down to specific tasks. The management tasks are extremely varied and necessary in many areas. One naturally first thinks of management functions in university management, school management, administration, and central establishments. In recent years though, entirely new fields have been added to this, such as diversity, alumni and quality management. Moreover, existing functions have gained new perspectives, such as personnel development and building management.
"The higher the position, the higher the proportion of men"
academics: Which skills must academic managers possess?
Feller: Above all, they must have an affinity for academic life and be familiar with its particularities. Expertise specific to each individual function is naturally also necessary. Methodology capabilities, such as management, organisation and communication skills, are also important.
academics: Do more women or more men strive for a role in this profession?
Feller: On the lower career levels of academic management, there are more women. Women often work in the new professions in particular. Unfortunately, the same applies here as in many other fields: the higher the position, the higher the proportion of men.
academics: Is there a risk that the job degenerates to a rather dry administrative one?
Feller: Certainly not. Academia is a fascinating field of application for management. Of course, many processes involve administrative activities - after all, that is the legal framework. However, the overriding principle makes the work a challenge.
"The demand for the professionalisation of academic management is set to increase"
academics: Where do difficulties currently exist?
Feller: No clear career paths exist - there are no classic routes as there are in other professions. This can deter those potentially interested in the profession. What's more, there is in part still a lack of professional identity. There are now many actors, who see themselves as academic managers, but this continues to grow and presents a challenge to the network.
academics: What would you say of the preconception that academic managers do not really fit in anywhere?
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Feller: Some people speak of how academic managers are "in-betweeners" that they do not really fit into academia nor do they fit into the classic university administration. Some also call this the "third space". I see things differently. Science institutions are complex organisations in which a great many different functions are performed. All organisational units contribute to the success of the institution with their respective function. A distinction between academia on the one hand, administration on the other and something "in between" does not seem useful to me. If new tasks emerge, the according organisational units must be integrated into the organisation as appropriate.
academics: How will the profession develop in the future?
Feller: It will gain in significance. The German academic landscape is currently undergoing a transition. Competitiveness and autonomy are the buzzwords. The institutions are increasingly responsible for their own success or failure. The demand for the professionalisation of academic management is set to increase, and the profession itself will develop.
academics: Despite the lack of career paths, how would you rate the career prospects?
Feller: Academic management is a profession of the future. Demand for qualified personnel is currently high, and this will remain the case for the time being.
INFO-BOX: Carsten Feller
Carsten Feller (46) studied history, political science, philosophy, public law and economics in Gießen and Lisbon. After positions in the Press & Public Relations Department of the University of Gießen and as a project manager at the Transferzentrum Mittelhessen, Feller set up his own PR agency.
From 1997 to 2007, he was head of the Department for Communication and University Development at Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences. He was then chancellor at Fulda University of Applied Sciences for a good four years. During this time, he completed a two-year MBA in Management of Higher Education & Science at Osnabrück University of Applied Science. Since 2011, Feller has been head of the Department of Universities and Art Colleges at the Saxon State Ministry for Science and the Arts. He is also the Deputy Chairman of the "Netzwerk Wissenschaftsmanagement" network for academic managers.
INFO-BOX: The network for academic managers
The Netzwerk Wissenschaftsmanagement e.V. is a relatively new initiative that organises academic managers - from career entrants to management staff. It was established in March 2011. With its own funding programmes, a large annual conference that brings together all academic managers and cooperations, by its own admission the network drives the "professionalisation of academic management". The association has set itself the goal of "developing academic institutions professionally and contributing in this way to the success of academia"