DC's Improbable Science

Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

DC's Improbable Science header image 2

More administrators = more efficient administration?

September 19th, 2007 · 5 Comments

“More efficient administration” seems always to generate a lot of highly paid jobs that are for people who do neither research or teaching. Everywhere you look. there are advertisements for Faculty Administrators and Division Heads

I was about to say that ‘only time will tell whether the benefits of all these administrators exceeds their considerable costs’. But it is unlikely that time will tell, because nobody will look. I wonder how one could assess whether an adminstrator is worth the cost of 2 or 3 postdocs doing research? I’d be willing to bet that nobody in authority has even given a moment’s thought to that question.

The next wheeze is Research Facilitators

Here is an advertisement, somewhat shortened (the emphasis is mine).

School Research Facilitator (3 posts) £44,075 – £49,607 p.a., plus London Allowance £2,572

We have 3 vacancies for the new role of School Research Facilitator. They will each take responsibility for research within one of the following groupings of Faculties (to be known in the future as “Schools”):

-Biomedical and Life Sciences

-Arts and Humanities, Social and Historical Sciences, Laws

- Engineering, Architecture and Mathematical and Physical Sciences
The role of each Facilitator will be to provide an interface comprising two main facets – an inward-facing relationship with the academic communities that they service, providing support for the application process, and an outward-looking role, interacting with, and providing intelligence about funding available from, the principal agencies relevant to their “School”, Governmental and private (charitable), UK and international.
This is a new exciting high profile role requiring someone with a good knowledge of funding priorities, policies, schemes and processes with the ability to take a lead on determining research priorities within the designated area. The successful candidate may have an academic background or experience of making grant applications and knowledge of appropriate funding agencies or experience of working within a funding agency.


So it seems that are research priorities are to be determined by administrators who are not scientists, and that these people will be paid more than most of the people who do the real research and teaching.

I find this genuinely baffling. In the Life Sciences most people who are any good get their funding from the MRC or the Wellcome Trust. There are endless web sites that list smaller charities. Why do we need a highly paid person to do what any competent researcher has always done, quickly and simply, for themselves?
This advertisement elicited the following comment from a correspondent (just remember, I never reveal my sources).


Xco Recruitment. Stuck in a rut? Overworked and underappreciated? Capable of reading and operating a world class search engine such as Google? Can you fill in a form? Then our clients – a Global but supposedly impecunious University have the job(s) for YOU!

SCHOOL RESEARCH FACILITATOR REQUIRED.

The post has two main facets so the applicant must be thin, one facet looks in and the other out, so the applicant probably shouldn’t dabble in Zen or other esoteric schools, as meltdown may occur positing which in is in or which out is out or is in in fact out. (,,,,,, I’m sorry I’m on job experience, please distribute these commas as you see fit in the previous phrase).

You will be responsible for advising Departments and Individuals (possibly “Schools” but these appellations are getting beyond me) what they should research into/on though you have to have no specialist knowledge in any field. (look I’m paraphrasing, I didn’t write the description – but if I were you I’d go for the Arts and Humanities one – it’ll be piss easy).

You will be paid a “relatively” large amount of money for trawling through a couple of internet sites and reading a specialist magazine called “Charities Today” or some such, you will then ‘phone up a few people and inform them that, “the Xco Cardifasterization Trust has a spare £5000 to give to anyone willing to mention them in a paper, £3000 for a typo” sadly after the university takes its overheads this will leave them owing the £450. Oh, yes, in the light of the larger Research Funders you may have to enterprise multitasking amongst a host of recalcitrant divas, therefore some diplomatic/railroading skills may be essential.

From a correspondent

A few days after posting this, I got the following comment from a correspondent,

At our place creation of these jobs has been popular with HoDs and Grand Professors, as well as senior administrators. The reason is that the incumbents take work off the Grandeees, although their impact on the lives of lesser mortals is marginal.
Apart from trawling websites and compiling “Bulletins” (usefulness borderline), sitting in meeting about “research strategy” (usefulness negligible), helping compile Departmental advertising (usefulness hard to quantify) and being able to nag other tardy bits of the admin about things on your behalf (occasionally useful), the other thing these folk do is spend time as amanuenses / PAs to the Leading Grand Professor(s).
This is most notable when a Major Bid is in the offing – leading and fronting Major Funding Bids being, of course, just the kind of thing the research-intensive Univs think their leading Profs and HoDs should be spending their time doing.
For instance, imagine DC is set to lead a multi-million ” Major Initiative to establish an Interdisciplinary Centre for Trans-species Proteomic and Genomic Analysis of the Ion Channel-ome”. Apart from a science case, this will require collection of loads of statistics and lots of generic highly-spun writing about the College’s “unmatched array of leading talents in ion channel research”, “21st century leading-edge facilities” and “peerless intellectual environment” etc etc. This is where the Research Support Person comes into their own, as they take on all work associated with the bid except drafting the main scientific case ¬ including writing the flannel. Keep an eye open for ex-postdocs of Deans, HoDs and senior Professors “transitioning” into such positions, is my tip.

Aha yes, now I get it. It is just as Ted Wragg predicted in the Guardian, in December 2002.

“This free market has generated a whole new breed of employee, especially in further education, the Bid Writer. In education nowadays the pen can be mightier than the chalk. Bid Writers are a special breed who can weave together and launch back at policy wonks all their own buzzwords, with the deadly accuracy of a guided missile, sending them into the sort of sustained ecstasy that loosens both critical judgment and purse strings.

“This synoptic overview summarises the operational strategy for delivering the procedural and content objectives to a world-class standard, within the parameters delineated in Annex A of Initiative 374B, glob glob, oodle oodle, turge turge.” Wonderful. Give that school a few hundred grand. “

Worthwhile policies graft seamlessly on to schools and eventually become their own. An ephemeral policy is merely a headline grabber, a wheeze, demeaning to both begetter and recipient. Who needs a physics teacher, when among today’s most highly esteemed pedagogues are wordsmiths who can deliver world-class meaningless bollocks to order?”

Print Friendly

Tags: management bollocks · science · Universities

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Muscleman // Sep 26, 2007 at 22:26

    As an unemployed (read too old, too expensive) postdoc my wife (university administrator) is urging me to apply for such positions. However I am not at all sure I could live with myself. Damn my conscience.

  • 2 DMcILROY // Oct 5, 2007 at 21:59

    Well here in France, we have yet to develop a tribe of Research Facilitators. Instead, we have a corps of more or less senior teachers/researchers who have given up research and moved over into administration. As such, at least they have had (and in the best case, continue to have) contact with benchwork science, and are not paid any more than anyone else. However, this may all change soon, as universities here are going to be given more independence, with extensive executive powers going to the university president (equivalent, I guess to vice-chancellor). If we’re not careful, I fear that our newly empowered presidents will feel the need for a more “professional” approach to the organization of research. We already have a profusion of poles of excellence, canceropoles, and genopoles, so a new breed of administrators to navigate the university’s way through the jungle may not be far behind.

  • 3 Dr Aust // Oct 31, 2007 at 21:14

    yes, one does have to say that it wasn’t just the Universities’ doing that led to these jobs arising – it was prompted by the funding agencies (particularly the Research Councils) who started insisting on grant applications containing endless sections on “Departmental research environment” and “Likely future economic value of work” and “summary of department’s connections with industry” and “last 10 yrs worth of statistics for graduate student completions” etc etc etc.

    When I first wrote a grant application twenty years ago I had to supply a 5 page research outline (12 pt type)… and the WHOLE of the rest (budget, signatures and all “ancillary information”) was a 2-sided A4 form.

    Happy days.

    When you see the insane amount of waffle the Research Councils now require people to fill in, it is no wonder that “professional bid writers” spring up to do the filling.

  • 4 Dr Aust // Oct 31, 2007 at 21:16

    Also impressed to see that these jobs pay several thousand a year more than I earn after 20-odd years as an academic. What a mug’s game, eh?

  • 5 Claire // Oct 31, 2007 at 22:55

    Well, Dr Aust, you’ll just have to get yourself a Life Coach – even better, become one yourself! Like this person: http://www.sallyannlaw-lifecoach.co.uk/how.html . You can then charge £100 an hour – with a ‘separate’ charging structure for corporate clients (I read some months ago in the New Statesman that a former health minister was paying £200/hour for life coaching). Though I’m not sure that 20 odd years of strenuous thinking and careful research is the best preparation for your new career. Mind you, according to this site – http://www.uklifecoaching.org/ – a lot of it is done by phone so you could sit around all day in your jimjams…bless that free market.

You must log in to post a comment.