Professor Michael Cross
Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Research-PULSAR Series, March 2014
Research on university administrators, their professional practice, identity and cultures, is almost non-existent in the Southern African context. It represents an area that has been overlooked by both academic research and registrars’ analyses. This study focuses on one of the most prominent occupational groups, which has always played a central role in the history of higher education administration: university registrars. The particularity of this occupational group stems from the fact that its members operate at the interface of all organisational functions in university life - between 'academic' and 'administrative' work, between the 'governance' and 'administration/management' of the university, and between 'senior Executive Team' and lower echelons of university work, and perform a hybrid of functions across these different domains. As with other university senior managers, the position of university registrars faces an identity and leadership problem which warrants a redefinition in response to changing purposes and values for higher education, and the development of new frameworks or management models. It faces, on the one hand, 'the recent rise of public accountability', ‘increased state interference, audit, inspection, and threatened control of the curriculum and research’, and on the other, increasing uncertainty, instability, deregulation, competitiveness and resource scarcity2.
This study takes the changing environment and contextual complexity internationally and in Southern Africa in particular as an irresistible invitation to a new mind-set and approach to the ways we think about the office of the registrar. It is an invitation to think differently about the philosophical assumptions around which we conceptualise the role of the university registrar: as administrator, manager, leader or, as suggested recently by3, educator. It is an invitation to re-think the goals, the mission and the organisational structure of the office of the registrar. It is about thinking differently about the staffing, training and the activities of the office of the registrar. This means being able to think beyond the usual memory, record and integrity maintenance to accommodate change and innovation. It also means that in 'conceptualising a view on the position of the registrar ... different contexts need to be taken into account, albeit global, continental, national or regional'4. In fact, registrars find themselves faced with a situation of constant flux, having to adapt to change and to make rapid decisions concerning priorities.
1 Further details can be found in Parry (2014) Report from the: Programme for University Leaders in Southern Africa Region. Publication 1.1 in this series
2 Smith (2008) p1
3 Pikowsky (2012)
4 Smith (2012) p1