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University of Reading - Original Proposal

Exploring the role of Associate Dean in UK Universities

SDP Leader: Dr Alan Floyd, University of Reading. 

Steering group: Professor Paul Croll and Dr Carol Fuller,
University of Reading

Project Team:

  • Dr Alan Floyd
  • Dr Diane Preston, Open University Business School

Project’s Administrative Home: University of Reading

Aims and Objectives
This bid brings together colleagues from the Open University Business School and the University of Reading to explore the under-researched role of the Associate Dean in UK Universities. Specifically, it aims to explore how the role is defined, perceived and experienced across a range of post and pre 1992 Universities in order to highlight and disseminate models of good practice, identify challenges, and make recommendations for improved policy and practice.

To achieve these aims, the following research questions (RQs) are posed:

  • RQ1: How is the role of Associate Dean defined and positioned in relation to University leadership structures?
  • RQ2: What are the professional and personal circumstances that lead to academics becoming Associate Deans?
  • RQ3: How do academics describe and understand their experiences of being an Associate Dean?
  • RQ4: How do academics see their position as Associate Dean influencing their career in the short and longer term?

Rationale
Fundamental changes to the HE sector over recent years (see Bolden, Gosling et al. 2012) have forced universities to review their organisational management structures. Consequently, middle leadership roles such as the Associate Dean (AD) have gained in importance (Bryman 2009). Below the level of Dean, but above the level of department head, ADs are involved in largely strategic as opposed to operational duties. In supporting the Dean, they can have a critical effect on success and provide a link between the academic voice and the ever-changing demands being placed upon University faculties. However, it is a role that is not well understood with previous research tending to look at more clearly defined positions such as the department head (Floyd 2012), the Dean (Harvey, Shaw et al. 2013) or the Vice Chancellor (Bosetti and Walker 2010). Thus, the proposed study appears timely and warranted. An exploratory study into the role undertaken by one of the applicants (Preston and Price 2012) suggests that very few academics view moving into the role as permanent; rather, they see it as a temporary diversion from their real career. However, they seemed motivated by the desire to contribute to the strategic and operational successes of their departments. We aim to build on this work and explore the role across a wider range of Universities.

Methodology
The study will use a two staged, mixed-methods approach. In stage one, we will conduct interviews with 16 Associate Deans from 4 different institutions (4 in each). These institutions have already been identified and include 2 post and 2 pre 1992 Universities. The sample will include a range of age, gender and experience. Participants will be identified using the University websites and invited to take part via email. These data will be analysed using established thematic analysis techniques.

In stage two, we will survey Associate Deans across the UK (n=100) using an online questionnaire (Survey Monkey) which will be based on themes and issues emanating from the first stage of the project. Participants will be invited to take part by email with a link to the survey. Analysis of the data in SPSS will allow for key patterns and trends to be identified.

Intended benefits to project partners and the HE Community
The study is directly related to the remit of the Leadership Foundation and specifically aligns with a number of their 8 key strategic objectives outlined in their 2011-2014 strategy document. In evaluating this crucial but under-researched role, it is hoped that a more thorough understanding of the role of AD will emerge which is important for policy-makers, managers and researchers. Such research, for example, could help in the selection processes of new ADs, could allow for more informed career advice for ADs (potential and in post), and could help tailor specific training, development and support for academics who aspire to, or who are in, AD roles. It is also hoped that individual participants will benefit from the opportunity to reflect in detail on their experiences of being in the role, which has considerable potential for their personal and professional development. 

Dissemination and Outputs
Knowledge production and impact are key aims of this project. The following actions are designed to provide maximum benefit to the sector:

  • The findings and recommendations will be written up in the form of a short, accessible report to be published on the LF website.
  • Dissemination will take place at the Open University and the University of Reading in the form of two seminar events.
  • As Dr Floyd and Dr Preston are co-convenors of the BELMAS Higher Education Leadership and Management Research Interest Group, the work will be disseminated through this network which has an international membership. In addition, a link to the project will be made available on the network website.
  • The work will be presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) annual conference.
  • Academic articles will be submitted to Studies in Higher Education and Education Management Administration and Leadership.

Milestones

Month Activity
1-2 • Obtain ethics approval
• Review of literature
3-6 • First stage data collection and analysis
6-9 • Second stage data collection and analysis
9-10 • Seminars/conference
• Report preparation
10-12 • Report submission
• Preparation of article/s for publication

 
Summary
This bid brings together colleagues from the Open University Business School and the University Of Reading Institute of Education to explore the under-researched, and often ambiguous, role of the Associate Dean (or equivalent) in UK Universities. Specifically, it aims to explore how the role is defined, perceived and experienced across a range of post and pre 1992 Universities in order to highlight and disseminate models of good practice, identify challenges, and make recommendations for improved policy and practice.
In evaluating this crucial but under-researched role in the leadership and management of UK Universities, it is hoped that a more thorough understanding of the role of Associate Dean will emerge which is important for policy-makers, managers and researchers. Such research, for example, could help in the selection processes of new Associate Deans, could allow for more informed career advice for Associate Deans (potential and in post), and could help tailor specific training, development and support for academics who aspire to, or who are in, Associate Dean roles. It is also hoped that individual participants will benefit from the opportunity to reflect in detail on their experiences of being in the role, which has considerable potential for their personal and professional development.

References

  • Bolden, R., J. Gosling, et al. (2012). Academic Leadership: Changing Conceptions, Identities and Experiences in UK Higher Education. London, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
  • Bosetti, L. and K. Walker (2010). "Perspectives of UK Vice-Chancellors on Leading Universities in a Knowledge-Based Economy." Higher Education Quarterly 64(1): 4-21.
  • Bryman, A. (2009). Effective Leadership in Higher Education. London, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
  • Floyd, A. (2012). "'Turning points': The personal and professional circumstances that lead academics to become middle managers." Educational Management Administration and Leadership 40(2): 272-284.
  • Harvey, M., J. B. Shaw, et al. (2013). "The selection of a dean in an academic environment: are we getting what we deserve?" International Journal of Educational Management 27(1): 19-37.
  • Preston, D. and D. Price (2012). "'I see it as a phase: I don't see it as the future': academics as managers in a UK university " Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 34(4): 409-419.

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