Nowhere is this more true than in the United Kingdom, where reforms instigated by former prime minister Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago have enabled vice-chancellors to extend their grip over matters that were once controlled by academics, such as what subjects to teach, which kinds of grant to chase and criteria for hiring staff. By shifting decision-making to committees dominated by their close allies, many vice-chancellors now operate as if they were chief executives.
This managerial approach, and the growing reach and expanse of administrative staff that has accompanied it, is gathering pace worldwide. That is largely because British and US universities dominate international university league tables, and many countries’ higher-education policies seek to emulate their model. Germany’s Excellence Initiative, for example, has selected a small number of promising institutions and given them the money to build up stronger central administrations.