France: Top-heavy universities

EducationWorld January 2020 | International News

French universities have been accused of being bloated at the top, with one institution boasting no fewer than 26 vice presidents. Some university managements have swelled to include vice presidents for simplification, “success,” “heritage” and, even, “the sea”. The findings follow up on a book published recently by a prominent French sociologist of universities, which accuses institutions of having too many senior managers and suggests that a pruning to no more than three or four vice presidents is in order.

Collecting data from 70 institutions, the higher education news agency AEF Info found that the average university has 12 vice presidents, although there are wide variations. Four had more than 20, while five had four or fewer. At the top of the list was the University of Lille, with 26. The university did not respond to a request for comment before Times Higher Education’s deadline.

Across French universities, there are 54 vice presidents with a “digital” role, with another 25 responsible for “partnerships” of some kind.

The survey of universities’ senior management comes in the wake of work by Christine Musselin, a sociologist of universities and former dean of research at Sciences Po, Paris, who argues in her recent book Proposals from a Researcher for the University that French institutions must radically reshape their management structures and shrink the number of vice presidents.

Academics want one of their own in senior management positions, Prof. Musselin explains, while administrators sometimes did not trust scholars to carry out administrative and managerial duties effectively, leading to parallel, and sometimes rival, management structures.

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