Doing some good? Exploring the role of Associate Dean in UK Universities

Floyd, Alan and Preston, Diane (2014). Doing some good? Exploring the role of Associate Dean in UK Universities. In: British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) Annual Conference, 11-13 Jul 2014, Stratford upon Avon.


Fundamental changes to the HE sector over recent years have forced universities to review their organisational management structures. Consequently, middle leadership roles such as the Associate Dean (AD) have gained in importance. Below the level of Dean, but above the level of department head, ADs are generally thought to be 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. An exploratory study into the role undertaken by one of the authors suggests that very few academics view moving into the role as permanent; rather, they see it as a temporary diversion from their real career. Yet, they seemed motivated by the desire to contribute to the strategic and operational successes of their departments and thus “do some good” by providing an academic perspective on the changes that they see taking place and the demands placed on themselves and their colleagues. The purpose of this paper is to report on data from an on-going Leadership Foundation funded project investigating the role of Associate Dean in UK universities which aims to explore how the role is defined, perceived and experienced across a range of post and pre 1992 Universities.

We use a two staged, mixed methods approach utilising an embedded design, where the whole study is informed by social constructivism. Specifically, we use an exploratory, sequential mixed methods design where qualitative data are gathered and analysed first, before quantitative data are collected from a larger sample size.

Theoretically, we use a framework based on the interplay between the three related concepts of socialisation, identity and career trajectory, which in turn are underpinned by the notions of structuration (Giddens); academic identity formation, maintenance and change (Henkel; Nixon) and internal and external academic career capital (Floyd and Dimmock). It is hoped that by applying this framework it will give rise to a more nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by policy makers and VCs in moving academics into key middle manager positions, and that we may be able to better understand the role of Associate Dean and how it impacts on these three important inter-related concepts in the life of an academic.

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