On Monday 3 June we launched our latest research Staffing Models and Institutional Flexibility by Dr Celia Whitchurch and Professor George Gordon. The opening presentation for the research launch by Professor Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton is reproduced here.

Higher education globally is in a state of flux. The forces acting on it are unparalleled and in my opinion particularly well articulated in the recent IPPR report The Avalanche is Coming by Sir Michael Barber.  Current staffing models in UK universities are effectively legacy operations – the national contract was implemented 23 years ago, longer than most students starting  university this autumn have been alive – and a national framework, now 10 years old, with arrangements that look increasingly jaded set against the sweeping marketisation of UK higher education now in play. The message to the sector from all sides is clear – increased flexibility is the name of the game if universities are to survive and thrive in the turbulence ahead. But what exactly are we being asked to flex?

Universities are large and complex organisations with different missions that engage in a range of activities above and beyond traditional learning, teaching and research.  The cumulative stock of this activity is a measure of the vitality of the intellectual capital locked up – and I use ‘locked’  advisedly, primarily in the staff base but increasing in the student population as well. The one thing that links these activities is people. And by and large people need to be managed in ways that get the best out of them, both for themselves and the organisations they work for.