Time Please! On the Tenure of Registrars

Inspired by the latest research by HEPI on the tenure of Vice-Chancellors, Dr Paul Greatrix of The University of Nottingham, conducts his own study into the tenure of his own role of Registrar. With 53 participants from the sector, he uncovers the results of the average tenure and those who have been in office for over ten years, discussing what it means for the future of the role.

I was fascinated by this recent HEPI study on the tenure of Vice-Chancellors and thought it would be interesting to do a similar piece of work with AHUA members on the length of service of registrars. Interesting is perhaps the best way to describe the results of what is a pretty rough and ready survey of a reasonably representative cross-section of university heads of administration.

There isn’t nearly as much data available as there is for vice-chancellors so this is all based on self-reporting of individuals in their current roles and their best recollections of their predecessor’s tenure. Other challenges include the increasingly varied titles of registrars across universities. Whereas vice-chancellors are pretty easy to identify and there are generally good published records of their tenure and that of their predecessors, generally the role and history of the registrars of an institution are much more obscure. Such is the nature of our roles…

It also doesn’t make any allowance for the fact that some registrars do move from one university to another and for the fact that in some institutions the role is split between two individuals or indeed has changed or disappeared in the period concerned and therefore some arbitrary decisions were required about which individual to count.

Anyway, as Peter Snow used to say when messing around with his swingometer and opinion polls on BBC election specials, it’s just a bit of fun. So as at 1 June this year, based on a sample of 53 registrars or those in equivalent roles, it looks like the current average tenure of the sample is five years and five months. The median period of current service is three years and 10 months. Nine members of the sample have served over 10 years in the role, three of these having held office for over 15 years; if we exclude these nine then average tenure is reduced to just under four years.

On a reduced data set for current post-holders’ predecessors it looks like the previous average was eight years and two months with a median tenure of seven years. Note that I have not included the specific information about individual post-holders past and present here as I undertook not to disclose.

This is not very far off the data from the HEPI vice-chancellor survey where a similar duration in office was the headline finding. And…

“Overall, the tenure of serving vice-chancellors is almost identical to the tenure of current heads of FTSE 100 companies, where the average is also a little over five years. But it compares very well against the tenure of professional football managers, who currently average about 15 months in the job.”

Nevertheless, given the role of the registrar is often viewed as something of an anchor position, a fixed and stable appointee who manages vice-chancellor transitions and serves as the guardian of the statutes, ordinances, rules and regulations, it is perhaps a little surprising that their average tenure is similar to that of currently serving VCs.

The decline from the previous average (albeit from a limited data set) is in line with my perceptions of reduced tenure in the period I have been an AHUA member but the interesting thing now will be to repeat the exercise in future years in order to establish how, if at all, the position changes over time.

So it’s probably best not to read too much into this on the first pass. Thank you to all AHUA members who contributed to this.