Part 3: Career Progression at the universities in London
By Dr Solomon Habtemariam
Read part 2 of the article here.
- How does career progression at post-92 universities compare with the Russell group?
As the highest level of academic position, a professorial title at any university must demonstrate personal and academic distinction in a specified field of teaching, research and/or knowledge exchange. Maintaining this standard is a key responsibility of HEIs not only to maintain their institutional integrity in the face of the external world but also keeping its workforce motivated. From my own experience, the main source of academic dissatisfaction could lie in this area given the lack of transparency in professorial promotion/appointment and standard. This is partly also a sector-wide issue as it is now the norm to award a professorial title through a teaching route to someone without a PhD, research profile or a single paper published in international journal. The UCL promotion in 2021/22, for example, included honouring 2 non-PhD holders through the teaching route. Assessment of professional standard through publicly available data must also be subject-specific and require large volume of data that smaller universities do not have (see below). Bearing in mind also every university vehemently defends the rigorous housekeeping of their professional standard, let us focus on professorial numbers instead of quality/standard.
- How common is professorial recognition in my post-92 university?
The 2022 announcement of professorial promotion level at the UoG listed 13 individuals – quite a big increase from six in the previous year and just 3 in 2019 – indeed a big achievement for the university. Those academics who are in the mind of my thinking also give credit to the university as all appointees have a PhD title and have also done demonstrable research in their field. Their H-index profiles included two outstanding (over 30) as subject leaders in their field, and four in the 20s as the norm in many good universities. Their contribution to science throughout their career can be measured in publication, but most importantly, they all represented their university as shown in Figure 1. Hence, the gap in the thinking of a professorial standard between senior managers and staunch critiques like me also seems to be narrowing.
Figure 1. Professorial level academic staff promotion at the UoG (October 2022). The top panel shows the H-index profile of professors while the lower panel displays the number of papers attached to the academics with the university address (sourced from Web of Science).
- How does the number of professors compare across the London universities?
The number of professors in post-92 universities is not only smaller than the Russel Group universities but also does not compare as a fraction (%) of the number of academics in the institutions (Table 1). There was also wide variation among the post-92 universities with the top performer being St Mary’s University, Twickenham followed by Roehampton and Brunel universes. There was about 3-fold gap in the percentage of professorial position between these top three performers and the bottom four (Westminster, West London, South Bank and University of the Arts, London) post-92 universities. For my own institution (UoG), the data shows 8.76% versus UCL (15.55%), Imperial (15.56%), King’s (13.06%) and QMUL(8.79%) at the same level – sector was 10.18%.
Table 1. Ranking of London major London, HE providers by percentage of professorial staff.
- How does the proportion of academic staff to students’ numbers compares across the London universities?
One way of measuring academic workload condition is through direct analysis ofstudent:staff ratio (SSR). On the bases of entry of students and academic staff numbers in the HESA data for the year 2020/21, the SSR for the major London HE providers can be calculated. Interestingly, the total number of students in London post-92 universities is almost identical with that in the old traditional universities. As shown in Table 2, the ranking of universities by SSR clearly shows a favourable working condition for academics in the Russel Group universities except for London Business School. The top performer for the post-92 universities on the FTE basis was the University of the Arts, London, and my institution (UoG) was among those with SSR of over 20. Thus, we can design various workload assessment formula, but it remains that academics in post-92 universities have more teaching load than the Russel Group universities. The implication of this SSR disparity to staff wellbeing must be noted.
Table 2. Ranking of major HE providers in London by SSR.*
- How much did my post-92 university invest on academics to do research?
We have measurable investment input and academic output as well as assessment criteria available to make judgment in this field. Opportunities to career progression can also go through either the teaching or research route and can be measured. When one joins a post-92 university by choice or luck, however, their opportunity to do research in their field is statistically known to be far less than the Russel Group universities. Thus, this investment which by and large is based on the sharing of limited resources at post-92 university is not worth of a comparative scrutiny.
You want to know more about this topic? Read more in the next part of the article here.
The opinion expressed in this article is solely the author’s.
Dr Solomon Habtemariam is a principal Lecturer at the University of Greenwich