Tertiary Education Management

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Tertiary Management: a profession for many professions

by Tom Gregg and Giles Pickford
Association for Tertiary Education Management Inc – www.atem.org.au

A search of military history will reveal that there was a time when the military was trying to decide whether it was a single profession, or an amalgam of many professions which make up the whole.

The decision was that there is a thing called the Profession of Arms and that within that a person could be a soldier, sailor, pilot, drummer, engineer, cook, medical orderly, or logistics officer. These are only some of the specialisations in the Profession of Arms.

Tertiary institutions in Australia and New Zealand are currently in the midst of sorting out the same question. Tertiary Institutions employ members who belong to many professions, but we contend that those are their specialisations within a profession of Tertiary Education Management.

On the academic side they are chemists, mathematicians, linguists, historians, economists, geologists, botanists, engineers: ‘you name it we’ve got it’ is the message that most institutions proclaim in their attempts to cover the field in terms of academic offerings.

On the organisational side of institutions there are accountants, librarians, curators, statisticians, lawyers, architects, FM, IT, HR, PR and IR people to name but a few. As well as that, there are large numbers of people whose skills belong only within the profession of Tertiary Management and to no other. These people are faculty managers, student administrators, international student managers, examination officers, timetabling officers, and minders of all descriptions.

All of these people make up a separate and developing profession which we here call the Profession of Tertiary Education Management. This includes all the professional staff, and all those academic staff who decide to take management positions in their institutions.

Training for the Profession

First it needs to be understood that there is a difference between Tertiary Education Management and business administration or public administration. Business administration prepares a person for work in the commercial world, and public administration prepares a person for work in the public service.

Both of these forms of training have their own imperatives. Business must be profitable. The public service must be accountable. They have their own perspectives and ways of doing things.

In Tertiary Education Management there are similarities and parallels, but there are important differences which need to be understood.

For instance, the majority of people that make up the members of a Tertiary Education Institution are school leavers. This cannot be said of business or the public service.

Secondly, the first loyalty of the academics who teach these students is to the truth, as expressed by their academic discipline. Their second loyalty is to the institution. This is unique in the professions. The truth expressed through a unique discipline is not the first imperative in either business or the public service.

Then there is the question of leadership. In Tertiary Education Management the institutional leader has the delegation and accountability of a CEO, but not the ability openly and easily exercise the power to demand change. The exercise of their real internal authority is normally through the power of persuasion. They seldom exercise the power to compel. The reason for this is that in an institution for which the truth is the highest imperative, it is well understood by all that there is no one person who has a monopoly on the truth. Everyone can be wrong, even the leader. Whereas in business and in the public service the leader is always right until he or she is either sacked or loses the confidence of the Board.

Training for the tertiary education profession demands that the trainee must read some of the literature which goes back to the 11th Century. This literature precedes the literature of business and government by hundreds of years. The reason for this is that the University is a very old institution in the history of the world. Only the Church, the Military and the Monarchy are much older.

Anyone who has an interest in this one thousand-year literature can find it on the ATEM web site at this URL:http://www.atem.org.au/activities_occasional_paper.cfm

The title is ‘A Suggested Reading List of the Classics of Tertiary Management’

Suitable Courses

For degree courses, an interested inquirer should firstly consult the curriculum offerings in their nearby Universities, Polytechnics or TAFEs. In Australia two Universities which stand out are the University of New England (NSW) and Monash University (Victoria) where there are Departments of Educational Administration that are justifiably well-known for their work on this developing profession. In New Zealand an inquirer should look to the members of the university and college of education sectors for such courses and information.

There are many shorter courses and training opportunities. For these the inquirer needs to look no further than the ATEM web site.

The biggest and most complex offering is the Annual Tertiary Education Management Conference which can be found at this URL: http://www.temchobart2004.com/

This is a three-day event, usually attended by over 500 delegates and it covers every conceivable aspect of the profession.

Then there are the Branch Conferences, found at this URL: http://www.atem.org.au/conferences_branch.cfm

Finally there are the courses offered at the local level which can be found at this URL: http://www.atem.org.au/education_training.cfm

Of course the AVCC (whose work in this field is complemented by ATEM’s efforts), is very active in the advancement of the profession of tertiary education management in the Australian Higher Education sector. Their work is highlighted through the URL


All of these offerings can open the doors into the profession of Tertiary Education Management, and advance the professional skills and knowledge of existing members of the profession.

Tertiary Managers have the goal of making a real contribution to the overall outcome in their institutions. They are an essential and important part of the whole process with different objectives to business and public service counterparts.

Our academics are there to discover, learn, reveal, and teach. Tertiary Managers are there to make sure that academics can dedicate their efforts to those key roles and also can get as big a “bang” as possible from limited resources.

Although we all need some regulation and accountability, the world of discovery is peculiarly vulnerable to the growing tangle of red tape and regulation. The Tertiary Manager’s role is to lead academic units expertly through externally imposed difficulties and equip and protect the enterprise.

Working in the profession is most rewarding. Tertiary Institutions are full of fascinating characters, who in turn are involved in the fascinating world of discovery. There are fewer more exciting things to do than to be involved in this tumultuous activity.

© Giles Pickford | Website created by Michael Pickford