Monday, 4 August 2014

The American Dream

Slowly, slowly, the distinctiveness of the UK higher education system is diminishing. Perhaps this is a good thing, perhaps a bad – I’m not trying to make a judgment. But here’s some evidence.

One quarter of the UK’s Russell Group universities have moved to US-style academic job titles – that is, away from the hierarchy of lecturer, senior lecturer/reader, and professor; towards a hierarchy of assistant professor, associate professor, and professor.

Not the 51st state just yet

The rationale is simple.  As higher education internationalizes, and in particular as international league tables force comparisons across national boundaries, universities have to stand comparison. So giving academic staff titles which can be understood against the US norm makes sense.

The move isn’t there yet.  Amongst the six Russell Group universities which have moved towards the US convention, there are four distinct versions:

  • One has only two grades – Associate Professor and Professor: the former being Lecturer and Senior Lecturers; and the grade of Reader being abolished.
  • Another has four grades – Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor: effectively retitling Readers as Associate Professors

  • Another still has just three grades – Lecturer, Associate Professor, Professor: merging Senior Lecturer and Reader and retitling them as Associate Professor

  • And the fourth has three grades – Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor: with Assistant Professor equating to Lecturer, and Associate Professor to Senior Lecturer/Reader.

The last of these looks most like the US norm.  But without a UK consensus on the migration of UK to US academic job titles it may not be that effective in helping the world understand our universities.

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