From Maree Conway*

I refer to Professor Marcia Devlin's article last week and would offer a few comments: One, nowhere in this article is there a reference to the majority of staff in institutions - the professional staff - and how their roles and functions may change over the next 20 years.

By then, I hope, we will have 'university staff' as the accepted terminology so there will be no more nonsensical conversations about 'academic' and 'general' staff, and who runs universities.

Second, the expectations of staff in 20 years regarding work and career are likely to be very different to what we have today. The culture of universities and institutions may be very different as a result.

Third, technological developments will continue to have an impact on how learning and services are delivered. It is possible that universities may not exist in the monolith forms we see today and none of the current groupings may exist.

Finally, no one should ever attempt to predict the future because you can end up with egg on your face (didn't Bill Gates tell us 64MB of RAM should be enough for anyone?).

What we can do is be fanciful, imagine and explore our ideas about the future, informed by our understanding of the impact of the trends we see today into the future, and then think about how we want to respond.

We need to build time into our strategy processes where we seek to understand and explore our possible futures, for there is always more than one - the future is complex and uncertain and we should not pretend otherwise.

More time on strategic thinking, less on predictions please.

* Maree Conway runs Thinking Futures, an Australian collaborative consulting practice that aims to "help people think long-term".


Maree Conway is right in her comment on Professor Marcia Devlin's article: the energy and creativity of professional staff are vital to the university. Thirty years ago, they used to be called the menial staff, then the downstairs staff, then the general staff, and now the most demeaning of all names, the non-academic staff - defined by what they are not.

This is spite of the fact that most of them have very good degrees and are only different from their colleagues in the university because they chose to administer the place instead of teach in it.

There is an argument running out there that we should not be called professional staff because that implies that the academic staff are not professional. This is a classic example of the Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle and an illustration of the failure of some people to think clearly.

An academic does not cease to be professional just because a colleague who does not teach becomes professional. Please let us start working together and get rid of the old feudal relationship.

Giles Pickford
Retired university administrator


Having started my career in the higher education sector as a professional staff member, and as a current member of the Association of Tertiary Education Management that Maree Conway and Giles Pickford contribute to leading, I agree with Maree and Giles in their comments in the last two editions of University World News that the distinction between different staff in universities is nonsense.

The article I wrote was commissioned by the editor and I was not asked to write about professional staff (nor about many other aspects of universities of the future, including management, leadership, governance, etc).

I could only write about my areas of expertise, which are limited. Perhaps we might see a series of these articles from experts in different areas?

* Professor Devlin holds the inaugural chair of higher education research at Deakin University in Melbourne.