Academic administration

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Academic administration is a branch of university or college employees responsible for the maintenance and supervision of the institution and separate from the faculty or academics, although some personnel may have joint responsibilities. Some type of separate administrative structure exists at almost all academic institutions. Fewer institutions are governed by employees who are also involved in academic or scholarly work. Many senior administrators are academics who have advanced degrees and no longer teach or conduct research.


Key responsibilities

Key broad administrative responsibilities (and thus administrative units) in academic institutions include:

Administrative titles

The chief executive, the administrative and educational head of a university, depending on tradition and location, may be termed the university president, the provost, the chancellor (the United States), the vice-chancellor (many Commonwealth countries), principal (Scotland and Canada), or rector (Europe, Russia, Asia the Middle East and South America).

An administrative executive in charge of a university department or of some schools, may be termed a dean or some variation. The chief executive of academic establishments other than universities, may be termed headmaster or head teacher (schools), director (used to reflect various positions ranging from the head of an institution to the head of a program), or principal, as used in primary education.

Administrative communication

Like other professional areas, academic administration follows a specialized and often highly abstract terminology. This terminology often depends on that used in military strategy (as in Strategic Planning) and business management (including Public Relations). [1]

By country

Academic administrations are structured in various ways at different institutions and in different countries.


Full-time tertiary education administrators emerged as a distinct role in Australia from the mid-1970s, as institutions sought to deal with their increasing size and complexity, along with a broadening of their aspirations. [2] As the professionalism of tertiary administrators has developed, there has been a corresponding push to recognise the uniqueness and validity of their role in the academic environment. [3] [4]

As of 2004, general staff comprised over half the employees at Australian universities. [5] Around 65% of these are female. [6] There has recently been a shift in the preferred nomenclature for non-academic staff at Australian universities, from "general staff" to "professional staff". [5] It has been argued that the changing in role of the professional staff has been due to the changing work that they are performing, as professional staff assist students with technology. [7]

The overarching body for all staff working in administration and management in Australia is the Association for Tertiary Education Management.

United Kingdom

Administrative structures

The structures for administration and management in higher education in the United Kingdom vary significantly between institutions. Any description of a general structure will therefore not apply to some or even many institutions, and therefore any general statement of structures may be misleading. Not all UK universities have the post of Registrar.

The Director of Finance may report to the Registrar or directly to the Vice-Chancellor, whilst other senior posts may or may not report to the Registrar. This next tier of senior positions might include Directors of Human Resources, Estates, and Corporate Affairs. The Academic Registrar is often included in this next tier. Their role is mostly to accomplish student-facing administrative processes such as admissions, student records, complaints, and graduation.

Professional associations

The overarching body for all staff working in administration and management in the UK is the Association of University Administrators.

United States

Presidents and chancellors

In the United States, a college or university is typically supervised by a president or chancellor who reports regularly to a board of trustees (made up of individuals from outside the institution) and who serves as chief executive officer. Most large colleges and universities now use an administrative structure with a tier of vice presidents, among whom the provost (or vice president for academic affairs, or academic dean) serves as the chief academic officer.

Remuneration of presidents and chancellors

The ten highest-paid administrators at private colleges earn an average of about $2.5 million per year, while at public colleges the figure is $1.4 million. These figures includes both base pay and other income. [8]


Deans may supervise various and more specific aspects of the institution, or may be CEOs of entire campuses. They may report directly to the president or chancellor. The division of responsibility among deans varies widely among institutions; some are chiefly responsible for clusters of academic fields (such as the humanities or natural sciences) or whole academic units (such as a graduate school or college), while others are responsible for non-academic but campus-wide concerns such as minority affairs. In some cases a provost supervises the institution's entire academic staff, occupying a position generally superior to any dean. In other instances the Dean of a College may be the equivalent to a Provost or Vice Chancellor or Vice President for Academic Affairs. Below deans in the administrative hierarchy are heads of individual academic departments and of individual administrative departments. These heads (commonly styled "chairs" or "directors") then supervise the faculty and staff of their individual departments.

Departmental Chairs

The Chair of a department is typically a tenured or at least tenure-track faculty member, supported by administrative staff.

Administrative staff

All levels of the university have administrative staff, reporting to Chancellors, Presidents, Provosts, Deans, and Departmental Chairs.

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  1. Richard Utz, "Against Adminspeak," Chronicle of Higher Education , June 24, 2020.
  2. Conway, Maree. 'Defining administrators and new professionals.' PERSPECTIVES, VOLUME 4, NUMBER 1, 2000: pp. 4-5.
  3. GORNALL, L. (1988) `New professionals’: changes and occupational roles in higher education. perspectives, 3(2), pp. 44-49.
  4. Conway, Maree and Ian Dobson. 'Fear and Loathing in University Staffing: The Case of Australian Academic and General Staff.' Journal of Higher Education Management and Policy, Volume 15, No. 3,: pp. 123.133.
  5. 1 2 Szekeres, Judy (2011). "Professional staff carve out a new space". Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 33 (6): 679–691. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2011.621193.
  6. Wallace, Michelle; Marchant, Teresa (2011). "Female administrative managers in Australian universities: not male and not academic". Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management. 33 (6): 567–581. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2011.621184. hdl: 10072/42428 .
  7. Graham, C. (2013). "Changing technologies, changing identities: A case study of professional staff and their contributions to learning and teaching". Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education. 17 (2): 62–70. doi:10.1080/13603108.2012.716376.
  8. "Executive Compensation at Public and Private Colleges". The Chronicle of Higher Education . 14 July 2019. Retrieved 27 July 2019.

Further reading