Academic recruitment in Higher Education

Published: 1 October 2013


Fundamental changes in the policy landscape mean that the world of Higher Education is altering rapidly.  The merits of each University’s academic offering is becoming highly scrutinised as prospective students and broader partners carefully consider their options in an increasingly competitive market.  Although the deadline for submissions to next year’s REF is imminent, the quality of research will continue to be a critical link to funding, as will student satisfaction. 

Therefore the development of new specialisms, quality of academic staff, teaching prowess, research portfolio and indeed curriculum development are prominent considerations in the future plans of any given faculty.

Here at Berwick Partners we are seeing a rise in the number of professorial appointments we are supporting clients with.  It would appear that Institutions are increasingly looking to attract international talent, often in academic disciplines that are fairly niche.  As such, they are finding it difficult to attract the calibre of individual they wish to appoint and are therefore choosing to work with a recruitment partner. The service we provide works in several ways;

Research and mapping

Upon instruction from a client seeking to appoint new academic talent, one of our first actions is to identify the breadth of activity in the relevant field.  This means looking at globally to uncover which organisations have expertise in the field.   

Naturally the first port of call is other Universities.  This is itself can be a very involved task as there can be huge variances in the structures across Universities which means that the requisite skill set can sit in a variety of different departments or even faculties.  We also look at research bodies, government bodies or commercial organisations if required. 

The main output for this part of our work is to know who is who within the requisite subject area.  However, we also want to understand “what is good” within the discipline so that we can be structured in contacting the best people or looking within the best Institutions. 

Most of this information is pulled together via desk research although we will also start talking with renowned individuals in order to find out who the rising stars are and where the best research is being planned or conducted.   

Building a corporate proposition

When contacting prospective candidates we are very mindful of the fact that they are probably not looking for a new role and even if they are then they may well not have thought about our client’s institution.  Therefore, an integral part of our role is to understand the nature of the proposition that we are communicating to them. 

We need to ensure that we understand the direction of travel for the University itself, the faculty and indeed the Department in question.  We need to speak fluently about current and historical research, the student experience, post-graduate activities and the academic focus of current members of staff, possibly understanding the extent to which this can complement the interests of the prospective candidate.

Candidate generation

We always work with our clients to develop job descriptions that are relevant to their needs.  We support them in ensuring that there are no unnecessary conditions that would debar strong individuals from applying.  However we also sense-check to make sure that there is clarity about what is required. 

This normally relates to very variable factors such as the amount of research funding that candidates have attracted, the level of PHD supervision they have undertaken, how prolific they have been in publishing research and the focus of their research work. 

Our aim is to build a short list of candidates that have the right level of experience and are looking to travel academically in the same direction as the Department itself.  We understand that this is not an exact science.  However, we would not want to mislead candidates who are unsuitable, pointlessly wasting the time of all parties involved. 

Candidate care

Appointment to Professorial positions can often take a significant period of time.  During that time we work hard to develop relationships with the candidates, keeping them updated on progress and ensuring that they receive clear communication about milestones and what is expected from them.

When candidates are from overseas there can be a range of logistical considerations in terms of convening a final panel.  Flights, time differences and domestic connections can all be challenging and even prove a stumbling block to candidates’ attendance if they’re not appropriately managed.  We have significant experience of organising activities and do so in such a way as to give candidates confidence in the professional nature of the process and therefore the professional nature of our clients. 


By their very nature, Academic Appointments can be difficult to make.  The huge breadth of subject matter involved means that there is an almost infinite range of disciplines.  Universities need to feel confident that their recruitment partner has the intellectual capacity to get to grips with the academic substance in question.  They must also believe that the partner has the capability to identify and reach all of the key players in the relevant area. 

Berwick Partners is developing a strong track record in this area. Our dedicated Education Practice has experience of working with a range of Higher Education Institutions and their partners to identify individuals across a tremendously diverse range of disciplines.  As such, we are not fazed by the prospect of identifying talent in very niche subject areas across enormous geographies.  Rather, we relish the challenge. 

For further information speak to Liz James or Gin Bhandal

Categories: Education Recruitment

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