Our Coach from the Global HE Super League advises

The UK’s vice chancellors have often looked to football metaphors to legitimise their more Darwinian activities and to burnish their street cred with a bit of reflected laddishness. Now, in turn, football is repaying the compliment by modelling their own exclusive cartel on the university sector’s Russell Group.

So as a thought leader and influencer from the Global HE Super League, I decided to offer some coaching to our football partners as they branch out into this new joint venture.

Your players may, naively, have formed the idea that football is about creating trust within a cohesive unit, scoring goals and winning games. This rigid, short-term thinking is typical of those working in silos whose behaviour has been steered by outdated incentives. However, the territory has shifted from satisfaction for supporters to engagement. Engagement of £££. You need to increase gate receipts and you need to increase player name recognition. To this end, I advise rewarding players by the number of fans who enter the stadium wearing their named shirts. In academia, we call this a citation index and we find it very helpful in keeping track of the marketability of our scholars.

You need to encourage flashy play. Spectacular high-risk moves. Quick wins. We’ve had enough of South American artistry and French philosophical attitudes. Footballers need to understand their expertise can easily be replaced by younger and cheaper athletes. We abolished tenure in universities three decades ago and we are still finding ways to make employees uncomfortable. For example, we require them to become citizens of change in order to destabilise any sense of continuity. You are going to have to manage the process of shaping for excellence, so start by making clear you will take immediate action to silence any critical approaches to management.

New territory indeed ! There’s no prospect of demotion anymore, so you need to be entirely focused on entertainment and the more artificial signifiers of performance, like the prestige of the other teams you play against and the ‘wow factor’ of our stadiums. But it is still important to invoke the discourse of competition even if only applied within the team. Realistically, how else are you going to motivate talented, driven people if not by threatening their careers ?

You may need to consider a difficult conversation with the ladies. I suggest: “thank you for bringing in new supporters and players, for mapping out new terrain for the game with some revolutionary approaches and for taking the bad look off all the institutional sexism. You have worked hard, but I’m sure you’ll understand, this league is just for the boys”.

And lastly, do remember that, more than anything else, this league is about a group of clubs trying to ensure that none of them loses. It’s important to move fast, grab the money and keep out those new ‘challenger’ teams. The most successful academics are the ones who announce their own international stature and I commend this strategy to you.


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