Advocate, strategist or dogs’ body: The Associate Dean (Student) role in co-shaping and managing students’ expectations in consumer focused higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

The Associate Dean (Students) is an addition to the now more established roles of Associate Dean (Academic or Education) and (Learning and Teaching) in university middle management. While the role is well established in the United States, a cross between student management, student life (or affairs) and academic responsibilities, a student-focused role in academic sections is a relatively recent phenomenon in Australia. Potential functions include those of a traditional ombudsman or student advocate, providing a ‘catch all’ for the multiple issues facing students. Other functions include a more operational role, incorporating day-to-day processes and procedures, or one that is more strategic and proactive, managing student expectations and crossing divides – divisions, sections, and schools – to support students and staff. In order to interrogate this lack of definition, a pilot qualitative research study was conducted in an Australian regional university. In the study semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders were conducted and participant observation employed. The findings show that by helping staff to support students in both strategic planning and operational processes, the Associate Dean’s (Students) role, located in the academic division, can be vital and complex. In today’s rapidly changing higher education landscape, such a role can operate to develop, implement and disseminate procedures and processes to assist the institution, students and academic and professional staff to not only respond consistently and proactively to manage student and staff expectations about the student role, but also to also to co-shape them, critical in a growing consumer focused market.

Keywords: Associate Dean Students, student expectations, middle management