Establishment anoints its own: Mark Scott next VC of Uni Sydney

Mr Scott  will become VC in July, he will move quietly and shake slowly

 Mr Scott is a truly marvellous mandarin. His previous appointments include MD of the ABC and Group Editorial Director of what was Fairfax newspapers. Early in his career he was a school teacher and a staffer for state Liberal government ministers.

This is an appointment which will be popular with the Sydney establishment in the professions and public service – people who went to the University of Sydney and see it as their own.

Mr Scott is highly regarded as an administrator, judged a safe pair of hands on public issues, with an acute sense of the admin-achievable and politically possible.

His leadership of the ABC offers an indication of how he might manage Uni Sydney – both organisations with large numbers of staff whose loyalty is to their ideal of the institution, not its management.

Mr Scott got more done at the ABC than is often recognised, expanding its digital presence and standing up to government – but he coexisted with rather than confronted a staff culture opposed to fundamental change in structures and numbers.

After his Uni Sydney predecessor, Michael Spence’s, early attempts to reduce employee numbers and his immense and exhausting endeavour to improve the university’s baroque bureaucracy Mr Scott will be a contrast. He will move quietly and shake slowly. There will be no brawls with the unions on his watch and if he dreams any impossible dreams they will stay publicly un-sung.

There was half-hearted harrumphing on the weekend that Mr Scott is not an academic and does not have a doctorate. This manifestly did not bother the selection panel – conventionally qualified VCs back to the 90s supervised the erosion of Uni Sydney’s once unchallenged authority in NSW higher education and the auld enemy , the University of Melbourne, has long left it behind on the research rankings.

But whether Mr Scott is the right person for a university in an alarmingly uncertain era is another question. His appointment appears to indicate the decision makers on the university senate thought that whatever happens at universities of lesser age and riches, stabile leadership is what Uni Sydney needs.

Months before he is invested as VC, Mr Scott is already anointed by Sydney’s ancien regime – the Sydney Morning Herald announced his appointment in a story, which it declared an “exclusive.” And you don’t get any more establishment Sydney than that.


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