Chancellor (education)

A chancellor is a leader of a college or university, usually either the executive or ceremonial head of the university or of a university campus within a university system.

In most Commonwealth and former Commonwealth nations, the chancellor is usually a ceremonial non-resident head of the university. In such institutions, the chief executive of a university is the vice-chancellor, who may carry an additional title, such as "president & vice-chancellor". The chancellor may serve as chairman of the governing body; if not, this duty is often held by a chairman who may be known as a pro-chancellor.

In many countries, the administrative and educational head of the university is known as the president, principal or rector. In the United States, the head of a university is most commonly a university president. In U.S. university systems that have more than one affiliated university or campus, the executive head of a specific campus may have the title of chancellor and report to the overall system's president, or vice versa.


Australia and New Zealand

In both Australia and New Zealand, a chancellor is the chairman of a university's governing body; thus, as well as having ceremonial duties, the chancellor participates in the governance of the university (but not its active management). The chancellor is assisted by a deputy chancellor (known as the pro-chancellor in some universities). The chancellor and deputy chancellor are frequently drawn from the senior ranks of business or the judiciary (it is one of the few jobs considered compatible with judicial service). Some universities have a visitor who is senior to the chancellor. University disputes can be appealed from the governing board to the visitor (as is still the case in the UK), but nowadays, such appeals are generally prohibited by legislation, and the position has only ceremonial functions (unlike the chancellor and deputy chancellor, who frequently preside at functions such as graduations, the visitor rarely attends university functions). The vice-chancellor usually serves as the chief executive of the university.

Macquarie University in Sydney is a noteworthy anomaly as it once had the unique position of Emeritus Deputy Chancellor, a post created for John Lincoln upon his retirement from his long-held post of deputy chancellor in 2000. The position was not merely an honorary title, as it also retained for Lincoln a place in the University Council until his death in 2011.

Canada and United Kingdom

Lord Grenville as Chancellor of the University of Oxford; painting by William Owen
The Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Lord Patten, in procession at Encaenia, 2009

Canadian universities and Scottish universities have a titular chancellor similar to those in England and Wales, with day-to-day operations typically handled by a principal. In Scotland, for example, the chancellor of the University of Edinburgh is Anne, Princess Royal, whilst the current chancellor of the University of Aberdeen is Camilla, Duchess of Rothesay.

In Canada, the vice-chancellor usually carries the joint title of "president and vice-chancellor" or "rector and vice-chancellor." Scottish principals generally carry the title of "principal and vice-chancellor."

In Scotland, the title and post of rector is reserved to the third ranked official of university governance. The position exists in common throughout the five ancient universities of Scotland with rectorships in existence at the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee, which is also considered to have ancient status as a result of its early connections to the University of St Andrews. The position of Lord Rector was given legal standing by virtue of the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889.

Rectors appoint a rector's assessor, effectively a deputy or stand-in, who may carry out their functions when they are absent from the university. The Rector chairs meetings of the university court, the governing body of the university, and is elected by the matriculated student body at regular intervals (usually every three years to enable every undergraduate who obtains a degree to vote at least once). An exception exists at Edinburgh, where the (Lord) Rector is elected by both students and staff.


In Finland, if the university has a chancellor (Finnish: Kansleri, Swedish: Kansler), he is the leading official in the university. The duties of the chancellor are mainly to promote sciences and to look after the best interests of the university. As the rector of the university (Finnish: rehtori, Swedish: rektor) remains the de facto administrative leader and chief executive official, the role of the chancellor is more of a social, political and even historical nature. However some administrative duties still belong to the chancellor's jurisdiction despite their often arguably ceremonial nature. Examples of these include the appointment of new professors and docents.

The chancellor of University of Helsinki (the oldest, largest and most prestigious in Finland) has also the notable right to be present and to speak in the plenary meetings of the Council of State when matters regarding the university are discussed. Despite his role as the chancellor of only one university, he is often regarded as the political representative of Finland's entire university institution when he exercises his rights in the Council of State.

In the history of Finland the office of the chancellor dates all the way back to the Swedish Empire, and later the Russian Empire. Historically the chancellor's duty was to function as the official representative of the monarch in the autonomous university.

The number of chancellors in Finnish universities has declined over the years, and in vast majority of Finnish universities the highest official is the rector. The remaining universities with chancellors are University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University.


In France, chancellor (chancelier) is one of the titles of the rector (recteur), a senior civil servant of the Ministry of Education serving as manager of a regional educational district (académie). In his capacity as chancellor, the rector awards academic degrees to the university's graduates, oversees the legality of the universities executive acts and channels funding from the ministry. The rector has no executive function in any university, but remains a member ex officio of the board of every public university in his district.

Germany and Poland

In Germany (der Kanzler) and Poland (kanclerz), the chancellor is the head of many universities' administration and the leader of the non-academic staff while the rector is the academic head. In Poland, the main academic bodies of the university consists of: rektor (the head of the university), prorektor (deputy rektor), dziekan (the head of the faculty), prodziekan (deputy dziekan), senat (the main council of the university). In universities with presidential constitution, the university's president holds both the functions of chancellor and rector.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong (and before 1997, Governor of Hong Kong) acts as the chancellor of all chartered universities, which includes all eight public universities and Open University of Hong Kong.[1] Day-to-day operation is in the hands of either a vice-chancellor (older and established institutions) or a president (in newer institutions), depending on the institution.

Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine

In Turkey, Russia, and Ukraine, the chancellor is the head of the university and is called "rector." Some universities in Russia and Ukraine have figurehead "presidents."


In India, almost all universities have a chancellor as their titular head whose function is largely ceremonial. The governor of the state, appointed as the union's representative of state by the president, acts as the chancellor of the university. The de facto head of the university is the vice-chancellor. In private non-profit universities, normally the head of the foundation who has established the university is the chancellor of the university and is the head of the university.

For private university unlike the chancellor who heads the conventional Indian 'state university', the private university is headed by a president or chairman of private organization and have other posts like vice-chancellors, deans of faculties, registrar and controller of examinations.[2]


In Ireland, the four universities all have a chancellor as their figurehead leader. However, day-to-day operations of the universities are under the directorship of a president (a provost in the case of Trinity College, Dublin). The National University of Ireland's constituent universities do not have a chancellor each; rather, the president of each constituent university has the title of Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the NUI. In Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, the chancellor is also the chairman of the university's governing authority.


In Malaysia, the chancellor position is given to dignitaries such as royalty or prominent politicians by universities to represent the universities in the political arena. For example, the chancellor of University of Malaya, the oldest university in Malaysia is Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Sultan of Perak. His father, Sultan Azlan Shah also served as chancellor at the same university until his death in 2014.

The chancellor of Universiti Putra Malaysia is the current Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, while the current Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan, Tunku Muhriz is the chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The chancellor of Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, a university situated in the state of Johor, is the current Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim.

Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah, the wife of the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was appointed as the new chancellor of Open University Malaysia to take over the role from the first chancellor, the late YBhg Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood (Abdullah Badawi's first wife).

Recently, UCSI in Kuala Lumpur has given recognition to Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Dr. Abdul Rahman Arshad as its first chancellor.


In Pakistan, chancellor is normally the figurehead of the university, who is normally the provincial governor where that university exists. Day-to-day business of the university is run by the vice chancellor.


In the Philippines, the De La Salle University designates the head of its university as the chancellor. For the University of the Philippines, the entire system is headed by a president, while the eight constituent universities under the system is each headed by a chancellor. The chancellor designates the different vice-chancellors for different areas of concern of the university: academic affairs, finance, and community affairs, among others. Some more universities like University of Santo Tomas and other colleges, institutions have chancellors. Its chancellor is the incumbent Master of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans); meanwhile, the vice chancellor is the prior provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines. Their roles are largely ceremonial. The University of Santo Tomas is governed mainly by its rector magnificus in overseeing its academic, financial and other affairs. On the other hand, the San Beda System has the prior or the abbot of Our Lady of Montserrat Abbey (Manila) as its chancellor for its constituent units while a rector-president heads each constituent unit.

Other universities in the Philippines (such as state universities like Mindanao State University where each constituent campus is headed by chancellor) are mostly headed by their respective university presidents. Meanwhile, private (esp. Catholic) institutions are headed by a rector.


Chancellor is a titular position in Bangladesh always held by the incumbent President of Bangladesh under the Private Universities Act 1992.[3] The position in public universities is not fixed for the president under any acts or laws (since the erection of a state university in Bangladesh requires an act to be passed in itself),[4] but it has been the custom so far to name the incumbent president of the country as chancellor of all state universities thus established. The day-to-day business of the university is run by the vice chancellor. He has a deputy called the pro-vice-chancellor.


In Nepal, universities have a chancellor as ceremonial head. The de facto head of the university is the vice-chancellor. The chancellor is primarily responsible for attending the convocation programmes and accepting the resignation and appointment letter of a new vice-chancellor. Generally, the prime minister is considered the chancellor, and in his absence, the minister of education acts as the chancellor.

United States

In the United States, heads of colleges and universities are typically called "president." A multi-campus university system may be headed by a chancellor who serves as system-wide chief, with presidents governing individual institutions: for example, the State University of New York and the City University of New York. There are also some university systems, such as the North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Wisconsin and California university systems, in which those two titles are reversed. At Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, which is a single unified university with three campuses, the chief officers of the two smaller campuses at Camden and Newark are called chancellors, a renaming from "provost." Rutgers University itself has a president as the chief officer.

Presidents are the functional chief executive officers of most standalone U.S. universities; however, a few universities, such as Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, have a chancellor as the chief executive officer. There are occasional other uses of the title chancellor. The College of William & Mary uses chancellor in the British sense, as a figurehead leader, but the actual executive of the school is the "president," not a "vice-chancellor." Some schools, such as Lubbock Christian University, give the ceremonial title of "chancellor" to a retiring university president. The Catholic University of America is headed by a president (formerly "rector"), with the Archbishop of Washington serving as chancellor, a ceremonial position but one which does require the archbishop to represent the university before the Holy See. This scenario, while not always exactly duplicated, is typical in other Catholic universities due to the Catholic hierarchy. In some schools run by Catholic religious orders, the rector of the community supersedes the president when the individual is a member of that religious order.

The title chancellor is sometimes used in K-12 education in a sense similar to superintendent of schools, particularly in urban school districts. The New York City Schools Chancellor is the chief executive officer of the New York City Department of Education, which manages the city's public school system (the largest in the United States). The leader of the District of Columbia Public Schools system is also referred to as the chancellor.

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