Vice-Chancellor Narcissism and University Performance

Shee Yee Khoo, Pietro Perotti, Thanos Verousis, Richard Watermeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


Universities hold a prominent role in knowledge creation through research and education. In this study, we examine the effects of VC narcissism on university performance. We measure VC narcissism based on the size of the signature, in line with a methodological approach which has been widely used in the recent literature and repeatedly validated in laboratory experiments. We exploit a quasi-natural experiment of VC changes and employ a Difference-in-Difference research design, which alleviates concerns related to endogeneity and identification bias. We show that the appointment of a highly narcissistic VC leads to an overall deterioration in research and teaching performance and concomitantly league table performance. We further identify excessive financial risk taking and empire-building as possible mechanisms explaining the main results and provide evidence on the moderating role of university governance. Our findings are consistent with the view that narcissism is one of the most prominent traits of destructive leadership; they also have practical implications for leadership recruitment and the monitoring of leadership practices in the higher education sector. The results of this study extend prior research in several ways. Extant literature on executive leadership and narcissism yields inconclusive findings; this literature has mainly focused on for-profit organisations and has not considered universities. In addition, prior research in higher education on the determinants of university performance has not yet examined the role of leadership personality traits.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104901
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding information: This work was supported by the British Academy [SRG20\200159]. The British Academy had no involvement in any stage of this research.


  • Destructive leadership
  • Higher education
  • Signature size
  • University performance
  • Vice-chancellor narcissism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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