Survey results confirm UK university staff's deep dissatisfaction

Extended senior management survey finds that employees are extremely unhappy with the people running universities

October 5, 2017
Disappointed fan
Source: Getty
Disgruntled: only 8.8 per cent of staff believed their managers deserved the salaries they are paid

The final results of a major survey have confirmed deep dissatisfaction among UK university staff about the way their institutions are run.

Earlier this year, the preliminary results of the National Senior Management Survey, based on responses from about 2,200 UK higher education employees, revealed that more than three-quarters were dissatisfied with the way their institutions were run.

The final results, based on about 6,000 responses, have made it clear that malcontents were not disproportionately represented at the initial stage. From the larger pool of respondents, 78 per cent were not satisfied with the way their university was managed, only 8.8 per cent believed their managers deserved the salaries they are paid and only 15 per cent felt respected and valued by their senior management.

Carl Walker, reader in psychology at the University of Brighton, and part of the team behind the survey, explained that the intention always was to “mirror the National Student Survey process and set up a national league table of senior management teams”. They “decided that 250 people from each university would be enough for a proper mainstream league table, which would be quite robust, and enable us to get out into the sector and say it should be treated with the same kind of respect as the NSS or other scores”. In the meantime, they are shortly to release a pilot table for all the universities that generated a minimum of 25 responses.

This will include a specific score for the “percentage of staff satisfied with how their university is being run”, the nearest direct comparator with the NSS, as well as separate figures for the impact of senior management; their performance, staff well-being and staff dignity (which generally correlated fairly closely).

At only two of the 80 listed universities were more than a third of staff satisfied with how their institution was run. The institution that generated the most (237) responses, the University of Leicester, came 61st, with satisfaction ratings of 5.1 per cent. Next came The Open University with 235 responses, placed 75th with a 1.7 per cent satisfaction rate.

A spokesperson from The Open University said the institution was “disappointed at the limited scope and circulation of this survey, which “produced findings sharply at odds with views expressed by more than 3,000 employees in our most recent staff survey”.

“The OU is undertaking a major transformation programme to improve the experience of students,” the spokesman said. “This will have an impact on staff, so it is not surprising that at a time of uncertainty a small section of our 10,000 staff choose to reflect their concerns in this way.”

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Reader's comments (2)

The typically (but predictably) arrogant and dismissive response from the management quoted perfectly illustrates the confrontational and contemptuous attitude of so many senior university managers, and thus why so many academics are so demoralised and disillusioned, and sick of being treated like dirt.
the term 'malcontent' is unfortunate here. I hope it means that the author doesn't know what it means (someone generally dis-satisfied with everything, for whom nothing will be good enough), rather than as has often been the case, that the Times Higher has drunk the managerialist kool-aid. The person responding on behalf of the OU might usefully undertake it own amazingly good MBA programme (and there are very few of those I can assure you). The complaint about methodology or sample size is the immediate defense of those who have been found-out. Perhaps, alternatively, because the survey conducted here was independent of the institution, people were more honest, and it is more representative. Either way, it is remarkable that commissioners of such surveys leap to defensive responses, rather than gather more data to find out why people feel this way, and what specific changes might change this. You know, social science. Finally as a tip based on a hunch and my own subjective experience, VC's and senior managers might look to the peer reviewed literature on running 'high performance, high commitment organizations'. Again, intuitively, I would speculate that what this suggests as good practice, in terms of trust, autonomy, the task-competence of senior leaders, the role of support service, is the opposite of what happens in many institutions. Bill Cooke

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