Leader or manager?

September 12, 2003

Your report "Foreign signings plug gaps" and the soapbox by Stephen Watson ( THES, September 5) have implications that need exploring.

Watson confuses leadership and management, and the distinction is crucial in higher education where the balance can be the difference between an effective organisation and one that is less so.

The centralised versus collegial debate needs more than Watson's unfounded assertions about collegiate (sic) approaches. Where is his evidence that the collegial ideal no longer works? The drift over the past decade has been to a corporate-bureaucracy model, where internal policies and processes are overly determined by external agencies. This has stifled the collegial enterprise culture through a central power aimed more at risk avoidance than at supporting creativity in diverse manifestations. Such creativity and diversity mean investing more in middle management and vesting more authority at the points where staff deal with the different communities and clients of the institution, rather than with state agencies. So confidence in colleagues and trust must replace unconfident, mistrustful, centralised control in a bully and blame culture.

Three further points. Just because someone is from overseas does not make them better. The examples of vice-chancellors you cite are mainly not yet in post, and the record of some others is mixed. Second, Ivor Crewe's assertion that the best measure of the quality of management is output ignores the work of those who achieve the output - students and staff, many of whom, research shows, subvert the "management" to achieve good results.

Third, the power to dismiss staff is there and is exercised.

Finally, there is research on these issues within the UK. Perhaps we should be more aware of it, listen more and read more. We do, after all, expect people to take note of the research we do in other professional domains.

Ian McNay
Professor emeritus, higher education and management
University of Greenwich

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