The underlying story of discontent and aggressive management at Swansea University’s School of Management (“Academic staff are accused of enjoying ‘lovely cosy lifestyle’ ”, News, 10 July) is, sadly, becoming all too common in UK higher education – and business schools seem to be especially prone to it. What is unusual in this case is the sheer contempt and naked ideological agenda of those involved. Insults about hippy-dippy communes and tie-dyed T-shirts seem more like comments on the Daily Mail website than something you would expect from a senior manager in a university.
But it is not just the nastiness that is striking. What kind of manager, whether in universities or anywhere else, would think that circulating messages like those reported would be conducive even to “a managed institution pursuing goals that are closely aligned with the university’s”, as it is so clumsily expressed? And if it is the case that those leaving are going to “well-regarded universities” doesn’t this rather suggest that, at the most basic level, it is an approach that is delivering failure?
The events at Swansea University’s School of Management sound typical of the increasingly Soviet-style management of too many institutions today. Universities appear to focus on five-year plans, top-down targets, bullying of subordinates to achieve them, endless decrees from the centre, repeated monitoring exercises and appraisals, perpetual reorganisations and intimidating state-sponsored inspections (periodic programme reviews, institutional audits, the research excellence framework) to ensure compliance – all justified by the Orwellian use of “accountability”.
The more that Conservatives, New Labour and higher education managers preach the need to embrace “the market”, the more authoritarian and dictatorial is the managerialist regime imposed to make the market work!
The other irony is that a private sector company that suffered just 2 per cent of the hyper-managerialism and state interference that universities are subjected to would be forced out of business after a couple of months.