Old and new cloisters ring to the march of the managers

Academic and support staff report shift to culture of commerce, paper reveals. John Morgan writes

August 26, 2010

Staff in universities new and old perceive a common shift towards a managerialist culture that views higher education "as a business", a journal paper argues.

"The Move towards Managerialism", published in the latest edition of Tertiary Education and Management, analyses the results of a survey of staff at different UK institutions.

The authors asked for views on the impact of tuition fees and research assessment, whether higher education is seen as a business or product in their institution, and the role of academics in decision-making. They analyse 314 responses from ancient, redbrick, plate-glass and post-1992 universities.

With respondents asked to reply on a scale of one to five (five being strong agreement), the highest level of consensus comes in response to the statement "higher education is seen as a business".

That produces mean average scores of 3.8 for ancient universities, 4.1 for redbricks, 4.3 for plate-glass universities and 4.4 for post-92s.

The paper was written by Seng-Kiat Kok of Durham University and Alex Douglas, Bob McClelland and David Bryde of the Liverpool Business School at Liverpool John Moores University. They argue that the "move towards managerialism" has more of a "shock" effect on staff in older universities.

"It is clear that, although all university types are leaning towards more managerialistic considerations and view higher education as becoming more commercially focused, it is the traditional university that is most affected," the authors write.

"Their previous collegial approaches towards quality in research and teaching have been diluted by the increasing focus on cost-effectiveness, the need for greater student numbers, and moves towards more corporate-like orientations.

"Although staff members at traditional universities reacted less strongly to the statement than those of new universities, it nonetheless confirms that movement towards managerialistic orientation and profitability is clearly under way."

Most post-92 universities have their roots in local authority institutions, so administrators tend to play a strong management role, with less emphasis placed on academic self-governance.

In redbrick and plate-glass universities, academic senates and boards have traditionally played a key role in academic decisions.

Ancient universities maintain the strongest traditions of academic self-governance, with the University of Oxford's Congregation and the University of Cambridge's Regent House the governing bodies for those institutions.

The survey found support for the statement "top-up fees have caused universities to be more commercially focused". This produces an average score of 3.5 at ancient universities, 3.8 at redbricks, 3.8 at plate glasses and 4.2 at post-92s.

But there is also support for the statement "academic decisions are made by academics". This produces a score of 3.3 at plate-glass universities, 3.5 at post-92s, 3.8 at the redbricks and 3.9 at the ancients.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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