Poll points to distrust of 'petty' managers

December 18, 2008

"Wholly ineffective and probably incapable of running a whelk stall," was one of the less flattering opinions of managers expressed in a survey of higher education staff.

Other responses included a lecturer's description of university leaders as "top-down petty bureaucrats whose main interest is in making money", and a professor's complaint that "at senior level the quality of management and leadership is unacceptable - there is a serious lack of accountability".

The comments were made to researchers who investigated levels of trust in higher and further education institutions. They presented their results last week to the Society for Research into Higher Education.

Around 40 per cent of respondents identified problems with the management culture of their institution, with a majority of these feeling that their leaders had "high concern for the task, low concern for the people".

Of the 145 participants, 65 had significant concerns about poor leadership and a lack of values among managers, with one programme leader from a London university citing "countless examples of middle and senior managers who lack breadth of view and are defensive".

"They tend to miss out on opportunities, put down people with things to offer, demotivate people around them (and) foster ineffective practices," they said.

There were also a significant number of respondents who were positive, with a third of those surveyed saying their managers had "high concern for outcomes and high concern for people".

The paper, by Jill Jameson of the University of Greenwich, concludes that a significant number of academics feel they are living in an era of increasingly managerialist attitudes, while "values-based" leadership is lacking.

"Academic staff found it hard to trust coercive managers: they could, and did, by contrast, resist 'new managerialist' trends," says the report.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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