Academics too often take the view that the strategic goals of their university are nothing to do with them and work instead to their own agendas, vice-chancellors were told this week.
Universities UK was warned at its meeting in Warwick that senior management was failing to engage academics in planning. This risked serious damage to universities' future performance, said consultants investigating the management of 34 universities.
Education specialists at RSM Robson Rhodes found "serious gaps" in the communication of strategic goals. "The survey has highlighted the existence of a communications vacuum," their report says.
David Barnes, head of the consultants' education group, said that universities were unable to convert strategic goals into individual targets for frontline staff.
Mr Barnes said linking pay to strategic objectives was the way forward. "It is not sufficient for senior management alone to be motivated towards strategic achievement," he said.
The report says that strategic planning has been imposed within a "rigid framework" dictated by funding councils.
The survey found that academics and teaching staff who did not feel part of an inclusive communication process often felt that their institution's strategic goals were nothing to do with them.
The key findings of the survey, which included Russell Group and newer institutions, are:
- Failure to engage academic staff in the strategic process
- Unsuccessful communication of strategic imperatives
- Strategy separated from day-to-day responsibilities
- Lack of focus on the achievement of strategic goals
- Limited use of performance management
- Lack of quantified objectives
- Failure to support strategy with management information, which in many instances is inadequate.
The most successful institutions communicated strategic objectives to all levels of staff. They regularly repeated and reaffirmed the message, the survey found.
Mr Barnes said: "Individuals should be encouraged to focus their efforts on moving the strategy forward without having to think 'today I am going to work on some strategic objectives'. And the management information system must to used be inform these activities."
A third of respondents described their management communication as poor.
Most universities relied on subjective opinions rather than quantifiable measures to determine whether strategic objectives were being achieved.