Study finds heads 'out of touch'

December 24, 1999

Universities are becoming "fractured" communities, thanks to the emergence of a cadre of senior manager-academics who have lost touch with teaching and research, a national study has found, writes Tony Tysome.

Many vice-chancellors and pro vice-chancellors see themselves as leaders of corporate enterprises or businesses and are concerned mainly with the "bottom line" rather than academic considerations, a report on the study says.

Some vice-chancellors see themselves as dealing with "intransigent, territorial and inward-focused academics", while pro vice-chancellors see the wider academic community as "a source of resistance, obstruction and frustration".

Heads of departments, although more in touch with academics, "often face isolation from colleagues as a result of having to interpret and implement demands from above". The findings of the study by Lancaster University researchers were presented last week to the Society for Research into Higher Education's annual conference in Manchester.

Interviews revealed that "concern for control, discipline and regulation of the workforce appeared more important than subject discipline at senior management team level". Below the top management "cadre", manager-academics view each other as "potential rivals", thanks to new working conditions, the way resources are allocated and competition for students.

A shift towards quality assurance systems with a greater managerial and staff development focus is encouraging moves to institution-wide rather than departmental values, a report presented to the conference says. It suggests that where quality assurance concentrates on the audit of institutional procedures rather than direct assessment of departmental work it is "more likely to promote institutional over basic unit values".

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