Trent shake-up follows staff poll

July 9, 2004

A major senior management shake-up at Nottingham Trent University has come after a damning poll that showed that a third of staff had no confidence in their managers.

The results of the survey, carried out in May and June last year by Mori, have been leaked to The Times Higher as the university prepares next month to implement a new strategic plan - with a different management team and reformed college structure.

The poll, which received 1,300 responses, found that 39 per cent of staff had no confidence in senior management. Only 22 per cent said they had confidence, with a third not committing to a view.

Almost half the staff, 48 per cent, thought that senior management "are not interested in listening to staff opinions" and almost the same proportion, 46 per cent, agreed that "speaking up on issues where you disagree with senior management can damage your career prospects".

This week, NTU said the survey showed that the university, like any large organisation, faced challenges, but it had already initiated a major shake-up of senior management since the poll, and had drawn up its strategic plan to 2010 according to staff views.

Since the poll, the university has appointed a new vice-chancellor, Neil Gorman, from Mars Incorporated, two new pro vice-chancellors, Peter Jones and Trevor Palmer, a new finance and operations director and four heads of college. A section on human resources - stressing that "NTU is a people business", "relying almost entirely on our staff to deliver our mission" - was written explicitly in response to the Mori poll.

A university spokeswoman said that as well as the management changes "a number of initiatives have been instigated which take staff views and aspirations into account. The feedback has been used as a basis for the new strategic plan".

But the poll results were leaked this week to highlight continued staff concerns about a lack of consultation and the general strategic direction of the university, which was also raised with the university by lecturers'

union Natfhe.

The plan says: "Traditionally, universities have shied away from the word 'customer'. At NTU, in a fee-paying age, we feel the time is right to make this word part of our discourse."

The plan says: "NTU, like all universities, has to address the lack of appeal of the classical pure science subjects... similarly, there has been a sharp decline in the popularity of engineering courses nationally."

It adds: "We will no longer offer pure chemistry, physics, or mathematics at honours degree level." But it says these subjects will "underpin" refocused science provision geared more towards "platform technologies that span a number of disciplines", including biotechnology and biosciences.

Engineering provision "will be focused on innovative product-related activity".

Sue Davies, regional official for Natfhe, said: "The members on the ground are concerned that the management have placed undue emphasis on embracing the marketisation and commodification of higher education, which is at odds with the culture, values and beliefs of our members."

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

'DOG'S DINNER' THAT'S HARD TO SWALLOW

* Staff concern about relations with senior management at Nottingham Trent were highlighted this week in a spoof press release to The Times Higher , launching a new "education product" from NTU - Polydegree dog food.

A professionally designed dog food label, subheaded "making a dog's dinner of the university since 2003", reads: "We've abandoned any commitment to research, we've imposed a top-down model of course development which threatens academic freedom, but we are passionate about providing educational nutrition, delivered in bite-size chunks."

The accompanying press release says: "Despite the strong concerns expressed by staff (in the Mori poll) regarding both their lack of influence over decisions made and the lack of transparency of decision-making, the strategic plan was drafted amid great secrecy without any consultation with ordinary academics."

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