Dr Edwin Bacon
Birkbeck, University of London
Stimulus Paper, April 2014
University staff are their institutions’ key resource. They are an intelligent, articulate and highly educated group. Despite this, university staff in the UK have little say in how their institutions are managed. As the survey in this paper shows, they would like a more decisive and influential voice. It is over two decades since the collegiality of yesteryear was deemed unviable for modern universities and a new managerial approach became the norm. However, the managerial initiatives which seemed shiny and new then have lost both lustre and novelty now. Current management research argues that hierarchical models are outdated and inappropriate in knowledge-based sectors. Technological advances offer previously undreamed of ways for staff across universities to influence, interact and take decisions. Flatter structures enable greater autonomy and flexibility serving more effectively the needs of student and academic, teaching and research. Neo-collegiality is not about a return to some largely imagined cloistered past. It recognises the necessity of many of the changes wrought by the New Public Management reforms of previous decades. However, neo-collegiality asserts that the time is now ripe for managerial paradigms to shift. Neo-collegiality offers the restoration of broader, more collegial decision-making processes to create a professional, efficient and appropriately 21st century management approach. Such processes engage academic and professional staff across institutions, adopting and adapting a range of flexible and innovative means as appropriate to the distinctive features of individual universities in the UK’s large and varied higher education sector.
“Around four in 10 university employees feel unable to make their voices heard within their institutions, according to preliminary findings from the first Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey”.1 This figure was confirmed by the survey’s final results.2
Excluding the “don’t knows” from this 2013 survey, around half of all employees in UK universities say that they are unable to make their voice heard within their institution. So stark a finding is unsurprising, confirming trends noted for many years by research into management in the UK’s higher education institutions.
Lack of surprise should not equate to lack of concern. Such voicelessness represents a failure of university management and governance.
University staff are – by and large – highly educated, intelligent and articulate people. They represent the key resource held by their institutions.
Nor are staff merely a resource.
This stimulus paper aims at a large target: the underlying principles of university management. Its central premise is that the time is ripe for a re-alignment of managerial approach in the UK university sector. Such a time occurs rarely, perhaps every couple of decades, but is now overdue.
The paper gives a name - neo-collegiality - to a viable and emergent management paradigm.
Overarching all of the above, this stimulus paper seeks to spark debate among those
who would lead and manage our universities.
1 Parr (2013)
2 Times Higher Education (30 January 2014)
3 Barnett (1999)
4 Hamel (2007; 2012)
5 Pink (2009)
6 Macfarlane (2005)