Leaders and managers – the next bit of People

After a bit of an absence, time to get back to the thesis. The following continues the recent work on the People component of the Ps Framework. So far, I’ve done students and teaching/academic staff. This post looks at leaders and managers (badly). I’m working on a section or two on technical and instructional design staff.

It doesn’t end strongly, but care factor is low.

Leaders and managers

The leaders and managers within a university context impact upon the practice of e-learning in a number of ways. In the main because it is they who often regulate and sometimes mandate the use of technology (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004). No matter how enlightened these individuals are the constraints they exert on the system inevitably shape what is done with it, possibly in ways that may be less than ideal for local needs (Dron 2006). The conditions under which e-learning is introduced or operates is shaped by agendas of those in management positions (Clegg, Hudson et al. 2003). Rather than being of itself liberating or empowering technology serves whichever goals motivate the people guiding its design and use (Lian 2000). The directions taken by management, due to the structure and operation of some institutions, need not be consistent across the institution. Policy choices by school or departmental leaders can result in significant diversity across the many schools or departments (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004).

There have been a number of calls for stronger leaders within universities whom can lead to a higher level of contribution and renew public trust (Middlehurst 2008). However, the nature of academic leadership is contested and there is a wider leadership problem in higher education being shaped by responses to the changing purposes and values of higher education (Smith and Adams 2008). As pointed out by Bolden (Bolden 2004) there is no widely accepted definition of leadership, no consensus on how best to develop leaders and leadership, and little evidence of the impact of leadership on performance and productivity. There is not enough known about what makes for an effective leader within a university and consequently what can make them ineffective (Bryman 2007). However, findings from numerous studies illustrate that university leadership theory and practice needs to understand and respond to the specific institutional and societal context within which the leader is located (Middlehurst 2008).

University managers and leaders, like the rest of the institution, are having to cope with rapid changes within the broader society (insert cross reference to society section) that have fundamental implications for the shape and role of higher education. Within contexts shaped by government and industry university administrators are struggling to find sustainable competitive advantage in a system of mass higher education and declining public investment (Goodyear and Ellis 2008). University leadership are facing the problems that arise from two competing and even contradictory needs: public accountability, and institutional autonomy and diversity (Smith and Adams 2008). The need to address public accountability, occasionally or often at the expense of academic values, creates a distance between academic staff – focusing on academic values – and leadership – focusing on compliance and accountability (Radloff 2008). There is an inevitable tension between leadership aligned with creativity, and management aligned with constrained resources and accountability requirements (Middlehurst 2008).

In response to these conditions of rapid change university management has resorted to managerialism, the application of highly modernist practices in which efficiency is the bottom line (Blackmore and Sachs 2000). It has been observed that just as management theorists were pointing to universities as possible prototypes for the organizations of the future, many universities were adopting a management model rooted in an earlier age and a different organizational setting (Middlehurst 2008). The increasing complexity and specialization of functions within universities has expanded the role of administrators and blurred the boundary between policy-making and policy implementation, tasks that should remain separate (Middlehurst 2008).

Further complicating the task of leadership is the observation that trust in senior management by academics is crumbling (Radloff 2008; Smith and Adams 2008). There are high levels of cynicism toward management’s religious fervour for the tools of managerialism – such as strategic planning, visionary leadership and quality assurance – and yet academics are expected to adhere to these as loyal corporate citizens (Blackmore and Sachs 2000). Central to the tension between these cultures is the distinct forms and divergent understandings of the same forms of language that reflect and promote different perceptions of reality and value (Findlow 2008). This is increasingly problematic as trust in senior management is a predictor of staff commitment to the university (Winefield, Boyd et al. 2008) and therefore of their willingness to engage within institutional priorities such as improving the quality of learning and teaching (Radloff 2008). A survey of UK academic staff found significantly lower commitment levels, with staff particularly concerned by the lack of value and trust they perceived from the organizations (Tytherleigh, Webb et al. 2005).

When it comes to e-learning university administrators find their own users for e-learning that are largely unencumbered by evidence of pedagogical benefit or even by concerns for improvements in the quality of educational outcomes (Goodyear and Ellis 2008). Senior management often perceive infrastructure and information technology as costs to be minimised (Jones 2004). Information technology is seen by university management as a branding tool, as providing a high-tech veneer onto low-tech practices, and as a means to reach hitherto physically inaccessible but potentially lucrative student markets (Selwyn 2007). Few administrative staff adequately understand the nature and implications of digital technology and university leaders feel uncomfortable dealing with related issues (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). Perhaps not the best foundation for a group that will inevitably shape the institutional implementation of e-learning.


Blackmore, J. and J. Sachs (2000). "Paradoxes of leadership and management in higher education in times of change: some Australian reflections." International Journal of Leadership in Education 3(1): 1-16.

Bolden, R. (2004). What is leadership? Exeter, University of Exeter and SW of England Regional Development Agency.

Bryman, A. (2007). Effective Leaderhip in Higher Education: Summary of findings, Leadership Foundation for HIgher Education.

Clegg, S., A. Hudson, et al. (2003). "The Emperor’s new clothes: globalisation and e-learning in higher education." British Journal of Sociology of Education 24(1): 39-53.

Dron, J. (2006). Any color you like, as long as it’s Blackboard. World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare and Higher Education, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, AACE.

Duderstadt, J., D. Atkins, et al. (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn, Praeger Publishers.

Dutton, W., P. Cheong, et al. (2004). "The social shaping of a virtual learning environment: The case of a University-wide course management system." Electronic Journal of e-Learning 2(1): 69-80.

Findlow, S. (2008). "Accountability and innovation in higher education: a disabling tension?" Studies in Higher Education 33(3): 313-329.

Goodyear, P. and R. A. Ellis (2008). "University students’ approaches to learning: rethinking the place of technology." Distance Education 29(2): 141-152.

Jones, D. (2004). "The conceptualisation of e-learning: Lessons and implications." Best practice in university learning and teaching: Learning from our Challenges.  Theme issue of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development 1(1): 47-55.

Lian, A. (2000). Knowledge transfer and technology in education: Toward a complete learning environment. Educational Technology & Society. 3.

Middlehurst, R. (2008). "Not enough science or not enough learning? Exploring the gaps between leadership theory and practice." Higher Education Quarterly 62(4): 322-339.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.

Selwyn, N. (2007). "The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: a critical perspective." Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 23(2): 83-94.

Smith, D. and J. Adams (2008). "Academics or executives? Continuity and change in the roles of pro-vice-chancellors." Higher Education Quarterly 62(4): 340-357.

Tytherleigh, M. Y., C. Webb, et al. (2005). "Occupational stress in UK higher education institutions: a comparative study of all staff categories." Higher Education Research & Development 24(1): 41-61.

Winefield, A., C. Boyd, et al. (2008). Job stress in university staff: An Australian research study. Bowen Hills, Australia, Australian Academic Press.

Occupational stress in Australian University Staff

Currently reading Winefield et al (2003) as part of writing my thesis, thought I’d share some of the points and reflections here.

University well-being and staff well-being

The paper abstract ends with the following

At the aggregate level, self-report measures of psychological well-being were highly correlated with objective measures of university well-being (investment income, student–staff ratios, and recent cuts in staffing levels and in government operating grants).

A finding that is particularly relavent/worrying given recent events at my current institution.

Stress and control

Quotes a “demand-control theory of job stress” that suggests jobs with high levels of control/autonomy should not be stressful, even if jobs are demanding. Stressful jobs are those with low control.

The rise of minimum course website standards, fixed and external deadlines and many other impacts of managerialisation seem to be taking a traditionally high control job back to low control.

In fact that seems to the question the paper is looking at, it appears academics are losing control, which means that levels of stress should be rising. Ahh, this paper reports results from the first survey – not yet longitudinal. However, the work seems to have made it into book form.


Apparently paper-based surveys with general demographic information, code identifier (to allow longitudinal comparison), psychological strain (using 12 item General Health Questionnaire) and job satisfaction (15 items from Warr, Cook and Wall (1979))

17 universities participated, response rate of 25% for a total of 8732 noncasual employees – general and academic.


  • Groups showing highest level of psychological strain were academic teaching and research staff and academic teaching only staff.
  • No difference between men and women.
  • % of people who might be possible cases of psychological disorders
    • Australian population – 12%.
    • Academic staff – 43%
    • General staf – 37%
  • Groups with lowest job satisfaction – teaching only, followed by teaching and research group.
  • Men had lower satisfaction than women.


The research method was based on fairly standard survey measures. I believe that the context at my host institution is only decreasing the level of autonomy for individual teaching staff. So an application of this survey to current staff should reveal some interesting results. Particularly, if it is done across the board for all staff, including those at campuses which are employed as casual staff. i.e. those that have even less control.

Such information, if gathered appropriately might provide some ammunition to support arguments to the hierarchy for changes in actions.


Winefield, A. H., N. Gillespie, et al. (2003). “Occupational stress in Australian university staff: Results from a national survey.” International Journal of Stress Management 10(1): 51-63.

When senior management lose the plot

I’m currently working on the “Leaders and managers” part of the People component of the Ps Framework for my thesis. As part of the reading for that section I came across the following quote. It turns out I won’t use it directly in the thesis and I need to save it for future work/reference. I’m also taking the opportunity to track down and record a bit more information about it.

To me, it summarises the key problem and point about university leadership. Over the years I’ve been an observer of too much “eating of the seed-corn”.

The quote

I came across the quote in Radloff (2008), it is

New-style university managements are, actually, counter-productive. If you piss off your teachers and researchers you are eating the seed-corn, selling the family silver, sapping the life blood…Managerial cynicism is rampant in higher education as never before. They (THEY) don’t care about the poor bloody infantry…People are fed up, they are glad to give up and retire; they are going into internal exile, clock-watching, minimalising their effort.

I’ve just found a more complete version of the quote here(McCaffery 2004, p2)

Bleakly observed, the local institution seems to have thrown in the towel. Degree-factory rhetoric is all we hear. New-style university managements, are, actually, counter-productive. If you piss off your teachers and researchers you are eating the seed-corn, selling the family silver, sapping the life-blood. You would think our institutions were suicidal, the way they treat us – with the bad pay they collude in, the abolition of tenure they have agreed to, the rash economisings by engineering early retirements of good people, with the weekly questionnaires and the constant abuse of our time and energy and their acceptance of piss-poor TQA-inspired formalisms and abomination of abominations, their utter short-termism (their kow-towing to the silly time-scales of the RAE bods, their iniquitous short-term contracts – you can have your job back at the end of the long vacation if you ask nicely). Managerial cynicism is rampant in higher education as never before. They (THEY) don’t care about the poor bloody infantry….People are fed up, they are glad to give up and retire; they are going into internal exile, clock-watching, minimalising their effort. The government-inspired way, the neo-managerial way, is a mess none of us can survive on.

Rambling thoughts

Even if this is seen as a diatribe by a POPO (Geoff Scott’s acronym for a “pissed-off and passed over” member of staff), I feel this is not the example of lone ranger. The feeling is quite widespread, depending on the institution. Even if it is only a perception, it’s an important perception that is going to limit what a university can do.

Any chance of improving learning and teaching in such a context does not have a high probability.

I feel that this perception arises because the new managerial approach focuses too much on level 2 of reflective alignment. It focuses too much on “what management does”. They pass policies, minimum standards etc and expect it to be adopted. Instead they are eating the seed-corn.

These folk need to stop doing things and start understanding and directly aiding “what academics do”. For me, that means institutional attention to institution wide projects like ERPs, LMSes, graduate attributes, minimum standards, eportfolios etc. are all destined to make things worse. As they all ignore the details of the context, of what the academics do in favour of an abstract, institutional level understanding that tends to focus on what management does.


Based on the context for the longer version of the quote it’s from an Oxford Professor of English and was published in the Times Higher Education supplement.

Apparently the Times Higher Education supplement’s archives are not in the Google archive. I had to go to the THE’s site to get the article link.


McCaffery, P. (2004). The higher education manager’s handbook, Routledge.

Radloff, A. (2008). Engaging staff in quality learning and teaching: What’s a Pro Vice Chancellor to do? HERDSA’2008.