Could standard management practices work in HE?

Economic and social research council

Standard management practices may have more influence on universities’ performance than traditionally thought, a report by the University of Bristol suggests.

The paper  Herding Cats? Management and University Performance challenges a commonly expressed view that managing academics is, like “herding cats”, either impossible or pointless.

The report is based on a examination of nearly 250 departments across more than 100 UK universities.

Positive correlation

Using a system based on a tried and tested measure of management practices, the researchers found that high scores positively correlate with good performances in external assessments of both research and teaching.

The report reveals clear differences across institutions, particularly by university type. Departments in older and more research-intensive universities tending to be better managed than those in newer and more teaching-focused universities, it says.

The biggest difference is in managerial practices relating to incentives for recruitment and retention of staff, it notes.

Limited competition

The report suggests that one reason why newer universities do not adopt the research-intensive universities’ model may be the limited competition between the two university types.

The report also finds that management scores at the department level are more important than those at the university level.

The measure of management practices used by the researchers has been used in the past to predict the performance of private sector firms.

They used the tool to examine the relationship between management scores and a number of externally collected measures of performance, covering both research and teaching.

Herding Cats? Management and University Performance was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through Bristol’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

Rosie Niven
Rosie is the content editor at Efficiency Exchange