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'Universities under New Labour - senior leaders' responses to government reforms and policy levers - findings from an ESRC project on public service leadership'

Rosemary Deem, Dean of Faculty of History and Social Sciences & Professor of Higher Education Management, Royal Holloway, University of London. Email: [email protected]

ersc change agent project framework grant no r000231136
ERSC ‘Change Agent Project’ framework(grant no: R000231136)
  • Focus: New Labour’s reforms to England’s public services in health & education since 1997 & discourses of change in key government & New Labour documents
  • Examining NL’s concentration on inspirational leadership & leadership development in public services - move away from new managerialism (Deem et al 2007) to leaderism (O’Reilly and Reed 2010)
  • Investigating leaders’ roles as change agents & experience of leadership development in: hospitals, primary care trusts, secondary schools, universities (Wallace, O’Reilly et al 2010)
  • Examined 3 national leadership development bodies (NLDBs) : NHSIII, NCSL, LFHE
change agent project 2006 2009 methodology
‘Change Agent Project’ 2006-2009: methodology
  • Contrasts fully 2 publicly funded services (NHS hospitals & PCTs, schools) with HE which is part public/part private
  • Critical discourse analysis of New Labour’s reform plans for health, schools and HE (from government & party documents) 1997-2007
  • Interviews with leaders/aspiring leaders in 4 sectors (twice over 2 year period), officers & trainers in NLDBs; key stakeholders (eg BMA, NUT, UUK, UCU), policy makers
  • Draw here on 30 interviews with VCs, DVCs/PVCs, Deans & senior administrators from 6 pre- & post-1992 universities in England conducted in 2007 & 19 repeat interviews in 2008

Contrasts fully 2 publicly funded services (

new labour new leaders leadership and change in public services 1997 2007
New Labour, New Leaders? Leadership and change in public services 1997-2007
  • Debate: how much has NL followed & developed Tory policies or devised its own (Newman 2001: Driver & Martell 2006)? Third Way (Giddens 1998, 2000) dropped post 2001
  • No single public service modernisation project - Private Finance Initiative buildings; markets; networks; use of voluntary sector; privatisation; targets; personalisation; public engagement with services; use of political advisers in civil service depts
  • NL switched from new managerialism to leadership as way of transforming services (though NM still present), ( ‘failing’ schools and use of super-heads?) also NL under Blair captivated by charismatic leadership? Leaderism re-asserts centralisation
  • NCSL founded 2000, NHSIII from 3 previous organisations 2005, LFHE 2004
university leaders conceptions of leadership and change agency
University leaders’ conceptions of leadership and change agency
  • Most VCS, PVCs, Deans interviewed happy to be called academic and strategic leaders rather than managers (not a revelation - see Deem et al 2001, Middlehurst 1992);
  • Senior administrators more comfortable with being regarded as managers
  • Most agreed they were involved with fostering change but not all felt they were change agents (only 8 identified with this) and some distaste for being change agents on behalf of government
  • Some indication of belief in Gronn’s (2000, 2002) idea of distributed leadership – Faculty & dept management teams, role of committees acknowledged (cf Bolden et al 2008) & hence not quite conforming to Burton Clark’s 1997 central steering core - a measure of decentralisation
university leaders conceptions of leadership
University leaders’ conceptions of leadership
  • {the role} it's about the strategic development and leadership of the institution, to encourage people to think about how they can develop the institution, to think about how they can develop initiatives, to encourage people to move areas on, to innovate, to change, to really make the university an exciting place to be (male VC, Hopton pre-1992)
  • {I am involved in} leadership. Management is slightly different. I don't line-manage, with the exception of one very small unit … the model in my university is that PVCs do not line-manage, they lead across the institution. Deans line-manage, PVCs cut across, and Deans and PVCs are on an equal footing in terms of our organisational map (female PVC, Furzedown, pre-1992)
university leaders conceptions of leadership and change
University leaders’ conceptions of leadership and change
  • Implementing government reform? I think I'm responding to it, and there's a whole set of things that I'm doing at the moment … I'd hate to be a sort of ‘kept’ change agent on behalf of the government, if you see what I mean (male DVC, Furzedown, pre-1992)
  • when I was a Head of Department, one of reasons I got very frustrated with the job is that I didn't seem to be able to act as an agent of change, that I was simply reactive and never proactive, and my hope, and my expectation is, in this new role, the balance between reaction and being proactive will alter (female Dean, Parklane, post 1992)
  • any change in the organisation will have financial ramifications … therefore you've got to look at what that will mean to income and expenditure streams, and the balances between different activities, because obviously … you don't want to destabilise in doing that (female Senior Administrator, Longley, post-1992)
the leadership foundation for higher education an independent organisation
The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education: an independent organisation?
  • LFHE itself asserts its independence, though still currently gets HEFCE funding as well as course fees
  • 18/30 interviewees had first hand experience of LFHE short events but only 12 had substantial experience of it (e.g Top Management Programme or Senior Strategic Leaders)
  • Respondents felt that LFHE did not push any particular model of change but rather offered a broad range of perspectives
  • Generally LFHE not thought to promote Government’s thinking on public service modernisation (& is HE still a public service anyway?) but does it offer radical alternatives?
the leadership foundation for he support for government reforms
The Leadership Foundation for HE: support for government reforms?

I mean the thing about the Top Management Programme is … the best bits of it are about reflection and being exposed to a variety of different ideas, and the other part is just, again, you know, it's the networking thing, sharing common experiences, so no, they didn't promote any particular... I mean they promoted the idea that change was an important thing that you had to deal with, and they said, you know … the different ways of meeting it. (male DVC, Furzedown, pre-1992)

  • there were aspects that were to do with the wider education environment and government reforms, but …there was in no way a targeting towards that, I wouldn't say, no (male Associate Dean, Littleoaks, post 1992)
  • It wasn't specifically about {being} a change agent, but it did acknowledge that the one constant in higher education is change (female Dean, ParkLane, post 1992)
reshaping higher education whose agenda
Reshaping higher education – whose agenda?
  • Pre-1992 VCs rather cynical about government approach to reshaping universities
  • New Labour thought by most to be inconsistent: no ‘joined up’ approach, contradictory policies (variable fees + WP + penalise drop out; all to be world class universities but selective QR funding), reducing public contribution whilst increasing regulation: government not steering at a distance but actively ‘micromanaging’ cf 2009 ‘Higher Ambitions’ policy paper
  • Also several VCs expressed view that government does not really understand how universities work
  • Post-1992 VCs more equivocal about opposing government
reshaping higher education whose agenda1
Reshaping higher education – whose agenda?
  • General view emerging from respondents was that they tried to mediate government reforms & adapt these to local circumstances; in 2nd interviews 13/19 said this (higher than in other 3 sectors)
  • 2 kinds of Government policies: sector-wide and special initiatives for bidding (eg CETLs Gosling & Hannan 2008); latter often led to bitterness if not funded
  • Interviewees (VCs especially) also significantly involved in internal re-shaping of universities as organisations (e.g centralising & streamlining academic units, cf Taylor 2006)
  • Some respondents found a coincidence of personal values with particular government policies (e.g widening participation)but this was never across the broad range of government policies
reshaping higher education whose agenda2
Reshaping higher education – whose agenda?
  • I resent the fact that the government gives us 30% of the money, they think they can control 100% of what we do. So, I object to that very much, and I'm a very staunch advocate of more autonomy because the more successful universities in the world have the greatest autonomy (male VC, Furzedown, pre-1992)
  • Well, they expect us to be able to run our universities in a financially sustainable way, I think that's at the top of the list. Having achieved financial sustainability, I think they then look to us to deliver to their agenda, but they don't necessarily resource it, to give an example, there's lots of noise about STEM {science, technology, engineering and medicine} subjects at the moment, but no sign of additional government funding for STEM subjects, or any measures to encourage students to apply for STEM subjects, like lower fees or anything, so, {then} they say, why don't you produce more physicists? (male PVC, Longley, post-1992)
reshaping higher education whose agenda3
Reshaping higher education – whose agenda?
  • I think they want leaders to comply. You know, they come out with some statements from the Department, or from Ministers who are singularly ill-informed, and don't really understand how universities work (male DVC, Parklane, post-1992)
  • when I promote widening participation, I don't necessarily think of it as a government policy. I think it's something that I think is really good for people to engage in higher education and be part of it. That's my starting point. It happens that doing that also delivers on a government objective (Male VC, Hopton, pre-1992)
  • We, we are independent; I mean universities are independent institutions. That said, we get the majority of our funding from HEFCE … so we have a responsibility to be responsive to the country's needs, but I suspect that a university like this, post-'92, big widening access agenda, sees life in those terms much more than Oxford or Cambridge, or a Russell Group university, who are much more inclined to stand proud of government (female VC, Little Oaks, post-1992)
which policy levers work in english he
Which policy levers work in English HE?
  • Respondents’ answers:
  • Research Assessment Exercise (research quality audit)
  • Anything involving money
  • Markets (for students)
  • National Student Survey
  • Minority responses: TQEF, leadership initiatives, ELQ
effective government policy levers
Effective government policy levers
  • Money is the answer. That’s what motivates the academic world. I don’t mean personally, but for their activity (VC Furzedown)
  • I think there are a number of things that are externally driven …[inspection and quality regimes, RAE systems, particular pockets of targeted funding] … and the institution has to decide either, or react to it, or not react to it…our policy has been to react to it, because we want to see the university perform as strongly as it possibly can [but]…you can’t do everything. So you have to select (VC Hopton)
  • I mean I think within the institution the way that over the years the National Student Survey has been operating, that’s actually focused quite a number of institutions … (Male PVC Longley)
  • Well, this sounds terribly glib, but it’s the market, and I mean, you know, it may not be popular and it may not be something mostly I’d like to admit to, but I think it’s very difficult to buck the market.( VC Valley)
cap project comparison he and other sectors
CAP project comparison HE and other sectors
  • In schools, most leaders saw themselves as change agents
  • Secondary school leaders largely supportive of government reform agenda & accepted that part of leadership role was to be responsive
  • Those who want to become headteachers in England have to do NCSL qualification (NPQH)
  • Most viewed development undertaken positively
  • All school leaders saw their beliefs and values about leadership as largely grounded in their wider professional experience, not in training
cap project comparison he and other sectors1
CAP project comparison HE and other sectors
  • In health sector, almost all leaders saw themselves as change agents
  • Most described themselves as implementers of government-reforms, but qualified this role in terms of focusing on the health of their local communities (PCTs) or responding in relation to their hospital (HTs)
  • About half of PCT leaders and almost all HT leaders had undertaken leadership development but while most PCT leaders felt it had shaped their thinking, HT leaders saw it as supplementary to experience
conclusion what is the role of university leaders in reshaping uk universities
Conclusion: what is the role of university leaders in reshaping UK universities?
  • Tide is turning against HE as a public service - variable fees a watershed Some cynicism about New Labour’s reform attempts
  • Most respondents wanted less government interference (especially as linked to less money) & tried to ameliorate effects of shifting & contradictory government policies
  • VCs active in shaping/reshaping own institutions with help of senior management teams (closer to distributed rather than charismatic leadership) cf Bolden et al 2008
what is the role of university leaders in reshaping universities in england
What is the role of university leaders in reshaping universities in England?
  • Post 1992s more concerned to do government’s bidding
  • Respondents claimed to adapt government policies to local context and pursue own initiatives
  • Yet aside from organisational restructuring, how much evidence is there of HE distance from government agendas? (e,g use of block grant, QR)
  • As a sector, compared with HE in some other EU countries, UK HE leaders not very resistant to government and speak with divided voice (Russell Group, 94 group, Million Plus etc) - election prospects and post election HE funding hence at risk
  • Clark, B. (1998). Creating Entrepreneurial Universities: Organisational pathways of transformation. New York & Amsterdam, Elsevier.
  • Deem, R., O. Fulton, M. Reed and S. Watson (2001) "‘Managing UK Universities – manager-academics and new managerialism’." Online Journal of Academic Leadership1. from
  • Deem, R., O. Fulton, R. Johnson, S. Hillyard, M. Reed, et al. (2001). New Managerialism and the Management of UK Universities. End of Award Report. Swindon.
  • Deem, R., S. Hillyard and M. Reed (2007). Knowledge, Higher Education and the New Managerialism: The Changing Management of UK Universities. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2009). Higher Ambitions - the future of universities in a knowledge economy. London, Department for Business Innovation and Skills
  • Driver, S. and L. Martell (2006). New Labour: Politics after Thatcherism. Cambridge, Polity Press.
references continued
References continued
  • Giddens, A. (1998). The Third Way. The renewal of social democracy. Cambridge, Polity Press.
  • Giddens, A. (2000). The Third Way and its Critics. Cambridge, Polity Press.
  • Gosling, D. and A. Hannan (2007). "Responses to a policy initiative: the case of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning." Studies in Higher Education32(5): 633-646.
  • Middlehurst, R. (1993). Leading Academics. Buckingham, Open University Press.
  • Newman, J. (2001). Modernising governance : New Labour, policy and society. London, Sage 2001.
  • O'Reilly, D. and M. Reed (2010). "‘Leaderism’: an evolution of managerialism in UK public service reform." Public Administration.
  • Taylor, J. (2006). ""Big is Beautiful." Organisational change in universities in the United Kingdom: new models of institutional management and the changing role of academic staff. Higher Education in Europe." Higher Education in Europe,31(3): 251-273.
  • Wallace, M., D. O'Reilly, J. Morris and R. Deem (2010). "Public service leaders as ‘change agents’ - for whom? Responses to leadership development provision in England, ." Public Management Review.