September 06, 2007

Former polytechnics spread their wings

Fifteen years after John Major turned polys into 'new universities', the diversity that grew out of that change is breeding success. Tony Tysome, who reported on the reforms at the time, takes stock.

It has been described as both the best and the worst thing to happen to British higher education. Though some still criticise the decision to allow the former polytechnics to become "new" universities 15 years ago, most now generally accept that it was the right move and that it has helped the sector respond to 21st-century challenges...

Neil Williamson is a member of the University and College Union national executive who has witnessed rapid changes at De Montfort University, where he has been a lecturer since it dropped the title of Leicester Polytechnic. He said the impact on staff has inevitably been higher workloads and more work related stress.

"This has not been helped by the fact that the new universities have tended to adopt a more managerial approach to governance than the old universities, and there have been some glaring examples of bad practice.

From: Times Higher Education Supplement

Much more can be said about the management and leadership of some of the ex-polytechnics beyond 'some glaring examples of bad practice'. In some cases, managers became 'professors' without the expertise, knowledge and will to demonstrate management and academic leadership. In some ex-polytechnics staff are managed by 'professors' too busy in promoting their ego than caring about workplace welfare.

The new playground for some of these 'professors' is indeed the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (now Universities UK). We are all 'principals' and 'vice-chancellors' now...

'Higher workloads and more work related stress' are often associated with hierarchical structures that lack accountability, transparency and good staff-management relations. Some older universities may not be exempt from this criticism, but certainly some ex-polytechnics are prime examples of poor staff-management relations.

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