March 27, 2008

Staff give sector managers low marks

University staff have the worst perceptions of their managers of any employment sector, seeing them as secretive, uncaring and controlling, according to new research. The Work-Life Balance 2007 survey carried out by Coventry University asked 2,300 employees across ten sectors for their opinions on the leadership styles of senior managers in their organisations.

"The results for higher education were far from flattering and among the worst of any sector we analysed," the researchers said. "The leadership styles in higher education were perceived to be predominantly reactive, secretive, inconsistent, demotivating, controlling and indecisive."

More than half of the 300 higher education employees surveyed said that their managers were reactive (53 per cent), secretive (52 per cent) and inconsistent (51 per cent) compared with 40 per cent, 42 per cent and 40 per cent respectively in the private sector.

Only a third of university workers said their leaders were caring, compared with almost half of private-sector respondents. Fewer than a quarter of higher education staff felt that their organisation was loyal to them and that it treated them fairly, while more than 40 per cent of private sector staff felt this way.

University staff were also more likely to say they had experienced bullying by managers and colleagues and more likely to report stress than other workers, the survey found. A quarter of university respondents said they felt stressed all of the time or almost all of the time, compared with 19 per cent of staff in other parts of the public sector and 15 per cent in the private sector.

Ewart Wooldridge, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, said the report made "disturbing reading". "It is the kind of evidence we would want to build into our leadership programmes to help participants reflect on sector-wide issues and take those messages back to their institutions," he said. "We are using research-based evidence of our own as the basis for real-life case studies on a wide range of leadership issues, as we think leaders learn best from reflecting on that reality."

Roger Kline, equalities officer for the University and College Union, said: "The report confirms the results of our own surveys, which show there is an epidemic of stress and bullying arising out of poor management.

"Stress is an institutional issue. Universities should not hide behind the idea that it is good for employees or that it is primarily caused by problems in their personal lives," he said. The UCU wants bullying to be regarded as a workplace hazard that needs risk assessment, Mr Kline said.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association said that the sector placed a "great deal of emphasis" on stress management.

A Ucea spokesman added: "Although this report is based on responses from only 300 higher education sector academic and support staff, there are considerations for all levels of staff. It is reassuring to note that many institutions have exemplary policies and procedures in place to tackle issues such as stress, bullying and harassment."

From:, by Melanie Newman
Academic managers are predominantly reactive, secretive, inconsistent, demotivating, controlling and indecisive. - YEAP.

Fewer than a quarter of higher education staff felt that their organisation was loyal to them and that it treated them fairly. - YEAP.

A quarter of university respondents said they felt stressed all of the time or almost all of the time. - YEAP.

Now then, what will UCU do about it? What will the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education do about it? What will the UCEA do about it? What will HEFCE do about it? What will the Minister of State, Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Mr Bill Rammell MP, do about it?

Quote from the web site of the 'Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills':

'Britain's higher education is a major contributor to the economic success and social well being of the country. Higher education is a national asset, whose excellence in teaching and research is world recognised. Better educated and more highly skilled people are more likely to be in work, earn more and contribute more productively to our economy and society. Knowledge and skills provide people with their surest way into work and prosperity, helping eradicate the causes of poverty and division.

About 70% of the 2020 workforce is already beyond compulsory education age. We will therefore have to raise skill levels amongst the current workforce in order for Britain to compete successfully.
The future of higher education must be one where:

* higher education institutions work to widen participation beyond young people leaving college or school with good A levels;
* put learners and employers at the heart of their provision; and
* strengthen their leading position in international education through excellent teaching and innovative research.'

Dear Mr Bill Rammell, you will achieve very little of the above when we as academics continue to suffer - very little, for nobody can be productive if they work with fear, lack of dignity and lack of protection from abusive managers. You better have a chat with UCEA to do something about it. As a politician, if you find it difficult to identify with the human suffering, perhaps you may identify with the ever-raising costs of workplace bullying.


Anonymous said...

I thought I would write as I am a female student who has experienced bullying from a tutor at a university in England. I went through a terrible time and although I am now completing my degree via distance learning, I find I have yet another tutor who seems intent on giving me the lowest marks possible because she does not agree with what I have written (It's literature)She's rather bigoted I have to say and lacks the mature and open mind necessary for an academic career in literature.

Prior this, at my last university even though I was bullied, I used to get 2:1s and Firsts in literature and when I was 23 a tutor used ideas from an exam essay of mine in his Phd and I got a First for that particular piece of work. Bear in mind that was an exam essay!

For the first two essays on my current distance learning course, I had a great tutor who recognised my ability and said she thoguht she was reading a postgraduate essay when she was reading mine. Then she resigned due to ill health and I got this new tutor with whom I am barely scraping a 2:1 and I mean barely - one mark above the threshold for 2:2! She actually gave me a low 2:2 for one of the three essays she has marked for me, the other two were the same 2:1 mark,as I say the first mark above the 2:2 threshold!

I'm convinced there's something wrong there, even wondering if this tutor knows the ones at my lastuniversity who made my life hell and actually deliberately failed me in literature the semester after I complained about the bully. I had to resit an exam for the first time in my life, and literature at that, my strongest subject. I went from a First to a fail - how deos that happen unless there is an ulterior motive in the department?! I left that university only two years into my degree with an overall 2:2 grade, when I started off getting 2:1s and Firsts.

And now it seems I am dealing with it again. Suddenly I am getting extremely low marks with incredibly bigoted comments.

Simply because in my last essay I took a mature wide approach to the issues of incest in the Color Purple, offering suggestions as to Pa's unhealthy state of mind when he abused Celie, she actually wrote in her comments that I was offering apologies and excuses for the sexual abuse of children! It was an academic essay fro crying out loud! How was I condoning abuse by acknowledging Pa's humanity exactly?!

I'm livid, especially since I have experienced sexual assault myself so it's not like I'm ignorant of the issues!

It's like I make her feel uncomfortable as frankly I am a bloody good literature student - I see things that a narrow and bigoted mind like hers won't see! Good literary analysis is supposed to make you think and that is exactly what I do with every essay I write. There is a certain level of open mindedness and emotional maturity required for literary study which she really does not have! In literature, if you have any fears, unresolved issues or prejudices you're going to come across them in the texts you read and study, and the students and theorists you come across throughout your career so you better be ready for them!

I'm beginning to think that her marks are deliberately low because she doesn't like me!

My confidence is low and this course was supposed to help me rebuild my confidence after losing my job due to being bullied yet again.

I'm losing confidence in my ability as a literature student now - asking myself what if I never was any good and she is right? But I know she isn't.

I still have two more essays to write and an exam but I feel it's no use, like I am still only going to be given a 2:2 no matter how hard I try because she seems to have taken a dislike to me. She's older too, I'm only 29 but she is about 50. Maybe I scare her!

Seems being clever and hardworking only puts us at a disadvantage in higher education. Perhaps if we start acting like morons and be as politically correct as possible in our research and dealings we will be ok!

Advice would be helpful as I'm beginning to feel quite despondent. My next essay is due next week and I'm afraid to write it because I'm not only worried about how she will react, I am also worried that it will not be good enough and I will end up with another low mark. My confidence in my ability to analyse literature is close to zero because of her.

Would be good if you guys could do a section on your website about the bullying of students by tutors in HE too! Never had the problem in FE - only HE. Had never been bullied by a teacher in my life until I entered HE.

Thanks x

Catface said...

Good to see that THES is still writing at least some material that relates to bullying, even if the tone is rather muted.

The comments by Roger Kline of UCU ring hollow. All this talk is great, except that UCU doesn't defend its members when they need to take matters to a Tribunal. UCU drops the ball and leaves members to fend for themselves.

Roger, if you're reading this, the time to walk the walk is NOW!