May 08, 2008
Taking the HEA to task over accountability
I am writing as a member of the Higher Education Academy academic council. I was elected in October as a representative of the fellows. My platform was highly critical of the HEA leadership. I alleged, inter alia, that the HEA failed to defend academic freedom, values and standards because it listened to "managers" not practitioners. I came first of 92 candidates in the ballot.
Like other contributors to Times Higher Education (Letters, 24 April; 1 May), I am disgusted at the way in which the HEA has behaved towards Lee Harvey. Its leadership has steadily dismantled the democratic checks and balances without which institutional abuses become rife. Shame on it.
An evaluation of the HEA by management consultants Oakleigh Consulting (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports/2008/rd02_08/) is an eye-opener. At the last meeting of council I submitted a paper recommending "that the board invite some suitably experienced fellows to investigate those aspects of the culture in (HEA) York which have given rise to the dissatisfaction among staff noted in the Oakleigh Report ... and to the critical comments ... which led Oakleigh to conclude that 'this is the sort of issue which gives organisations an unhelpful reputation'".
Council refused. It also refused to put the report or the HEA's "action plan" in response to it on any future agenda of council. This is what the HEA really thinks about "academic input" to the board. It has become an organisation of managers, by managers, for managers.
When the academy abolished its former council (30 members; 16 elected fellows; various powers to determine policy) and replaced it with the "academic council" (15 members; four elected fellows; no powers to determine anything), the CEO claimed that this would "increase the input of academic teachers". Such sophistry is risible, but what is happening to Lee Harvey is no laughing matter. As correspondents have said, what example does this set for universities in this country? What example does it set abroad? What is this supposed to teach students about how to treat colleagues decently in academic debate or in employment?
But colleagues threatening to resign their fellowships should think again. Since the HEA abolished the individual subscription (without consulting council), it has made itself financially unaccountable to fellows. Write letters of complaint to the board instead. Copy the THE thread to them. Force them to see how widely our disgust is shared.
The time has come for an independent inquiry into the way in which the HEA has been governed and managed since it swallowed the Institute for Learning and Teaching. The ILT was far from perfect, but it was collegial, democratic and had a culture of respect for academic freedom and individual academics. Academics and students need such an institution. The HEA is not it.
Philip Burgess, Perthshire
Extracts from 'Interim Evaluation of the Higher Education Academy', January 2008:
The leadership and management of the Academy also need to be predicated on more effective internal communication and interaction than hitherto. A more open culture underpinned by delegated management practice must be a key objective in this regard.
The Academy serves the needs of a multi-faceted and multi-layered community of interest. Its approach to communications needs to have the same degree of sophistication, and be better directed and more focused and accessible.
The Academy must recognise that, put simply, it has ‘customers’ – primarily HEIs and individual academics teaching in HE (whether located in HEIs or further education colleges (FECs)) – and that they have needs it exists to serve.
All this demands putting in place a more sophisticated relationship management and communications strategy than has been in evidence to date, supported by proportionately more capable systems and processes. It also calls for a clearer and more coherent business strategy...
All staff, led by SEG and the Chief Executive, should address the development of a more open, responsive and effective culture of communication across the Academy...
It was suggested to us by some staff in the Academy (including members of the Board) and some consultees who interact with the Academy that there is residual dissatisfaction across the Academy’s staff base regarding the process of formation and the style of leadership by some senior managers.
Some of the contributory factors to this appear to have included:
• uncertainties over shifts in some staff roles and remits
• a perceived lack of clarity by some staff of the processes through which decisions regarding the continuation/cessation of project funding streams are made, where this impacts on staff activity.
The extent to which staff feel that they are supported through current line management and project management structures may partially depend on the nature of their roles. For example, some staff suggested that the line management structures for senior advisers and assistant directors are less ‘bedded down’ and thus less clear than for other staffing groups...
It would seem from the above that the HEA is run like any other HEI... favoritism, nepotism, incompetence, lack of accountability, etc.