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Higher Education 44: 185212, 2002. 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Barriers to effective quality management and leadership: Case study of two academic departments
Head of the Academic Ofce, North East Wales Institute of Higher Education, Plas Coch, Wrexham, LL11 2AW, Wales, UK (E-mail:

Abstract. This paper reports results of insider research at a UK college of higher education (NewColl). In drawing on a ground-level approach, and building on earlier work (Newton 1999a,b), it provides insights into front-line academics views and perspectives on organisational change and the implementation of quality policy, and points to challenges for institutional leadership. The paper begins by considering the impact of the quality revolution on the academic community and its relationships, and then looks at how policy implementation, leadership, and the management of change can be conceptualised. The case study element consists of proles of two academic departments which, in the main body of the research, displayed markedly more negative responses to organisational change and the implementation of revised quality assurance arrangements than other academic units. Drawing on interview data which provide thick description (Geertz 1973), a set of explanatory concepts is presented which help to explain why the two schools show themselves to be divergent in comparison with others. These concepts centre on issues around psychological contracts (Handy 1984, 1993); leadership, communication and the management of change; collegialism and professional accountability; and reciprocal accountability and mutual trust. The paper goes on to consider the importance of the discretion debate (Lipsky 1976, 1980; Prottas 1978) and proposes that, by stressing ownership, professional autonomy, and self-assessment, quality assurance systems and quality management in higher education run the risk of exposing or exacerbating the problem of discretion for institutional managers and leaders. The paper concludes by identifying a number of lessons which can be drawn from the case study for quality managers and academic administrators. Keywords: discretion debate, factors inuencing perspectives of front-line academics, insider research, leadership, management of change, policy implementation, professional autonomy and accountability, the psychological contract, quality management

1. Quality in higher education: Impact on the academic community and its relationships One of the main legacies of the 1990s is that quality has become a central concern in higher education globally. This development has taken place in the context of a changed relationship between the state and higher education in



which demands for accountability have become paramount. Within this there has been a dramatic increase in student numbers, a sharply reducing unit of resource, higher student-staff ratios and less funding for books and equipment. In the UK context, in his critique of the introduction of external quality assessment, Trow (1994) discussed these developments with reference to the rise of managerialism and the withdrawal of the trust accorded to higher education, particularly in the wake of the New Right policies associated with Thatcherism. These changes in the context and conditions of academic work (Smyth 1995; Martin 1999), when set alongside the pressures of external accountability, managerialism, and a higher level of external scrutiny by external monitoring bodies, have led the academic community and others to question whether, with a general movement towards an American-style mass higher education system, quality can be maintained or managed effectively. It has led to the acknowledgement that the challenges to institutional leadership in todays universities are considerable. There are other dimensions to this debate that have a bearing upon how we understand the academic community in todays higher education. In the UK context where, as Harvey (1994, p. 49) puts it, the British government has used managerialism to impose a command economy on higher education, it is not surprising that many academics have grown increasingly sceptical of, and resistant to, the growth of the quality industry and the quality burden. For these staff, as for Trow (1994), this is often viewed in terms of academic de-professionalisation. As this paper suggests, in view of the extension of the monitoring activities of external quality bodies, and the development of robust internal quality monitoring arrangements, there is no doubt that increased accountability and intrusion have presented a signicant challenge for institutions and staff at all levels. For many frontline staff this has led to suspicion of management motives, to the breakdown of reciprocal accountability and trust, and perhaps even to an irresolvable tension between the corporation and the collegium. For senior managers it has led to increasing challenges in terms of leadership and institutional management.

2. Conceptualising policy implementation, leadership and the management of change It is now commonplace to depict and conceptualise the university as an organisation. As Weil (1994, p. 24) noted in her discussion of the emergence in higher education of what were then relatively new notions of organisation



and management: Five years ago, to refer to a university or college as an organisation ran contrary to the deeply embedded currents of professional autonomy and collegiality in decision making. But higher education has moved on from McNays collegial academy (McNay 1995), or the tribes and territories portrayed in Bechers academic community (Becher 1989). However, as Wilson (1992) observes, in much of the organisational change literature it is the management of change rather than the analysis of change which predominates. For Burnes (1996), such approaches are open to criticism due to their limited applicability to the range and complexity of situations found in everyday organisational life (p. 110). A linked issue when analysing change is the extent to which change processes should be viewed as planned or emergent. In this paper, following Burnes (1996), the emergent approach is viewed as attractive since it stresses the developing and unpredictable nature of change (Burnes 1996, p. 187). It recognises that some organisations operate in a turbulent, dynamic and unpredictable environment . . . to which they continually have to adapt (p. 194). It follows that one of the principal messages of my research is the importance of context for the management of policy initiatives. What is achievable with quality in a higher education organisation should not be seen as a blank sheet. The size, stage of development, strategic priorities, blend of organisational politics, and even the particular vulnerabilities of a college, are key considerations. They represent a complex combination of constraint and opportunity. This raises questions around whether organisations are manageable entities. Some insights into this are afforded by considering the notions of culture, cultural change and organisational culture. Culture, it is argued, should be viewed pluralistically; organisational culture entails competing value systems and should be viewed as socially constructed by actors rather than merely enacted by members of an organisation. Indeed, there are dangers in viewing organisations as entirely rational entities. Moreover, my research conrms that it is prudent to avoid uncritical notions of the manager as change hero, or as the sole determinant of change. Context and circumstances are also key considerations when conceptualising leadership. As Middlehurst (1991, p. 3) suggests: Leadership is linked both to a context and a constituency, it is commonly viewed as a contingent construct. Following Adair (1983), Middlehurst (1997, p. 188) also notes the symbiotic relationship between change and leadership. Drawing attention to Adairs (1983) observations on changing contexts, uncertainty and instability, Middlehurst observes that: The existence and the experience of a turbulent environment . . . creates both a psychological and a practical need for leadership (p. 188).



Distinctions are drawn in the literature between leadership, often portrayed as vision, direction and institutional strategy, and management, depicted as policy execution and competence in particular functional areas (Partington and Brodie 1992, p. 3; Middlehurst 1991, p. 10). However, it is not intended in this paper to explore the debate around denitions and distinctions between leadership and management. A more pragmatic view is taken. Accordingly, with Ramsden (1998, p. 107), it is suggested that leaders are also managers and, following Ramsden (1998), leadership is used as shorthand for leadership and management.

3. Case study: Prole of two academic departments 3.1. Institutional project: Development and implementation of a quality assurance system The context for the study has been reported more fully elsewhere (Newton 1999a,b). For present purposes relevant features can be gleaned from the rationale underpinning the organisational change and policy initiative at the research site, a higher education college (NewColl). The project involved developing quality assurance procedures to enable NewColl to enable it to full its vision of achieving University College status. The college had been established as a higher education corporation in 1993. The development aims of the project centred around the task of reconciling the tension between the demands of accountability and those of improvement. This posed a considerable challenge in terms of quality management, the management of change and institutional leadership. 3.2. Insider research project In addition to acting as project manager for the design and implementation of quality assurance systems, I was also, simultaneously, conducting a longitudinal, ethnographic study of the college. The research aims included investigation of whether, in the view of external quality monitoring bodies, and academic and academic support staff, the purposes of the quality assurance system had been met; whether internal and external accountability requirements had been satised, and quality improvement facilitated for staff and students. A range of methods and data sources was used to convert thin into thick descriptions (Geertz 1973, ch. 1) and to provide insights into staff perceptions of the achievements of quality assurance procedures and how these compared with ofcial views of external quality monitoring bodies. The methods were:



ve-year close-up ethnographic study and reective practice questionnaire survey of academic managers and front-line academic staff tape-recorded interviews with individuals and focus groups desk research and analysis of institutional documents and external quality reports 3.3. Proles of two deviant schools The empirical focal point in this paper is provided by two academic units (School A and School B) which, in the results of the main body of the research, displayed markedly more negative questionnaire and interview responses on a number of issues in comparison with other Schools. This polarisation related to several issues, principally: views on the mechanics and technology of NewColls quality system the extent to which it was seen as delivering improvements for staff and students views generally on organisational change at NewColl and elsewhere in the higher education sector in the UK This divergence required explanation and this is dealt with later in the paper where factors inuencing academics views of higher education policy and change are discussed through identication of a series of explanatory concepts. To give background detail, and to assist the assessment and evaluation of the case study elements, the paper provides a prole of each of the two academic departments. Each of NewColls constituent elements brought its own cultural elements into the incorporation process in 1993. Pre-1993, each had its own distinctive identity. Only School A, with an education and humanities portfolio, and located initially during the study period on its original college of education campus, had a strong background history in higher education; School Bs higher education background had been focused, prior to 1993, on non-degree, Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) higher national diploma provision. School A School A, particularly the education element, displayed several characteristics which set it apart from other schools. As a college of education, this unit had proceeded through several crisis periods in which teacher education provision at NewColl had been under threat. The school, and the former faculty and college of education in which it had its origins, had a long track record of links with NewColls somewhat traditional and conservative validating university (UVal), both in terms of curriculum development and course



validation. Therefore, its history and experience of quality was that of a less intrusive, almost cloisterist (Harvey 1995a), collegial-style approach. This background may go some way towards explaining the Schools less positive view of progress made with the implementation of NewColls new quality assurance arrangements. Thus, paradoxically, while staff in the education area were in some senses more mature in relation to quality, and more used to being inspected externally, they were also less willing to accept a new centralised system along with the transparency and internal accountabilities that went with it especially as that system was associated with a central administration long held in suspicion by former college of education staff. For them, a college-wide system was an additional system signifying duplication and an unwelcome extra burden. A strong feeling, on the part of front-line academics, of neglect by the centre and by NewColls senior managers, had been compounded by negative staff feelings towards the Schools own senior managers. Also, problems of location meant that communication on new institutional initiatives took longer to lter through. Geographical separation had also led to something of a siege mentality on the part of the senior staff in the school as well as its teaching staff. These leadership and communication issues were also compounded in this school by the presence of a number of academic staff who for a prolonged period had been seriously disaffected from both department and college. The Head was confronted by problems and personalities which were intractable and which were only resolved, effectively, when staff left or took early retirement. From such circumstances it is possible to distil a combination of situational factors which appear to have inuenced staff responses to change in general and attempts to embed a new quality assurance system in particular. Firstly, leadership and communication. Secondly, the presence of a signicant number of individual members of staff opposed to change initiatives and who, in the view of their middle managers in the School, had remained largely unaccountable for far too long. Thirdly, a number of resource-related and communication issues stemming from a period during which a site relocation was being planned for. Fourthly, a point was reached when staff of the School began to recognise the efcacy of the new quality assurance systems, since both external and internal quality monitoring reports were beginning to expose the deciencies in the professionalism and performance of some staff and, by implication, were raising questions about the way that professional autonomy and discretion were being exercised.



School B Some of the factors and circumstances outlined in School A apply to School B, with a course portfolio based on management and business and also comprising, for the most part, staff who had been relocated to NewColls main site. Here too the staff group had developed a strong and distinctive identity, with some staff displaying a conservative tendency during the period of change which NewColl was undergoing. A further problematic factor in common with School A was the question of leadership. In the years leading up to incorporation, before any cross-institutional quality framework had been established, this academic unit viewed itself as having developed a strong sense of teamwork and a relatively clear sense of roles and responsibilities. Across the same period there was a degree of tension between staff of the School and senior management at college level regarding the colleges aspiration to develop the undergraduate portfolio in each academic unit. This tension stemmed in part from the staffs reluctance to contribute to development work until additional resources had been made available. It is noteworthy though that, as Becher (1989), McFarlane (1997a,b) and Danielli and Thomas (1998) have argued, business and management studies staff can be amongst the most difcult to manage given their tendency towards a somewhat anarchic and sceptical view of the world, borne partly from a social science background or a track record in the external world and their assumption that they are well placed to evaluate and reect critically upon the performance of senior management. School Bs historical validation links with UVal, the validating university, and its quality assurance background were also a factor. As with School As degree level work, these links were by and large conservative, paternalistcollegial and involved a noticeably light external touch. In some respects staff were less likely to accept a new, college-wide quality system since they already had their own established practices, including arrangements for course review and monitoring. From their perspective they were doing quality anyway. When a new Head of School was appointed, from a new university, the appointee was viewed very much as an outsider and as compounding staff perceptions of an anti-School B agenda on the part of senior management. There was a tendency at the time for anything associated with management to be mistrusted. There was also a feeling that, during a period of new initiatives, no one had taken the opportunity to consult the very body of staff who saw themselves as having expertise in matters over which the senior team were deliberating. These circumstances combined to produce a degree of alienation, a sense of deprofessionalisation and a perceived loss of autonomy and discretion. At an individual level, staff felt they had no great inuence over



their individual situations. This might account for why the Schools survey responses in respect of change in higher education generally, and change within NewColl, were quite so negative in comparison with other Schools, with the exception of School A. 4. Factors inuencing academics views of higher education policy and change: Eplanatory concepts 4.1. The psychological contract It is apparent from each of the proles of the two polarised schools, that academic staff were faced with circumstances which combined to produce conditions in which low morale, and a degree of alienation and resignation were able to ourish. This, it is suggested, was bound up to a signicant extent with matters emanating from staff concerns in each school regarding perceptions of, and relationships with senior managers in each School and also, in the case of School A in particular, NewColls senior management generally. Such concerns were manifested in feelings, on the part of academic staff, of neglect by school management, and of a lack of control and inuence over matters affecting the academic units concerned. In their discussion of leadership and management in higher education, Middlehurst and Elton (1992, p. 255) cite Handys notion of psychological contracts (Handy 1984, 1993), described as sets of expectations, between individuals and the different sub-organisations to which they relate within the organisation as a whole. It is suggested in the paper that this idea of the psychological contract can assist in the present evaluation of the School A and School B. As Handy (1993) puts it: Just as in most work situations there is a legal contract between the organisation and the individual . . . so there is an implied, usually unstated, psychological contract between the individual and the organization . . . We have a set of results that we expect from the organisation, results that will satisfy certain of our needs and in return for which we will expend some of our energies and talents (p. 45). The utility of this concept of the psychological contract is illustrated by the observations of respondents from each of the schools concerned. The rst, Respondent 24, a course team member in School B, clearly has a perception that in her case the psychological contract is severely strained and her work undervalued: I think thats a general problem, that you try your best and all you ever get are brickbats . . . Occasionally a student will say to you I enjoyed that,



and you think, hey, that was nice. Never from management do you get any comment about trying hard. I mean you may not have got it all right all the time but most people are not skiving and theyre doing their best and just an acknowledgement of that goes a long way (p. 24). Such comments resonate with what Ramsden (1998, p. 76) refers to as recognition of teaching and staff morale, or what Shore and Roberts (1995, p. 13) describe, rather more uncompromisingly, as a sense of permanent institutionalised angst felt by some lecturers. Ramsden (1998, p. 76) argues that a critical aspect of staff alienation from their universities is their feeling of lack of reward and recognition for academic work, especially teaching. In the second example Respondent 42, a course team member in School A, indicated that management at school and college level had neglected to attend to small but important matters which could have served to maintain staff morale and commitment. Though acknowledging being caught between the Scylla of nancial constraints and the Charybdis of political interference in the shape of the course and its implementation (p. 42), nevertheless: Having said that, I think its all too easy for nancial constraints to be used as the sole reason for poor quality. They [the nancial constraints] are so irritating, on daily basis . . . that they inevitably loom large and its foolish of management to have allowed this to happen, when some fairly small-scale funding would alleviate the problems (p. 42). Respondent 41, a retired Vice Principal from another college, drawing on experience of leadership and management at his own institution and on experience as an institutional quality auditor in the wider academic community, attached great importance to such matters as those alluded to in these examples; particularly in respect of the quality of the work situation of academic staff and how this might affect their commitment to the organisation. He locates this in the broader context of the underlying purposes of an institutions quality system and the danger that systems can become selfserving unless they are perceived as being associated by staff with genuine attempts to seek improvements for staff and students. He argues that: There are three, I suppose, basic anxieties about quality assurance systems. Theres the question of The . . . purposes served, the kinds of processes and structures adopted and the difference they make to institutional performance and I think that . . . in terms of the purposes served, you want to seek an improvement to the deal offered to the students and the quality of working life of staff. I mean those are the two things that I think are important . . . the quality of provision of service to students and the quality of working life for staff, so that as well as the contract of



service, theres also a psychological contract that makes them committed to the organisation (p. 41). Such responses imply that, for some at least, quality becomes a bolton extra, not the foundation on which other activities are built. As Harvey (1995a) points out: Quality systems are seen as increasing work-loads and administrative burdens on teachers who are already expected to do more (p. 131). This is hinted at in the following exchange: Respondent 24: Im not as directly involved in it now as I was a year or two back. Im just doing my small bit in the Year Tutor way . . . I could see a lot of plusses to the system but in practice now after its been running for a year or two I think were just nding the quickest way around it, a lot of the time, which may not be a bad thing (p. 24). Researcher: Was that because you suspect that other people arent doing it or arent taking it seriously? Respondent 24: I think there is a feeling about others getting away with it (p. 24). Respondent 26: I think theres also the feeling that however many times you weigh the pig, it doesnt get any fatter. There is an element there that, you know, no matter how much you put into this quality assurance system, at the end of the day the pig is getting thinner and thinner. You learn to work with less, in worse working conditions, and I think that does encourage you to think, well, do I really need to put so much energy and effort into this when we are working in, I think, decreasing working conditions and decreasing resources (p. 26). Two observations are offered on this exchange, concluding as it does with an air of resignation on the part of Respondent 26. Firstly, we are alerted to Middlehursts (1997, p. 54) warning that overconcentration on rendering an account to external audiences can take time and resources away from delivering high-quality education . . . or nding out the real needs of students



and sponsors. Secondly, another possibility is that, as Harvey and Knight (1996, p. 100) note: accountability approaches tend to demotivate staff who are already involved in innovation and quality initiatives. Not only do they face the added burden of responding to external scrutiny there is also a feeling of being manipulated, of not being trusted or valued, by managers and outside agencies. Respondent 41 is quite emphatic regarding the challenges, from the point of view of the psychological contract, which are involved in developing systems which have rigor and integrity. Speaking of his own former institution he reected that: One message . . . relayed throughout the institution every year, particularly with annual monitoring, particularly with validation, was the so what? question . . . asked. In other words what differences, if any, are these systems, which are claiming time and energy from staff, making to our performance in terms of the quality of the courses that were . . . designing and getting validated, or in terms of the quality of provision to students, day in day out, week in week out, year in year out. And the reminder was put in neon lights as it were, shouted out each year, that if you believe as staff operating these systems that theyll not make any difference, theyre wasting your time, theyre meaningless rituals say so. Because if theyre not working and not making any difference, and you dont believe in them, lets forget it (p. 41). What the foregoing reveals is that, in evaluating any change management initiative, it is essential to take full account of the expectations and values of staff. 4.2. Leadership, communication and the management of change As is suggested in the discussion of the psychological contract, there was also a recognition at all levels, including amongst front-line staff, that resourcing, nancial and other factors, represented powerful constraining inuences on organisational and policy development and, by implication, on senior managers. Even so, it is evident from both School proles that leadership and management issues were particularly prominent in staff concerns. Linked to this were matters such as communication, vision and direction, and the management of change. Meade (1997, pp. 129130), in his discussion of the challenges facing leaders in the modern university, indicates that, despite the existence of an



extensive array of formal communication systems, two of the major barriers to quality advancement at his university were lack of leadership skills and ineffectual communication. As Meade notes, When individual staff are pressed for an example some claim that things happen which they feel they cannot inuence or prevent (p. 130). The thrust of the foregoing is conveyed by Respondents 24 and 26, course team members, respectively, in business studies and social work, who were questioned on observations they had made on senior management decisionmaking processes: Researcher: Is that a question of communication? Respondent 24: They [management] have different agendas (p. 24). Respondent 26: Its a lack of leadership as well I think (p. 26). Sallis (1994, p. 237) argues that, while one of the principal functions of leadership in a college is to enhance the quality of learning and also to support the staff who deliver it, nevertheless: Leadership has not been given the prominence it deserves in the quality debate. There has been an overconcentration on quality systems and insufcient attention has been paid to the management of quality, and in particular to the nature of the leadership required to develop a quality college. A quality culture involves strong and purposeful leadership at all levels (p. 238). Though the specics may differ between institutions, such difculties are by no means unique to schools within NewColl. For example, one contributor to the Managing for quality case studies (HEQC 1995a, p. 80) lists the following elements as contributing to the leadership problems which he inherited, and which he describes in terms of recovering direction and morale in a changing climate: resistance to change (exacerbated by poor management) poor leadership feelings of alienation amongst staff.



These ingredients seem to have been present in the two schools described in the paper. By the same token, Partington and Brodies (1992, p. 6) description of a department which has strong leadership might equally be said to depict ingredients which were largely absent from these two schools. Their description of such a department includes the following: all staff feel well treated their competence is respected initiative is recognised and rewarded staff support each other high corporate values are developed. Taking several aspects of the above for illustrative purposes communication, treatment of staff, respect for competence the following comments from the perspective of Respondent 24, in School B, are informative: I mean theres no consultation in terms of strategy at all. It all comes down from the top . . . Weve got people who teach management. But nobody ever asks the people who teach management. I mean perhaps thats not such a bad idea, I dont know but you know, worth a try . . . I mean we would perhaps understand what theyre saying. But I just dont think I think it really is top line driven in the sense of weve got to get these gures. Weve got to do this, and we really dont care what you do down there, just dont bother us with it. I really do feel its like that (p. 24). Nor were such sentiments restricted to School B, as the following observation from Respondent 13, senior lecturer in School A, illustrates. Reecting on how implementation of the quality system had been progressed, he observed: I dont think the Deans drove it. I dont think the Heads of School now . . . do they buy into it? . . . I think there are certain elements of foot soldiers like myself who did buy into it (p. 13). When asked whether, to her knowledge, the then Dean had taken a direct interest in the preparation and completion of the course log or action plans when she had been a course leader, Respondent 24 replied: Oh come on, dont be silly. In the context of this discussion of leadership, the reections of the contributor to the Managing for quality case studies (HEQC 1995a) again seem particularly pertinent to the two schools considered in this paper. He had inherited a group of staff who had been through a period of rapid and uncomfortable change with poor leadership from my predecessor (p. 80). Moreover, in circumstances not dissimilar to those prevailing at NewColl, with the attempts to implement new systems, the case study author reports that: In a period of substantial change, in which the Universitys modular framework was put in place and the unit of resource was dramatically



reduced, the staff were receiving no leadership and poor management . . . There was no unifying vision in the School, nor any means of the Universitys values being translated and communicated to staff (p. 80). At NewColl, as elsewhere in UK higher education, a sharply reducing unit of resource, higher student-staff ratios, and attempts to secure a shift in emphasis from a resource-led culture to a problem-solving, improvement-led culture makes considerable demands on staff. Staff at NewColl report an element of confusion and resignation in the face of such demands. In the following passage two course team members express this well: Respondent 24: And there are conicting messages. I mean its whats avour of the month (p. 24). Respondent 25: Research. No research. Lots of classes. Not so many classes. Income generation. Oh, forget that . . . get in the class and teach (p. 25). Respondent 24: You know, you can have three different changes in a year cant you. I mean, there is no realisation of what its like. No, they do know but they dont care because its only the gures that theyre interested in the FTEs or are we going to get through. Theres no I cant see any real care about what its like to be a student or a teacher (p. 24). These respondents would sympathise with Yorkes (1993, p. 6) warning, in his discussion of attempts to implement total quality management in some higher education institutions, that such change initiatives may lead to staff taking a somewhat sceptical and cynical view of the advocated virtues of what might turn out to be no more than a passing fad (the avour of the month). Drawing on such material, two observations are offered here. The rst draws once again on the Managing for quality case study (HEQC 1995a). The contributor notes that, at his own university, just as had been the case at NewColl, there was a commitment to a management style which is based on consultation and development, rather than on the exercise of power (p. 81). However, he also reected on the difculties involved: I am not fully condent that the University senior management are aware of all of [the]



implications of the management approach which we are taking (p. 81). In the second point I would concur with Meade (1997) who argues that leadership is important at all levels within an institution. He cites Leighs (1988, p. 18) view that leadership is not the exclusive preserve of the most senior manager, since in the modern organisation the autonomy of the individual must be a central focal point of management thinking. One of the implications of this is that, while academic staff are entitled to expect effective leadership, they too have a professional responsibility to use their relative autonomy or any responsibility devolved to them, to best effect. It is to such matters that attention turns later in the paper. 4.3. Collegialism and professional accountability The prole of School A depicts a somewhat conservative style of collegialism. Amongst the staff group some were in direct conict with senior management regarding work practices, and many were apparently less than willing to accept the kinds of internal accountabilities associated with NewColls newly introduced quality assurance arrangements. It is suggested here that the consequences of this disaffection were increasingly exposed both by external and internal quality reports. Similarly, many of the more established staff of School B also displayed an element of conservatism and independence, particularly in quality assurance matters, and also looked to preferred and established ways of doing things. There was a strong inward-looking focus on the old system, with new quality frameworks being associated in some quarters with de-professionalisation and a threat to autonomy. Some of this can be illustrated by reference to comments volunteered by some respondents who entered additional comments onto returned questionnaires. Respondent 60, a senior lecturer in business studies betrays a preference for the previous informality in quality assurance arrangements when observing that: The old informal systems involved meetings, student feedback etc, but wasted less time. Just because there were no typed minutes, it does not mean it did not happen (p. 60). In a similarly reective mode Respondent 45, a principal lecturer in accountancy, claimed that teamwork was very good in [School B] before present practices were introduced (p. 45). Marris (1975, p. 156) has used the experience of bereavement to understand such reactions to innovation and change in organisations. He notes that: people cannot reconcile themselves to the loss of familiar attachments in terms of some impersonal utilitarian calculation of the common good.



They have to nd their own meaning in these changes before they can live with them. Hence the reformers must listen as well as explain . . . If they impatiently cut this process short, their reforms are likely to be abortive. Becher (1992) draws on Baileys (1973) study of the effects of change in peasant studies to illustrate the position which the notions of academic autonomy and professional discretion hold in academic life. Bailey (1973, p. 8) observes that the more ramifying the expected consequences of introducing an item into a system, the more difcult is likely to be its acceptance. The views of Respondents 60 and 45 were not shared by all in School B however. Respondent 18, the School B quality coordinator, and therefore more open and committed to new quality assurance arrangements, took a rather longer term perspective on matters and also viewed past practice in a different light from some of her colleagues: I think [the quality system] has gone some way to nding out the people who only ever paid lip-service to team-working and, therefore, in the short term has somewhat fragmented course teams. However, we are almost at the stage where quality requirements are accepted as a necessary part of the system so we ought to emerge with a different type of team eventually one that is more coherent (p. 18). 4.4. Reciprocal accountability and mutual trust Quality systems incorporate a strong emphasis on the need for front-line workers to full their responsibilities. As Harvey (1995a, p. 29) notes, implementation of a quality system carries with it implied criticism of the quality of academics work and a lack of trust. Indeed, the HEQC case studies Managing for quality (HEQC 1995a) reveal that a range of negative reinforcement tactics may be used in higher education institutions to secure change. These include threats such as penalties arising from teaching quality assessment or professional accreditation, increased central monitoring, increased pressure to conform, and appealing to rules and regulations (HEQC 1995a, p. 158). Moreover the range of approaches used is likely to vary depending on the individuals involved, the scale of change and the timescale for implementation (p. 158). In view of these observations the comments of Respondent 41 are of particular interest. He referred to the very important principle of reciprocal accountability and the importance for him, noted earlier, of conveying a sense of mutual responsibility for the quality of provision for the students (p. 41), with staff at all levels, from course team to senior management



team, needing to conduct genuine analyses of problems in fullling academic objectives. For this respondent, echoing the earlier discussion of the psychological contract, the level of trust and support is an important indicator of whether the executive has a primary concern for the quality of working life. Crucial tests of this are: How much pulling together and mutual support is there? . . . Are the Executive concerned with building people up, creating an environment which is supportive and enabling or are they preoccupied with calling people to account for their failures in performance and therefore the extent to which theyre letting down the Chief Executive and his team or the organisation? I mean its a recognition of reciprocal responsibility and accountability (p. 41). These are increasingly familiar concerns in commentaries on the impact of hard managerialist styles of behaviour in higher education. For example, Ramsden (1998, p. 75), cites Baldwin (1996) who has written of the Rambo style of management . . . accompanied by aggressive language talk of kicking heads, ngering people, colourful threats and curses . Elsewhere Ramsden (1998) describes the presenting symptoms as including beligerent and arbitrary management tactics, complete with admonishing statements about academics ostrich-like unwillingness to accept reality (p. 22). The following extract from an interview involving three course team members, from social work (Respondent 26), business and management (Respondent 24), and computing (Respondent 25), is quoted at length to provide a avour of how NewColls Vice Principal (Planning and Resources) was perceived in some quarters: Respondent 26: You get open hostility, as well, from senior managers to academic staff (p. 26). Respondent 24: We all know about it. I mean its intended that we know isnt it? (p. 24). Respondent 26: You know the sort of messages that are coming down (p. 26).

202 Researcher:


Are you thinking of somebody in particular? Respondent 26: Yes, its [name of Vice Principal (Planning and Resources)] theres no secret about it (p. 26). Respondent 26: And you can stand that for so long but the demoralising effect over a period of time is very real and I wonder, apart from anything else, well what is the motivation behind this? What are you trying to do? So then, when you think about quality assurance, and working hard in the classroom well whats the point, if you dont feel theres any support. And theres also anecdotal stuff, you know, needless things have been said and when things should have been said to support staff, they havent been. It doesnt cost a lot to say, [name of researcher] youre doing a good job. I dont remember anyone ever saying anything to any of us, not to me anyway, you know, that was good (p. 26). While the circumstances described are very real, it would be quite inaccurate to imply that these references to extreme behaviour represent a common or characteristic feature of the organisations culture, or the management style of all its senior managers. Indeed, as Trowler (1998, p. 28) implies, in understanding organisations we need to take account of different levels, contexts, people and so on. Nevertheless, it is apposite to heed de Vriess (1997, p. 53) observation that, from the point of view of the rational quality management model, there is an implication that the managers do not trust the academics in their institutions to deliver quality products. These examples are not cited from a naive or unrealistic understanding of organisational complexity; it is more a matter of heeding Ramsdens (1998) observations that academic culture presents many opportunities for misunderstanding and conict between leaders and academics (p. 110) and that: Just as good teachers actively listen to their students, so good academic leaders listen to what their colleagues say about their experiences of the academic environment and academic leadership (p. 80).



Indeed, as Meade (1997, p. 3) observes, much depends on effective leadership: Given that some of the major barriers to the creation of a learning organisation are scepticism, suspicion, a lack of trust, and a fear of change, leaders have a distinctive responsibility for ensuring that . . . members of the university community experience a climate that promotes a sense of trust, and hence a willingness to engage in change for improvement. The views cited in relation to each of the explanatory concepts highlight the contentious nature of issues surrounding professionalism, professional responsibility, and accountability. They also point towards three key areas of debate in the literature on professionals in bureaucratic organisations generally (Harries-Jenkins 1970; Johnson 1970, 1990; Foster 1983) and, more specically, professionalism and professional development in higher education (Harvey and Knight 1996; Ramsden 1998). Each of these areas, outlined further in the next section of the paper, has a direct bearing on the attempt generally in this paper to understand the role of academic staff in policy implementation in a higher education institution, and specically to explaining why the results of two Schools are skewed in a negative direction. They are: (i) the debate around professional discretion and autonomy, which developed momentum in the sociology of social policy in the 1970s and 1980s (Lipsky 1976; Prottas 1978; Adler and Asquith 1981). (ii) the more recent work on new collegialism (Harvey 1995a; Harvey and Knight 1996) (iii) the debate surrounding the notion of self-regulation in higher education (Jackson 1997, 1998).

5. Distortion of ofcial policy goals: The problem of discretion and professional autonomy 5.1. Cloisterism, new collegialism and professional autonomy Harvey (1994, 1995a,b) has taken a very clear line on the importance of ensuring that academics, as professionals, use their relative autonomy responsibly and that, in the interests of continuous quality improvement, they do so on the basis of team-work with colleagues. In his comparison of cloisterism and new collegialism Harvey (1995a, p. 35) depicts the former in terms such as traditional, isolationist, individual, defensive and wary of change. In contrast, the latter is seen as open and responsive.



The new collegialist academic welcomes change and is open to explicit quality criteria. As Harvey (1995a, p. 35) notes: New collegialism and cloisterism represent ends of a spectrum of positions and approaches to academia. Both tendencies can be found in most higher education institutions and in most discipline areas. The applicability of various elements of Harveys dichotomy to this NewColl study can be readily illustrated. The somewhat cloisterist preference for a non-intrusive approach to quality to which School A had become accustomed has been noted, as has the discomfort with a team-oriented approach to quality assessment and the associated transparency and explicitness of quality criteria. In sum, many staff in this School were resistant to new forms of accountability whether internally or externally derived. School B also displayed conservative tendencies in some quarters, with some staff clinging to established ways of approaching quality matters. Both Schools, it will be recalled, had well-established validation links with traditional and paternalist universities. Harvey himself cited NewColl as an example of a higher education institution which was developing a responsive collegiate approach (Harvey 1995a, p. 36). NewColls quality framework was viewed as being based rmly on the principles of new collegialism, including teamwork. However, it is important to recognise in the present discussion of two of NewColls Schools that Harvey also acknowledges that the development of the new collegialism may be equated by academics, at each end of the spectrum, with accountability, managerialism and the growth of external monitoring. As Harvey (1995a, p. 35) expresses it: This has led to widespread cynicism, resentment and lack of trust amongst some academics. One reaction has been further retrenchment and reication of cloisterism. Though NewColl was amongst those institutions which reacted institutionally to external change by opting to grasp the initiative and reassess traditional collegiate allegiances and prerogatives, recognising that academic autonomy in the new-collegiate approach comes through ownership of the quality-improvement process and the development of an explicit professionalism (Harvey 1995a, p. 35), nevertheless, as the paper reveals, the challenge of realising this objective was a considerable one, not least given the problematical nature of discretion and professionalism at the academic front-line. 5.2. The concept of self-regulation The professionalism debate is also at the centre of Jacksons (1997, 1998) work on self-regulation in UK higher education. The core characteristics



of the self-regulating university which Jackson (1998, p. 8) depicts, acted as a benchmark for NewColls own attempt to demonstrate that it is a self-critical, cohesive academic community (HEQC 1995b). Jackson (1997) portrays the professionalism of the individual academic as a key variable: The health and integrity of the regulatory regime is, to a large measure, dependent on [a] sense of professional responsibility and obligation at the level of the individual (p. 133). Middlehurst (1997, p. 190), in her discussion of new collegialism, also argues for a strengthened professionalism. However, echoing elements of the ndings reported in this paper, not least in relation to the two Schools presently being discussed, Middlehurst notes that: Unfortunately, viewing quality assurance and accountability as a chore and an imposition, as many academics do, rather than a feature of good practice and a manifestation of professional pride, has had detrimental effects on the public image of the whole community and its perceived professionalism (p. 190). 5.3. The discretion debate The discretion debate centres on the importance of discretionary behaviour and the need for professionals and bureaucrats, especially in personal service professions, to make judgements and to exercise discretion. But there are contradictory arguments. Firstly, for front-line professionals there may be encroachment on their activities, or insufcient discretion, due to too much bureaucratic constraint. Here, the problem may centre on a perceived inexibility of the rules. Alternatively, there may be a problem of goal distortion or goal conict. Here, discretion may be exercised inappropriately or idiosyncratically from the point of view of management, with a consequent distortion of ofcial policy goals or intentions. The latter is of particular interest at this juncture since, arguably, it connects well with key elements of the proles of each of the two Schools with which this assessment is concerned. The discretion debate connects with the notion of the street-level bureaucrat (Lipsky 1976, 1980; Prottas 1978). For Prottas (1978), streetlevel bureaucrats are, despite controls on them, the real makers of policy and management loses control to them. The organisation cant enforce control because it cant specify the rules and responsibilities precisely enough. Their discretion is a problem for both client and agency. As Lipsky (1980, p. 13) notes: The policy-making roles of street-level bureaucrats are built on . . . relatively high degrees of discretion and relative autonomy from organisational authority. What should be borne in mind here is that, by stressing ownership and self-assessment, quality assurance systems such



as NewColls may actually run the risk of exacerbating the problem of discretion for management. As Lipsky (1980, p. 17) argues, street-level bureaucrats can withhold co-operation and strategies include negative attitudes with implications for work (alienation, apathy). The kinds of negative attitudes referred to by Lipsky, and described in the proles of both School A and School B, led some staff, especially front-line staff in the former, to distance themselves from the requirements and responsibilities of NewColls quality assurance system. While some commentators point towards the widespread challenge to the authority and autonomy of academics, or the decline of donnish dominion as Halsey (1992) terms it, as Middlehurst and Gordon (1995, p. 280) observe: Universities and colleges have been described as organisations of professionals where the professionals (notably the academics) exercise high degrees of autonomy. They have considerable discretion over what and how they teach and over what and how they research. Moreover, as Middlehurst and Gordon (1995) remind us, universities are often characterised as loosely-coupled systems (Weick 1976). Without the appropriate mind-set, such organisational arrangements can mitigate against the introduction of quality management models (Middlehurst and Gordon 1995, p. 281). In many universities and colleges, they suggest, amongst the ingredients that are either missing or weakly developed [is] an emphasis on rigorous self-assessment (as a matter of routine practice) (p. 281). This scenario ts well with the elements of the prole of School A which revealed resistance, amongst many staff, to the introduction of a new quality system premised on self-assessment and to the disciplines that went with it. 6. Conclusions and implications By focusing on some of the factors inuencing academics views of higher education policy and change, the paper reveals some of the barriers to the effective management of quality. The case study ndings show how issues around leadership and management can come to play a prominent part in staff concerns regarding institutional change generally, and the implementation of quality policy specically. There are messages and lessons in the paper for both front-line academics and for those with responsibilities for institutional management and leadership. Academics are entitled to expect appropriate and effective leadership and management but, equally, the paper indicates that, in accordance with the principles of new collegialism, they too have a professional responsibility to use their relative autonomy to best



effect. Institutional managers, by the same token, need to take full account of the role that discretionary behaviour plays in the policy implementation process. While acknowledging that increased accountability, greater transparency, and intrusion have presented signicant challenges for staff at all levels, and may produce mistrust of management and negative responses to change initiatives, the paper raises questions around professionalism, professional autonomy, and accountability, and points to the problematic nature of discretion and professionalism amongst front-line academics. By connecting with the discretion debate, and by indicating the important position held by academic autonomy and professional discretion in academic life, it is possible to show how the exercise of discretion by front-line academics may serve to distort ofcial, institutional policy goals and intentions. Moreover, it is argued, quality assurance systems in higher education, by laying emphasis on ownership and professional responsibility, may actually run the risk of exposing or even exacerbating the problem of discretion from the point of view of institutional managers and leaders. The paper also serves to remind quality managers in higher education and advocates of transformative concepts of quality (Harvey and Knight), who emphasise the desirability of quality enhancement and continuous quality improvement, that it is advisable to take full account of the constraints and circumstances of situation and context which inuence both policy implementation and the activities of key actors or system-users in changing or re-shaping quality policy. By focusing on a particular work environment the research reported on here has revealed much needed insights into issues around the implementation of quality policy, and how key actors receive and respond to policy and change in higher education organisations. Given that there is a shortage of research into the development and operation of policy within specic organisational settings in higher education, then insights drawn from research into day-to-day life in universities which might inform the practice and performance of quality managers are much needed. A number of lessons for academic administrators and academic managers with responsibilities for quality management can be drawn from this paper. Firstly, there is a difference between the planned outcomes of policy and those which emerge through implementation. This means that quality policy is changed in the implementation process and that any quality management system or change initiative will always be impacted upon by situatedness. Arguably, the real makers of policy are policy users. In other words, my ndings provide evidence that staff, especially front-line academics, do not mutely accept change or the particular demands of quality assurance policy or systems. Policy implementation is complex and uneven. Through their own



interpretative work actors attach meaning to the various aspects of the quality system as they interact with it. They are not passive recipients of management objectives. Academic staff, in common with all actors involved, are makers and shapers of policy. They respond, adapt to or even resist and, while this may be patterned, it is not uniform. Accordingly, there is a need for quality managers and academic administrators to take account of what academics think and do, and what meanings they attach to the different facets of policy and how they work, change or even work around policy (Trowler 1998). Secondly, quality is an essentially contested issue and there are competing voices and discourses within the academic community. This concerns an underlying dilemma confronting quality managers. Quality is like education generally. It is contested territory; there are competing interests, voices and discourses. So long as quality managers preach forms of managerialism and accountability they become hostages to fortune and remain ensnared in the tension between the forces of accountability and calls for quality improvement and enhancement. Thirdly, my experience as a researcher and as a quality manager indicates that quality becomes preoccupied with accountability. A well developed quality assurance system can provide a university or college with an anchor point and a stabilising inuence in an often turbulent environment. However, those with institutional responsibilities for quality management and quality development whether in a central or faculty role should note that the requirements and expectations of the state and external quality monitoring and accreditation bodies mean that, in design and operational terms, quality is likely to become linked with or even overtaken by the exigencies of accountability. This, in turn, will inuence how leaders and managers are perceived by front-line staff. Fourthly, there is no blueprint for a quality system for universities and colleges: what is achievable with quality in a higher education organisation should not be viewed by managers and administrators from the standpoint of a blank sheet. This applies equally at either institutional level or national level. While, the desirable components of a quality system may not be difcult to ascertain, or while, as noted earlier, the elements of strong departmental leadership are identiable, my research indicates that the search for a blueprint is awed, perhaps even naive. There are a range of ways in which circumstances surrounding the design, development and implementation of a quality assurance system may serve to undermine or subvert an idealistic, blueprint-driven approach to quality assurance policy and change management. Managers do not begin with a blank sheet. As Fullan (1993, p. 1) argues: Change is a journey, not a blueprint. Moreover, it is prudent to avoid uncritical notions of the quality manager or academic leader as change



hero, or as the sole determinant of change. There are no simple prescriptions for managing change in complex circumstances. Fifth, to be able to manage change effectively institutional leaders and managers should assess the current and emerging climate of operation. This means paying attention not only to the preoccupations of key external stakeholders and regulatory bodies, and what they bring to bear at any one point in time, but also to the values and expectations of staff within an institution. In turn, this focus on climate of operation points to a further area of consideration alluded to in this paper, which again has a bearing on the management of change in quality assurance matters and from which a lesson can be drawn. It is advisable for quality managers to pay attention to the alignment between the realities of context (the immediate institutional climate of operation) on the one hand, and the philosophy or quality culture underpinning a quality system, and the technology or the quality system itself, on the other hand. The general application of this in quality management is that, by giving consideration to alignment with prevailing circumstances it is possible to ascertain what outcomes are most likely from what combination of external and internal constraining forces and opportunities, and also what approach to quality management and leadership might be most appropriate. Here, the pace of change is an important consideration, as is how this is negotiated and managed. Quality managers, indeed managers generally, need to be equipped to provide leadership and should take time to explain change on an incremental basis. These matters relating to alignment with context have an important bearing on both the design and the implementation of a quality assurance system. Finally, in attempting to avoid the problems and limitations of a topdown managerialist approach, it is evident from this paper that it is both possible and desirable to tap into the inner workings and inner life of higher education institutions and to penetrate the discourses and activities of academics at all levels, and to learn something of how these combine to shape their role in the policy arena. Such a perspective is indispensable to those managers and administrators who are committed to paying close attention to the preoccupations and predispositions of a colleges staff when change initiatives are being planned. This then affords a more rounded understanding not only of how innovations or changes are adapted to t the local setting, but also how system users adapt to the innovation.

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