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Reshaping English Universities in the Twenty-first Century in the Context of New Labour's Public Service Reform; the Views of University Leaders

Research Cluster

Speaker:Professor Rosemary Deem, Research Director for the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol
Date: Tuesday 4 March 2008
Time: 16:00
Location: Conference Room 2, Xfi

Further details

The paper draws on a current UK Economic and Social Research Council funded project (award no 000-23-1136) exploring the connections between leadership development and New Labour’s public service modernisation in health, secondary schools and higher education. The analysis draws upon theories of educational leadership’s ambiguity (Hoyle and Wallace 2005), distributed leadership (Gronn 2000; Gronn 2002 ) and ideologies of new managerialism, which in the case of universities give greater credence and power to manager-academics in leadership positions (Deem and Brehony 2005; Deem, Hillyard and Reed 2007).

The UK has experienced considerable reform to the management and governance of higher education from the mid-1980s onwards (Leisyte, de Boer and Enders 2006) but to what extent have changes since New Labour came to power in 1997 been the product of government policy and to what extent have they reflected the views and values of university leaders themselves? Interviews conducted in 2007 with Vice-Chancellors, Deputy and Pro Vice-Chancellors, Deans and Heads of Schools in seven universities in England (a mix of research-intensive and teaching-intensive institutions) are examined in order to explore respondents’ perceptions of the relationship between higher education leadership, leadership development, university autonomy and New Labour’s reform agenda for public services. Those who were new to senior leadership positions were most likely to have undertaken significant formal leadership development, although informal development opportunities had been sought by most. Though almost all interviewees suggested that they were involved in initiating change in their institutions, the majority believed that they, rather than government or the higher education funding body, were driving the agenda for such change and no-one saw the establishment of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education as being part of a government reform agenda either. What our respondents claimed to do involved adapting national initiatives and policies to their own local circumstances.

In conclusion, we discuss the implications of our interviewees’ perceptions and beliefs for understanding the complex dynamics of university reform in England in the broader context of New Labour’s overarching public service reform and modernisation project.


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