The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities
6.1 Selection of Departments
Originally, forty-eight academic Heads of Department (HoDs), three from each of the sixteen universities in the sample, were identified for interview. However, because of illness or other unforeseen circumstances, it was possible to interview only forty-four HoDs. As in the typology developed for the pilot study (Pellow and Wilson, 1993) the selection of HoDs was based on the results of the latest research assessment exercise (grades were scaled from one to five, with one being the lowest and five the highest) and departmental postgraduate/undergraduate mix. As has been seen, this allowed four distinct groups of departments to be drawn up:
i) Group W: research rating 1, 2 or 3, more than 80% undergraduate (18 interviews);
ii) Group X: research 4 or 5, more than 80% undergraduate (11 interviews);
iii) Group Y: research rating 1, 2 or 3, less than 80% undergraduate (9 interviews);
iv) Group Z: research rating 4 or 5, less than 80% undergraduate (6 interviews).
Following on from the work of Becher, who had found that there were significant differences between academic disciplines, the departments were also stratified according to the nature of their discipline (Becher,1989a; Becher,1992). While this cannot be exact, especially as departments are being encouraged to become more inter-disciplinary, it was still possible to classify departments into four broad areas:
i) Science Subjects: 14 departments;
ii) Social Science Subjects: 12 departments;
iii) Arts Subjects: 12 departments;
iv) Medical Subjects: 6 departments.
6.2 Interview objectives
Interviews were conducted using an open-ended schedule, based on recommendations by Rockart (Rockart, 1979). These sought to enable HoDs to identify and rank their organisational goals, determine the factors that were critical to the achievement of those goals, and the information required to manage those factors. They were also asked to reflect on whether or not they had a mission statement for their department; the nature of the management and financial information supplied to them by the university's central administration; their perception of the university library's information services; and their perceptions of their own role within their department and university. Finally, they were asked about their specific title; whether they were a professor or senior lecturer, how long they had been Head of Department and whether this was on a permanent, appointed, elected, contractual or other basis.
6.3 Type of Heads of Department
Not surprisingly, given the heterogeneous nature of universities in England, there were differences in status, position, length of time in post and type of contract amongst the individual HoDs in the sixteen universities as summarised in Table 1.
While the majority of those interviewed could be considered 'traditional' Heads of Departments, it is obvious from Table 1 that there was some variation in the types of HoDs interviewed. In one instance, this was due to the suggestion of one of the host universities that a research professor rather than a Head of Department should be interviewed. At other universities, which had a school rather than departmental structure, it was judged, in consultation with the host university, more appropriate to interview Deans or Associate Deans. Generally, this did not cause any difficulties as five of the Deans had a role similar to that of the Head of a Department, albeit with responsibility for a wide range of disciplines rather than for one or two. For the three Associate Deans, all of whom were from the same new university, matters were slightly different because, although they appeared to have the same status and position as Heads of Departments in other universities, they and their university considered them to be managers with specific responsibility for particular areas such as teaching or research and external relations. Another exception was a Dean of a law school at a newer university. At the invitation of the host university, this Dean was interviewed because the university felt that the Dean who had overall control of the school was best placed to respond to the interview. This proved particularly interesting as it drew out some of the differences between the positions of Heads of Departments and Deans of Schools at the university. The chief difference lay in terms of the provision of management and financial information. Broadly speaking, while the HoDs of Department at this university felt that this information was generally very poor, the Dean, on the contrary, found that the centre did provide valuable financial and management information.
6.4 Status, time in post and basis of appointment
Differences between the newer and older universities were apparent in the way such factors as status, length of time in post, and the nature of the HoD's contract varied. While, overall, there were more professors than senior or principal lecturers, it is clear that the majority of the professors were located in the older universities. It was also evident that HoDs in the older universities were more likely to have been elected to their posts and to occupy them for periods of less than six years. HoDs in the newer universities, on the other hand, were more likely to be senior lecturers with permanent appointments.
6.5 Perceptions of the role of academic Heads of Department
Previous studies that have sought to interpret the role of the academic HoD have thrown light on different aspects. Startup, for example, stressed that the role could by placed into three functional groups: structural (such formal requirements as writing appraisal reports, and attending university meetings); conventional (leading the departmental teaching and research programmes); and discretionary (choosing, for example, to delegate administrative responsibilities to others or setting up staff-student committees) (Startup,1976). These activities, according to Startup, vary according to events outside the university, the workings of the university, and the make-up of the department and its staff. Other researchers have concentrated on the skills that the HoD requires. These include: managing resources; leading the department; setting a strategic agenda; and communicating with staff in the department.
Middlehurst, however, has perhaps given the most comprehensive picture of the various responsibilities of the academic HoD (Middlehurst, 1994). These were characterised as: governing the department; managing teaching; managing personnel; promoting departmental development; working with students and student issues; representing the department to the institution; serving as a link to external groups; and managing the budget and resources. Beyond these tasks and activities, Moses and Roe have identified six major roles for academic HoDs in universities: academic leader; personnel manager; manager of resources; administrator; advocate within the university; and ambassador for the department to external groups (Moses and Roe, 1990).
6.6 How academic Heads of Department view their own role
In the present study the factors outlined in 6.4 and 6.5 above undoubtedly affected the way HoDs themselves viewed their role. It was clear that of the forty-four HoDs interviewed the majority (30) saw their role as being that of an academic manager rather than an academic leader. These were principally drawn from newer universities (21), with only nine HoDs coming from older universities. The remaining fourteen who saw themselves as academic leaders were mainly in the older universities (11) rather than newer universities (3).
Key factors in such perceptions seem to be the length of time in office and the status of the individual academic. In older universities, where there is more of a tradition of electing senior academics such as professors to the post of HoD, it was important to some that they should be regarded as leaders in their chosen academic field. One head of a prestigious research-oriented arts department felt that "...in the end, something has gone very wrong if the academic Head of a Department isn't at the forefront of academic research". More commonly, from this HoD as from three other professorial HoDs, there was a clear suggestion that the other demands of the post were proving to be an irritation that got in the way of their research. One, for example, in charge of a science department, stated that "...the Head of Department is just a part time job which you do when you are not doing research". Seven other professorial HoDs, who still wished to remain academic leaders were perhaps a little less sanguine about a HoD's ability to treat the office with such diffidence. One head of a social sciences department found that it was only possible to do research and manage the department by working more than seventy hours a week. Moreover, with increased pressures, this HoD had found that "...the days are long gone where being Head of Department was something that you could rattle out over coffee at lunch time. It is something that is a huge investment in time and effort".
As for the five professorial HoDs in older universities who regarded themselves as academic managers, all gave specific reasons why they had chosen to suspend their research careers. Three had concluded that, since their department was in the process of being re-organised, the HoD's attention had to be devoted to the management of the department. Another head of a very large and successful, but disparate, engineering department felt that his role was not to lead but to act as a facilitator between the various competing pressures within the department. The remaining HoD, who was Dean of a large dentistry school, clearly identified his role as that of a professional manager since the school "...generally saw itself as a business".
The four HoDs in older universities who were senior lecturers also saw their role in terms of management rather than academic leadership. One of these, in a social sciences department, stated firmly that "...essentially I am a manager and when it comes to leadership then I rely on the professors to carry on a lot of the leadership functions of the department". This HoD also suggested that the longer the HoDs held office the greater the tendency for them to become managers rather than academic leaders who happen to manage: "Clearly, if you go for somebody having a longer period as Head of Department then they are not any longer an academic who is performing the function of being a Head of Department: they are effectively becoming a manager".
In newer universities, where there are greater opportunities for being employed permanently as an academic Head of Department, there was a greater tendency to identify the position with management rather than academic leadership. This was true of all fifteen of the senior lecturers and six of the professorial HoDs. One reason for this may be a greater sense in newer universities that the HoD is a line manager responsible for the management of human and financial resources and the strategic and tactical direction of the academic unit. One HoD, defining the role, stated that his task "...a lot of the time is to translate both ways the aspirations and the strategies of the centre and the perceived needs, the changing needs and the articulated needs of the academics". In terms of research, the role was often confined to overseeing the research direction of the department rather than leading it. One HoD, for instance, in charge of a science department with a research rating of four in the last research assessment exercise, went beyond this and devolved the responsibility for the direction of the department's research entirely to the department's Research Professor. Similarly, a Research Professor in another new university commented that managing the research of the department meant that "...I don't have as much time for my own personal research as I would like".
Other HoDs also felt that the actual weight of duties and responsibilities made it very difficult for them to see themselves as anything other than managers. One suggested: "I am overwhelmingly a fire fighter and administrator. I would say that fire-fighting, responding to short-term unplanned management initiatives, dealing with routine meetings, and completing routine paperwork occupy comfortably over 80% of my time". These academic managers did not discount the value of academic leadership but felt that it was no longer possible to be both an academic manager and a researcher leader. The pressure from the staff, university and external auditors was just too great. Instead, as one head of a very successful research-oriented department put it, the role had changed: "You have to have academic credibility but you don't have to be an academic leader in the sense that it used to be used. I think you can be an academic leader in terms of where a department is going academically but you don't necessarily lead from the front: you harness people". Only three HoDs in newer universities, all professors, thought of themselves as academic leaders. For one of them this was the result of being specifically brought in by the university to improve the research standing of the department. The other two, both in arts departments, wished to be thought of "...as an academic who is able to plan and manage".
6.7 Roles and responsibilities of academic Heads of Department
The forty-four HoDs interviewed were asked to describe the various aspects of their own role. The information collected revealed a recognisable and cohesive range of responsibilities, though, as individual answers differed in style and detail, it must be remembered that the information is largely qualitative. As has already been shown, it seems clear that the status, length of office, the type of contract, and the parent institution itself all impact upon the perceptions of HoDs as managers or academic leaders. However, as Table 2 demonstrates, from the interview results it was possible to construct a table highlighting the various other roles identified by the HoDs:
Chief amongst these roles was the desire of HoDs to maximise the potential of their staff. Largely, this was in terms of ensuring that academic staff were teaching and researching productively. This was not always possible to monitor, especially in some older universities, as HoDs, in the ambiguous position of being both manager and leader as well as being a fellow academic, still wished to foster staff autonomy and independence. Some also found it difficult to measure the teaching performance of staff, although informal comments, staff appraisal and peer observation were beginning to have an effect in both older and newer universities. The research performance of staff, given that it is externally assessed, was something that HoDs found easier to quantify. In the case of all the HoDs, it was clear that they were differentiating between individual staff members' portfolios of skills instead of assuming that all staff were equally competent at teaching, research and administration. Guidance to colleagues took many forms, but perhaps the lightest steerage on academic staff was where the HoD or the research director discussed informally with individual academics their research proposals for the future. One HoD, in charge of a social sciences department in an older university, described this approach and suggested how it was changing:
One is reliant on the individuals concerned seeing opportunities to publish in journals and putting in publications. There has not been very much direction of research until a year or so ago. People where just basically left to get on with their research and they were expected to publish. I think we now have rather more co-ordination and a bit more intervention and I think that the way that this is starting is that the director of research discusses periodically with members of staff how their research is going and what their publication plans are.
At the other end of the spectrum, some HoDs in both newer and older universities chose to try to maximise the research of their staff by targeting particular individuals. The head of a successful research-oriented science department in a newer university saw that:
...we very much operate on individual targets. If I am going to give a lecturer some time off his timetable then I want to know what he is going to deliver for the department over the next academic year and if at the end of that year the lecturer has not delivered what he has agreed, the lecturer may find that the following year he does not get anything. That is the end of the lecturer's research career.
Such stark pressures are obviously linked with the resourcing difficulties faced by very many academic departments in recent years. Thus, it comes as no surprise that thirty-five HoDs gave as one of their roles the management of departmental resources such as staff, the time-tabling of the curriculum, the administration of the department or overseeing the departmental budget. Where, however, this role differs from the past, is that with devolution of financial and administrative responsibility there is additional pressure on HoDs to adopt a more professional approach to the management of their department. This had undoubtedly increased the pressure upon, and the stress suffered by, many HoDs. One, for example, commented that "...there is a lot of responsibility, there is a huge amount of detritus and time-wasting attending useless committees that I would like to get rid of". Another, who had been in charge of a medical department for fourteen years, also found the post increasingly tiring as "...there is a big hassle fighting for money that I did not use to have to fight for". However, while the majority felt that they were asked to do too much resource management, four HoDs, in newer universities, felt that the level of management control they were allowed did not give them enough managerial authority. Although they had been given formal responsibility for their department and its finances, it still remained true that the largest part of a department's budget - staff costs - remained under the central authority of the university. This, as one head put it, was a source of some frustration: "I don't have the authority to manage in the same way that a shoe -shop manager does. I can't make decisions that impinge upon academic appointments and I can't make the kind of decisions that are needed". Such annoyance was not shared by nine other HoDs who were less concerned about managing resources. For three of them, from medical departments, the management of resources was less of an issue because they did not run a teaching programme. Three others, who defined the management of resources in terms of financial management, felt that as their discretionary budget was so small it was inappropriate to consider this as an important function of the office. Finally, a group of three HoDs were uninterested in managing resources largely, because they found the headship an irritation and had delegated much of the day-to-day responsibility to the departmental administrator.
6.8 Extending the Resource Base
Thirty-one HoDs were interested in identifying opportunities to extend their department's resource base. They were keen to use their position, contacts and personal knowledge of their particular field to support the teaching and research mission of their department. In more research-oriented departments this took the form of trying to facilitate research groups and enabling individual members of staff to explore opportunities for research and then apply for research grants. In more teaching-oriented departments, the HoD's role was largely similar, although there was a greater concentration in these departments on pursuing research consultancy contracts. All the HoDs were interested in developing their course portfolios since they recognised that such matters as short courses and postgraduate courses were becoming increasingly important. The reason for this wish to identify opportunities was simple: income generation. Each of the HoDs was aware that, since their unit of resource was declining in real terms each year, there was increased pressure from the university to make up this shortfall through additional students and increased research income.
6.9 Representing the Department to the University
Some fourteen HoDs also identified representing their department to the university as one of their roles. For twelve of these it was a question of seeking additional resources from the university. These HoDs felt that the university misunderstood the resource situation faced by their departments and the HoDs subsequently felt that it was important for the university to be made aware of such issues as the need for extra space, more staff, or for increased capital funding to improve the facilities of the department. Such representations had, however, been invariably unsuccessful. One HoD in a new university complained that "...it is just a case of treading water to stay afloat". However, for two others, keen to represent their department's interests to the university, the opposite was true. As both of these departments were successful in what was felt to be an otherwise unsuccessful university, both HoDs found themselves having to defend their department's income from a parent institution keen to redistribute this to less successful departments. As one suggested: "..the university is constantly attempting to strip our assets and our funding and we are constantly attempting to retain them".
6.10 Representing the Department externally
Ten HoDs identified representing their department outside the university as an important part of their job. There were two different but sometimes complementary reasons for this. Firstly, HoDs were concerned that their department's reputation and status should be either maintained or improved upon within their academic discipline at large. Thus, they felt that it was important to become involved in the relevant national or professional committees for their discipline. In this way they were able to keep up to date with curriculum developments, changes in funding policy and the work of competitors. External exposure also gave them access to intelligence on possible sources of funding and helped to guide them in setting the strategic direction for their department.
Eight HoDs suggested that protecting staff from the external environment was an important role. This was a direct result of the increased pressure from both the university and outside bodies on academics to maintain or improve teaching and research standards . They felt that, as these demands were already onerous, it would be inappropriate to burden academic colleagues still further with such concerns as the departmental budget, negotiations with the university and outside bodies, or the co-ordination of the department's strategic development. One HoD suggested that "...it is my job to protect the staff from much of the external flak from outside of the university and from within the university". The cost of this for this particular HoD was that "...I have to sacrifice my academic lifestyle for the benefit of my colleagues".
6.11 Balancing Departmental needs
Finally, six HoDs identified the need to balance the departmental and university needs as one of their responsibilities. Such a role was more common in the newer universities, with five out of the six HoDs coming from this group. In essence, this seemed to be due to a greater willingness on their part to be seen as line managers with specific responsibilities to their staff and the university. Also, in each case, the HoD was a permanent appointment. The situation of the HoD in an older university, who identified this as one of his roles, was more complex. In this instance, the HoD had been specifically placed within the department (although from a different discipline) to try to quell some of the rancour that had grown up in the department over recent years. Beyond this, however, when the various roles are broken down between newer and older universities it is clear that there was a remarkable uniformity between both sets of academic Heads. This is illustrated in Table 3.
Academic HoDs, regardless of their institution or their individual perception of themselves as academic leaders or managers, seem, therefore, to recognise that the office carries with it certain distinct roles. Chief amongst these is the internal direction and management of staff to further the research and teaching mission of the department. However, it is also clear that this primary role is increasingly being shaped by the need to both respond to and anticipate the needs of external constituencies such as the university and the funding bodies. Furthermore, the degree of uniformity between newer and older university HoDs says much about the ways in which external pressures have impacted upon the academic community in general and the academic HoD in particular. Financial and managerial devolution and the teaching and research auditing process have heightened the awareness that HoDs have to have or develop of factors outside of their own departments. As one Registrar in a large and very successful university suggested, the biggest single factor of change in academic circles in recent times has been the external intrusion into the work of the academic community: "What has changed is, the academics now have to play their game in the academic heartland according to the rules that are largely laid down external to the institution and the administration and the management have considerably increased their influence on the daily activities and business of the university".
6.12 Mission statements
Heads of Departments were also asked whether they had been required to develop or had developed independently a mission statement for their department. The majority of them, thirty-three, had done so. Of these, five mirrored their university's mission statement, while the remainder had developed mission statements that fitted more closely the aspirations of their particular department. However, as the eleven HoDs who did not have a departmental mission statement suggested, there seemed to be a widespread feeling that mission statements failed to contribute anything concrete or positive to the strategic direction of the department. As one head put it: "I would not let one through the door. I think that mission statements are brain rot". Even amongst those who had developed mission statements there was a feeling that such documents were more or less a waste of time. One HoD said: "I hold mission statements in contempt as they are useless documents. Nevertheless, it was a bureaucratic requirement that we contribute to the process so we did so". What HoDs preferred were strategic plans, often negotiated with the university or the faculty, which detailed the aims and objectives the department was intent on pursuing in the immediate or short-term future.
6.13 Departmental Goals
The forty-four academic HoDs interviewed had little trouble in identifying or articulating their departmental goals. Where differences did occur, however, was in the particular gloss which they chose to place on those goals. In a minority of cases HoDs chose to express their departmental goals in subjective terms such as 'excellence', believing that the products of the department should be free-standing, valued, as one put it, as "excellence per se". The majority of HoDs preferred to see their goals in the context of more objectively understood measures of performance, perhaps recognising the reality of performance assessment by outside agencies. Thus, it was not uncommon for HoDs to tie their department's performance specifically to success in the teaching and research assessment exercises.
The goals formulated by the HoDs were classified into a number of goals on the basis of their goal statements. This produced a number of 'typical' goals:
With this classification system it was possible to rank the HoDs' goals:
Not surprisingly, goals A and B were ranked highly by the majority of the HoDs. Essentially, this was because they confirmed that teaching and research were the chief occupations of their department. However, they also recognised that as teaching and research funding have been, and will increasingly be, subject to outside assessment, it was vital that they should ensure that their department was working hard to improve its teaching and research performance. This was particularly true of research. The HoDs realised that their research income was intrinsically tied to their performance in research assessment exercises as the university often differentially allocated any income earned from research. Thus, they realised that if they were to continue to have a healthy research programme or wished to expand their research they would have to either maintain or improve on their research profile. The alternative to not having a research base, as one academic head in a newer university suggested, was stark: "We don't want to be secondary school teachers and the difference between secondary school and higher education is that we have a research base".
Teaching quality, while not yet concretely tied to funding, was also just as important for many HoDs. However, many felt that it was a constant struggle to maintain or improve their teaching quality owing to the increased numbers of students still going through the higher education system and the reduction, in real terms, in the allocation of funding for teaching. To cope with this they had instituted reforms such as the dropping of the tutorial system in favour of seminars and the introduction of a more formal approach to the monitoring and evaluation of student performance.
Allied to these two central goals was the desire by many HoDs to ensure that they maximised the potential of their staff. Faced with a difficult funding situation, many considered that they had no alternative but to maintain or enhance the research and publication productivity of their staff. This was achieved by a variety of measures, but the general tendency was towards a more rigorous formalisation of staff appraisal and evaluation. Many also considered that it was not enough just to expect more and more from staff. For those who identified protecting their staff from the external environment as one of their roles it was important that staff be given a degree of autonomy and academic licence if they were to pursue their research and teaching effectively.
Increasingly, however, as the thirteen HoDs who stressed the importance of generating income suggest, there is great pressure on them to attract additional funding, whether this be from funding councils, grant-givers or private companies. Where these opportunities are perhaps limited, or where income was already tight, a goal for eleven HoDs was to ensure that their departmental budget was managed appropriately.
Other goals identified by the HoDs were improving external links and attracting high quality applicants. Both of these were ultimately also linked to improving the teaching and research performance of the department. It was recognised that in order to maximise their teaching income they had to attract sufficient applicants of appropriate quality to ensure that the department was able to meet its recruitment targets. Additionally, attracting high quality students had the advantage for some HoDs of serving as a pool from which future postgraduate students could be recruited. Improving external links was similarly beneficial as HoDs recognised that strong links with outside bodies, whether they were funding councils, local authorities or private business, could eventually lead to opportunities for departmental initiatives.
Financial considerations were important for some HoDs as they wished to see their department either develop or improve upon the provision of high quality continuing education. For these eight HoDs, all working in vocational subjects, it was clear that by making this a priority it was possible to generate more income than could perhaps be the case from more traditional sources of funding.
Eight HoDs also felt that one of their goals was the advancement of their discipline. Largely, this was related to a desire to see their own department engaged in research at the limits of the discipline. Alternatively, for one of them, advancing the discipline meant taking the work of the department to a wider community than had previously been the case. Widening access was also a goal for six of the HoDs. They wished either to see their department take in a greater proportion of mature students, ethnic minorities, students with disabilities and women, or continue to achieve the numbers they had in the past.
A small minority of academic Heads felt that one of their goals was to recruit high quality staff. These five HoDs were not principally motivated by a desire to improve their department's research rating in the next research assessment exercise by buying in staff who were able to bring their research record with them. While this may have been a consideration, the HoDs recognised that much of the good work done in departments comes from key people with energy and enthusiasm. As one head of a extremely successful engineering department put it "...good research projects rely on an individual who has started it all - probably from very small beginnings".
The least frequently identified goal was the desire to educate the student. This was something more than a wish to provide good quality teaching. The three HoDs who considered this an important goal suggested that it was important that students should be given the social and personal skills to be productive outside of their time at university. The fact that this goal, advocated for so long in British higher education, is so sparsely supported, perhaps reflects the extent to which increased student numbers and resource reductions have affected the attitude of HoDs.
6.14 Ranking Departmental goals
Academic Heads of Department were also asked to rank their goals in order of priority. This was done for two reasons. Firstly, given the limited time available for the interview, asking the HoDs themselves to rank their goals ensured that the greater part of the interview could be concentrated on what the HoD considered to be the most important of their goals. Additionally, by asking HoDs to rank their goals it was possible to identify their priorities much more clearly than could have been achieved by compiling a general list of goals. However, this approach was not always supported by the HoDs. Of the forty-four interviewed only twenty-three agreed that it was possible to rank goals. The remaining twenty-one felt unhappy with such an approach. While they nevertheless did comply with the ranking procedure, these HoDs felt that such an approach was inappropriate because they considered the goals they identified to be inter-related. For these HoDs a teaching goal was intimately linked to, for example, the research performance of the department and/or the ability of the department to attract external funding.
These considerations notwithstanding, however, HoDs did rank their departmental goals, as summarised in Table 6.
It is clear from the table that HoDs felt, on the whole, that goals A and B were their departments' main priorities, given the number of first and second rankings of these goals. Perhaps more surprising, however, is the degree of importance certain HoDs attributed to maximising the potential of staff. While the majority of HoDs identified this as a secondary goal, eight placed it in first or second position. Again, as with the recruitment of high quality staff, this was due to a belief amongst some of the HoDs that good quality research and teaching were both dependent on the quality of staff and the extent to which they could be motivated to produce more.
Improving external links, promoting continuing education and managing the department's resources were similarly important to some HoDs. Resource issues were vital considerations for some concerned above all about either maintaining or improving the resource base of their department. Widening access, educating the student and advancing the discipline, however, proved to be secondary considerations. The only exception to this was one HoD who felt that, since his department was going through a period of re-organisation it was important that the department redefine its position within its discipline.
Perhaps the most interesting point to emerge from the ranking of goals is that for a small number of academic Heads it highlights the critical value of attracting high quality applicants to their departments. In each of the four cases in which HoDs ranked this as their primary objective, it was clear that the major difficulty facing the departments was their inability to attract students to their courses. This presented the departments with major difficulties since a limited amount of teaching income was a serious threat to the rest of the department's activities. For two HoDs, both in science subjects, the difficulty of attracting suitably qualified students unbalanced the department in the short term and in the medium to long term seriously threatened the survival of the department.
It clear from these results that academic Heads of Departments regard the maintenance and improvement of their teaching and research programmes as central to the operation of their department. However, it is just as evident that these two main priorities, and the HoDs' subsidiary goals, are increasingly being shaped by pressure from external bodies and by the universities themselves. The HoDs have responded to this managerialism by themselves attempting to manage their staff more effectively. As the results of the interviews with HoDs suggest, this has, consequently, affected the traditional collegial relationship between HoDs and their departmental colleagues and made them even more aware of the increasing need to target resources. Thus, while HoDs may still feel that determination of the future strategy and goals of their department belongs to them and their colleagues, it is evident that these goals are increasingly being shaped by an outside agenda.
6.16 Critical Success Factors
Once their departmental goals had been identified, HoDs were asked to consider what factors were critical to the achievement of those goals. In general, despite a few initial misunderstandings as to what was being asked of them, HoDs were able to identify their critical success factors (CSFs). These are summarised in Table 6.
Within the range of twelve goals already identified HoDs were able to suggest as many as twenty-four possible CSFs. Of these the first ten relate to factors 'external' to departments such as their relationship with potential research sponsors or the nature of the departments' links with various professional or academic communities. As such, therefore, these factors may principally be considered as oriented more towards research and income generation. The remaining fourteen CSFs identified may, on the other hand, be related more to teaching and personnel goals and thus may be considered as factors 'internal' to the department.
Looking at each CSF in turn, it is evident that using a CSFs approach can be a useful tool in analysing the complex relationships between organisational goals and the important considerations that any organisation faces in achieving those goals. Taking, first, external factors such as the reputation of the department, what is interesting about this is its importance across a range of externally related goals. Obviously, this had much to do with the recognition by those HoDs who identified this factor of the value and impact of a positive public perception of their department when seeking valuable external income. However, it is also worth noting the importance attached to the external perceptions of their department by HoDs who had difficulties in attracting students (goal G).
(* Goals were - A: to provide high quality teaching; B: to improve the department's research performance; C: to provide high quality continuing education; D: to maximise the potential of staff; E: to generate income; F: to widen access; G: to attract high quality applicants; H: to recruit high quality staff; I: to improve external links; J: to educate the student; K: to advance the discipline; L to manage the department's resources.)
6.17 External Factors
Such factors as external relations, response to external needs and contacts with external bodies were also vital means of gaining knowledge of developments in their discipline and essential to the establishment and maintenance of effective income-generation activities. This is clear from the importance that external relations has across a range of goals and the significance HoDs assign to external needs. A minority of HoDs, drawn exclusively from departments with links with professional bodies, were also concerned about the policies of external bodies. However, it was clear from the interviews that these HoDs felt that the issue was not so much identifying the policy of external bodies but responding effectively to their suggestions.
Of central importance to those HoDs who were 'externally' focused was the need not only to win funding for research but to attract funding from a wide range of sources in addition to the funding body most relevant to their discipline or subject. Diversification of their research base seemed less of an issue for HoDs. Where it was important, HoDs felt that they had reached a level of stasis within the department's research specialisms and, in order to continue to improve the department, they had to evolve a more relevant research agenda. However, it was also clear that the relatively limited score that HoDs associated with diversifying their research base was partly due to the fact that research income was often only gained once a reputation in a particular field had been established. For those without such individuals and without the necessary resources to 'buy' someone in, it was considered that any ventures into new areas might not prove cost-effective. Moreover, the actual cost of diversifying the research base inhibited some HoDs. With resources tight, some suggested it would be difficult to convince funding bodies or the host university of the feasibility or utility of such a move.
As for relations with the National Health Service (NHS), support for this factor was limited to those HoDs in medical fields. Given that, what is interesting about this factor is the degree of importance that four HoDs assigned to developing continuing education (Goal C). They felt that, with limits imposed on undergraduate recruitment and with research becoming increasingly competitive, the potentially lucrative market in people who wished to 'top-up' their qualifications was and would be an increasingly valuable source of additional income .
The comparatively high ranking some HoDs gave to the need to respond to university needs is further evidence for the view that the university and its service departments are of increasing importance. This is reflected across a range of goals especially in relation to teaching (Goal A), maximising the importance of staff (Goal D), recruitment of staff (Goal H), and managing the department's budget (Goal L). It is worth noting, however, that such information support services as the library and computing services do not figure to any great extent in the HoDs' assessment of critical success factors.
6.18 Student Management, Student Recruitment and Teaching
It was clear that more internally-focused CSFs were just as important, if not more important, than externally-focused factors. In the area of student management, such factors as support for students in general and NHS students in particular and student recruitment were important considerations. With support for students the most heavily supported of the three, it was evident that, taken together with monitoring and evaluation systems, some HoDs recognised that academia's traditional relationship with students was changing, owing both to pressure from students for greater accountability and the need for departments to process equitably the increased number of students within higher education. Thus, many HoDs had instituted or managed monitoring and evaluation systems that allowed students, through such means as questionnaires and staff-student liaison committees, a voice in their department. Student recruitment, as has already been shown, was a particularly key factor for some HoDs who were worried about the possible repercussions of falling student demand for their courses. However, it is also apparent that some saw student recruitment as important for their teaching (Goal A) and research (Goal B) as well as their income generating capability (Goal E). Undoubtedly, this was the result of the HoDs' concern with the difficulties in attracting postgraduate students. It was felt that besides being a valuable source of income, postgraduate students were important for maintaining the current research and teaching programmes in departments. As for the HoDs concerned about students within a NHS setting, the paucity of support here is due to the small number of medical departments visited and the difficulty in interviewing HoDs whose departments actually had teaching programmes.
The exploitation of new technology, teaching resources, maintenance of clinical practice and course design, were central factors for many HoDs seeking to improve their department's teaching performance. Chief amongst these factors was course design. Although ranged across a number of goals, this was a principal factor for HoDs wishing to evolve effective courses that met the learning demands of both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Moreover, course design was essential for some who were keen to develop courses that could produce students of sufficient quality while not placing too much of a strain on already stretched resources (as can be seen with the concern with teaching resources). Increasingly, HoDs were looking to exploit new technology, whether through Computer Aided Learning or more efficient use of existing IT resources, to deliver these economies. Some HoDs' concern with the maintenance of clinical practice was obviously linked to medical disciplines; the low incidence of this factor in the rankings reflects the number in the sample and their range of teaching programmes.
6.19 Internal Management Issues
Beyond factors associated with students or their learning experience, HoDs, as Table 6 shows, were principally concerned about internal management issues such as resource management, staff development policies, responding to internal needs, and the protection of research and teaching time. Of these factors, one of the most commonly cited by HoDs was resource management. Obviously, this was a key factor in managing the department's budget (Goal L). Perhaps of more interest, though, is the relevance of this factor to the research goal (Goal B). The high incidence of research management in relation to this goal is indicative of a situation that has already been discussed - that of HoDs' having to allocate time and money differentially according to the HoDs' perceptions of the abilities of individual members of staff. Resource management is therefore increasingly important in maximising the potential of their staff (Goal D). Similarly, a number of HoDs identified the need to respond to internal demands and the importance of trying to protect research and teaching time, although as has been shown, this is increasingly used as a stick rather than a carrot. However, as the support for staff development policies suggests, a number of HoDs were concerned that every opportunity should be afforded them to set their own agenda, although they were being forced increasingly to direct the efforts of fellow academic staff. Thus, they were keen to ensure that their staff should be given a hearing and supported in responding to the increased pressures they were facing through such means as staff appraisal and teaching and development courses.
The need to retain or recruit academic staff seemed to be of less relevance for the majority of HoDs The low incidence of references to this in the list of CSFs may be indicative of the shortage of opportunities for staff recruitment within the profession in recent years. Where HoDs were concerned about retaining or recruiting academic staff this was largely due a desire to improve the research performance of the department (Goal B). However, since interviews were conducted relatively close to the impending third research assessment exercise, it was also clear that some were concerned to ensure that they either retained their good staff or were able to recruit new staff who could add value to their performance in this exercise.
6.20 Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and the Interview Groups
Once the HoDs had identified their CSFs, similar or related CSFs were grouped under a number of headings. Thus, for example, external relationships was linked with response to external needs and the policies of external bodies. This produced fifteen key functions which attempt to describe the various relationships between the three interview groups: 'newer' and 'older' universities; W, X, Y, Z groups; and science, social science, arts and medical departments. However, as each of these groups ranged in number between, for example, eighteen in group W and six in group Z, these groups have, alongside their relevant totals, percentage totals which allows a comparison between the groups, as summarised in Table 7.
6.20.1 'Newer' and 'Older' Universities
Following the interviews with the twenty-four HoDs in 'newer' universities and the twenty in 'older' universities, it was possible to construct a table that compared what HoDs in both two groups considered to be their key CSFs. This is outlined in Table 8. What is apparent from the table is a degree of unanimity amongst HoDs in both the newer and older universities. In matters such as external relationships, public relations, course design, teaching resources, monitoring and evaluation systems and student recruitment the percentage totals indicate that HoDs in both groups shared broadly similar opinions. Thus, it is clear that both sets of HoDs regarded external relationships as very important while, for example, the matter of teaching resources attracted support from a minority of both groups.
However, while there may be a degree of convergence, it is also evident that there were key differences between the two groups. In terms of relations with their university, for instance, it is evident that this factor was more of an issue for HoDs in the newer universities. It may be that, since HoDs in the older universities in the sample were statistically more likely to have a higher research assessment rating, it was possible that they had a greater degree of financial independence from their university. This, perhaps, would suggest that as resources were restricted it was important to ensure that the university was made aware of the needs of the department concerned. More importantly, though, the key reason for the divergence in links with the university is the differing traditions and cultures within which the two academic groups worked. Stereotypically, it is likely that HoDs in older universities have a greater degree of autonomy than is afforded those at newer universities where, despite independence from local authority control, there still remains a more top-down managerialist approach to academic staff. Thus, it may be a more pressing consideration for HoDs in newer universities to foster close relations with the central administration.
Again, although the total scores are the same (15), what Table 8 also shows is that, in percentage terms, HoDs in older universities tend to put more stress on research and funding as key factors. This may be indicative - along with the disparity between the two groups on matters of academic recruitment, information support and on the protection of the distinction between research and teaching time - of how, relatively, research is more important for HoDs in the older universities and suggests, perhaps, that this group are more externally focused.
This interpretation may be further reinforced by the wide difference between the two groups over resource management and staff development policies. While it may be obvious that HoDs in older universities do consider these factors to be important, it equally apparent that HoDs in the newer universities place greater importance on research management and staff development policies. On the whole, this may be due to the greater emphasis that HoDs in newer universities place on internal management factors such as listening to internal concerns. However, it is clear that HoDs in this group felt that they had very limited resources to work with; this called for careful and judicious use of these resources - in both teaching and research - and a clear sense that the academic staff had to be used optimally. For HoDs in older universities, this pressure appeared to be not so pressing although, as indicated earlier, this group have already travelled far down the road of differentiating between the skills and abilities of individual academic members of staff.
6.20.2 W, X, Y and Z Interview Groups
Academic Heads of Department, in addition to being classified according to whether they worked in 'older' or 'newer' universities, were also grouped according to their department's rating in the most recent research assessment exercise and the ratio of undergraduate to postgraduate students in their department, namely:
i) W, research rating of 3 and below; above 80% undergraduate (18 interviews);
ii) X, research rating of 4 and above; above 80% undergraduate (11 interviews); iii) Y, research rating of 3 and below; below 80% undergraduate (9 interviews);
iv) Z, research rating of 4 and above; below 80% undergraduate (6 interviews).
The resulting data from this analysis are outlined in Table 9.
It is clear from these results that, compared with the previous analysis, relationships between the interview groups were more varied and complex. This lack of uniformity is influenced by the numbers in each of the interview groups and the difficulty in accurately gauging the actual percentages of undergraduates in some of the departments. Moreover, the degree of variance between the interview groups might, perhaps, suggest that for HoDs a greater influence upon the choice of key factors is their institutional setting rather than the number of students within the department or its research rating.
These caveats notwithstanding, Table 9 appears to indicate that the relative position of academic departments does, overall, affect the perceptions of HoDs in each of the groups. With external relationships, relations with the university, resource management, staff development policies, information support, and monitoring/evaluation systems, the table broadly supports what might perhaps have been expected: groups with high research ratings (Groups X & Z) placed a greater emphasis upon meeting external needs than perhaps was the case with the other two, more teaching-oriented, groups. However, while this may seem the general picture, there are significant suggestions within the table that the situation is rather more complex.
Firstly, the academic Heads in Group Y, as in group W, were extremely keen to develop and maintain their external relationships, since they realised how important it was becoming to develop funding opportunities. As for relations with the university, the groups, with the exception of Group X, seem to follow a pattern that suggests, if we take the department's research rating as an indicator of its financial position, that the higher the research rating the more autonomous the department. However, as Group X demonstrates, this situation is complicated because it is exactly due to the relative wealth of this group that the university takes a close interest in its affairs. As has already been seen, a number of HoDs stated that one of their roles was to attempt to prevent their university from re-distributing the research resources of the department to support less successful departments.
The identification of research and funding as key factors may also, superficially, seem equally puzzling as all four groups rank this factor favourably. Yet, it must be borne in mind that all of them were found to be fairly aggressive about obtaining research funding and that those from Group Y, with relatively low research ratings but with a strong postgraduate culture, felt that achieving a successful department was dependent upon such matters as research and funding as well as strong resource management, staff development policies and academic and student recruitment.
Nevertheless, it may still seem unclear why the HoDs in Group Z did not identify more strongly factors like public relations, resource management, staff development policies, responding to internal needs, monitoring/evaluation systems or academic factors. Partly, this may be explained by the fact that departments in this group are already successful and therefore feel that, having attained success, the main pressure on them is to maintain and repeat this success. However, more persuasive than this may be the attitudes and managerial styles that were evident amongst HoDs in this group; they were more inclined than others to treat the office essentially as something of a temporary inconvenience in their research career. Moreover, there was a general perception that it was possible to over-manage academic staff as a number of HoDs felt that gaining research income was essentially an individual affair. For example, one suggested that:
The job that I had prior to this was Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research. I was supposed to be providing a service to help people find money and put them in the right kind of position. It was perceived that the job didn't really produce the goods and the general conclusion was if any one did any good research they didn't need this kind of service. In fact, they just knew how to go about things.
Consequently, it may come as no surprise to find that what concerned HoDs in Group Z was the protection of research time and teaching matters such as course design, teaching resources, student recruitment, support for students, and information support.
The perceptions of HoDs in Group Z undoubtedly affected the perceptions of Group X who were in a similar situation, although they had fewer postgraduate students. However, as was the case with Group Y, and is apparent from the number of factors identified by Group W, it is clear that HoDs in Group X are increasingly having to respond to the pressures put upon them by both the university and external agencies. Given this, therefore, it only seems a matter of time before the HoDs in Group Z have to respond more managerially if they are to retain their pre-eminent position in terms of research.
6.20.3 Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts and Medical Interview Groups
The interviews with the HoDs were also broken down according to disciplines. Although, again, this could not be done exactly owing to the inter-disciplinary relationships that exist in some departments, the following typology was constructed:
Table 10 summarises the results of this categorisation.
Again, as with the previous typology, the data are complex. However, it is apparent that there are distinct differences between what HoDs in each of the four subject groups perceived to be their key factors. The most obvious of these are the relative differences over factors such as external relationships, research and funding, public relations, academic recruitment, and, inversely, relations with the university. For each of these factors, HoDs in sciences and medical subjects stress these factors more strongly than their colleagues in social sciences and arts.. This is not to say that HoDs in the latter groups do not feel that these are important considerations, but that, on balance, they are relatively more pressing for the two former groups. One reason for this may be that HoDs in science and medical subjects are more reliant on external sources of funding for their research, have to be more pluralistic in their approaches to potential research sponsors and more aware of the such things as curriculum developments within their disciplines.
This, though, may be to stereotype the situation. While it may be accurate to suggest that arts and social sciences may have more limited potential sources of external funding, it was clear from the interviews with the HoDs in these disciplines that there is increased pressure upon them to locate and win more outside funding. Similarly, as one academic head from an arts department suggested, the traffic may not always be one way: "We suspect that a lot of the time more of the finances of the university are being vired towards maths, computing and engineering than are coming to us".
Thus, it is not surprising, given the continued attractiveness of arts and social science courses and the recent pressure upon such departments from their university to recruit as many students as they are allowed, that HoDs in these subject groups list as their CSFs the protection of research/teaching time, responding to internal needs, support for students, course design and, perhaps most importantly, teaching resources.
But such pressures are also evident amongst HoDs in science subjects and to a similar extent amongst those HoDs in medical disciplines who had teaching programmes. (As has already been shown, not all of the HoDs from medical disciplines had teaching programmes, which helps to explain the external research-oriented nature of this interview group). Like their colleagues in arts and social science subjects, HoDs in science and medical subjects are increasingly having to address internal management issues such as staff development, resource management, responding to internal needs as well as teaching concerns and information support. Furthermore, especially for science subjects, a major factor was the difficulty in attracting students suitably qualified and able to pursue their courses. Again and again, HoDs in science subjects considered that this was due partly to the relative unpopularity of science but more importantly to the low level of numeracy amongst new students. Almost without exception, HoDs of science departments felt that the 'A' level system was producing students who knew less than similar students a decade ago. This perception extended right across those interviewed and regardless of how well their students had performed at 'A' level. To combat it, some of those interviewed were already well advanced in planning a four year master's degree that would allow their students to catch up with what was required.
The interview results considered above suggest clearly that HoDs felt that a wide variety of critical success factors was needed in order to achieve their organisational goals. Internal factors, such as staff development policies and resource management, were critical for managing the department's activities, but so too were external factors such as the need to attract the resources necessary to enable the department to meet its primary teaching and research goals. However, the results also suggest that there were four key influences that impacted upon the HoDs' choice of CSFs, namely:
i) The external economic and political environment.
HoDs recognised that their critical success factors were increasingly being shaped by government policy through agencies such as the funding and the research councils. They recognised that it was increasingly important to conform to the agenda of such external agencies as a large part of research income and, in the future, teaching income will be dependent on meeting the criteria established by them. HoDs felt that in order to achieve this they had to build closer links with outside agencies. They also realised that, since the government had created a 'managed market', the struggle for teaching and research funds would become more competitive, and that they would, therefore, have to become more pluralistic in their attitudes to funding opportunities by developing closer links with external agencies in commerce and industry and the NHS.
ii) Institutional setting.
Through the creation of a 'managed market' and by offering customers (students) a plurality of choices, government has also sought to create a corporate culture within universities to ensure that resources are used efficiently and effectively. This managerialism has had a direct impact on the management style and practices of universities. A top-down management approach emphasising efficiency and accountability for resources has also directly affected the choice of CSFs amongst HoDs. It was clear that HoDs in newer universities, with a longer tradition of managerialism behind them, thought it was very important that there should be a close relationship between the university centre and their department. Principally, this was because such HoDs considered many of the decisions on resources and departmental policy to be dependent upon how the university chose to interpret their situation. By contrast, HoDs in older universities felt, on the whole, that their choice of CSFs was less dependent upon their having a close relationship with their respective university centre. Again, the reason for this appeared to be cultural; HoDs in older universities appeared to identify much more closely with the ideas of collegiality and professional autonomy. Thus, they tended to choose CSFs that were more dependent upon internal factors rather than to see issues from the corporate perspective of their university. However, institutional setting, apart from seeming to allow a greater degree of academic freedom, was already impacting upon these HoDs in older universities as they could no longer remain immune from the conversion to managerialism that has swept through higher education.
iii) Relative position of department (measured by research rating and percentage of postgraduates).
As the results from Group Z testify, it would seem that the wealthier the department, the greater the likelihood that it will be able to resist external pressure and concentrate on its own agenda. However, even here, it was clear that the Heads of such departments felt that there was enormous pressure on them to maintain their position of pre-eminence, and that this could only be done by concentrating on meeting external needs and, increasingly, targeting the activities of their staff. Such pressures were also evident in the case of the other HoDs. Here, however, owing either to relatively poorer research ratings or the influence of their own university, HoDs realised that they had to be able to identify a variety of CSFs if they were to achieve their organisational goals. Thus, it was important for them to seek additional funding, attract more postgraduate students, listen to their university, and manage the activities of their academic staff more stringently.
iv) Departmental culture.
This influence is perhaps the most difficult to define and measure, not least because it is so pervasive. Nevertheless, it was evident that it did affect the HoDs' choice of CSFs. In one sense, this was due to the particular management styles adopted by the HoDs. Generally speaking, though this characterisation may, perhaps, be too stereotypical, the HoDs in more scientifically oriented departments felt that it was important to adopt a more top-down managerial style towards their staff than was perhaps the case with their colleagues in social sciences or arts departments. One obvious reason for this was that in science and medical departments research is often much more collaborative than in the social sciences and arts departments and thus may require a greater degree of interpersonal management. However, perhaps more important, especially to the HoDs in the older universities, was the emphasis they placed on individual choice and autonomy. This desire to develop staff and protect their research time was, however. being eroded by growing external pressures, managerialism within their universities, and difficulties in attracting funding and students.
The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities: a Critical Success Factors Approach, by Francis Greene, Brendan Loughridge and Tom Wilson
British Library Research and Development Department Report 6252 1996
Grant no: RDD/G/254