One of the motivations for our current focus on leadership, governance and management, was the recent work on ‘neo-collegiality’ by Bacon (2014), also funded by the LFHE. In this report, Bacon1 makes the case for collegiality understood as “a structured form of collaborative decision-making.” He argues that “the voice of universities’ academic and professional staff ought to be heard with far greater decision-making and decision-influencing force than is currently the case” and consequently focuses on “the formalized structuring of a collegial decision-making process. (2014, 3) This is distinct from a definition of collegiality as a form of behavior since, “it is too easy otherwise for institutions and individuals to commit to or to urge collegial behavior without anything actually changing in terms of decision-making.” The focus therefore, is on establishing structures and processes that enable and protect a renewed form of democratic decision-making that takes advantage of the research-based problem solving skills of staff operating at all levels, accounting for the advantages to organisations when self-managed professionals interact with peers on matters of common purpose, particularly in knowledge-based industries.
The report offers a number of reasons why such changes are needed (2014, 24):
- Too many staff feel voiceless.
- Current university management structures and practices are often outdated.
- Current management literature emphasises the disadvantages, particularly in knowledge-based sectors, of top-down hierarchical structures.
- Current management literature emphasises the advantages of frontline staff having increased autonomy.
- The desire for more collegial decision-making is widespread across the UK’s university sector.
- Collegiality improves decision-making, bringing with it an awareness of the front-line activities and priorities which matter most to students.
- Neo-collegial decision-making can take many different forms, often enhanced by new technology.
Bacon concludes his report by outlining “a menu of the potential forms that moves to neocollegiality might take.” (20) It is our early assumption that these might be adapted and used to expand the framework we offer above. The menu comprises ten proposed initiatives towards greater collegiality within a university:
- Concordat on collegiality
- Reviving existing structures
- Transparency and collegiality
- Collegiality on demand
- Consensus collegiality
- Temporal variations
- Collegial appointments
- Veto collegiality
- Shared governance
We leave it to you to read the report and in particular Bacon’s remarks on the forms of collegiality, but should highlight that many of them align with our own research into co-operative higher education (e.g. reviving existing structures; consensus; subsidiarity, shared governance).
- Dr Edwin Bacon is a member of our project Steering Group [↩]