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Homepage / Report warns universities are in danger of stifling their own success

Report warns universities are in danger of stifling their own success



New research conducted by Cranfield School of Management on behalf of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) shows that, in response to pressures to perform, universities may in fact be damaging their own future success.

The research reveals that universities are becoming more controlling, taking what is known as “an agency approach”, focussing their performance management processes on shorter-term goals and becoming more results and output driven. Whilst this may sound sensible, these approaches are linked to lower levels of staff wellbeing and poorer levels of institutional research excellence.

Universities that adopt a more traditional view, known as a “stewardship approach”, see themselves as stewards of knowledge and education and focus on the longer term development of knowledge for the greater good of society.  They create an environment based on autonomy, trust and shared values. The research showed that this approach is associated with higher levels of staff wellbeing as well as higher students’ satisfaction. Higher staff well being is associated with better student employability, with research excellence and also with better financial results.

Report author Dr Monica Franco Santos, Senior Research Fellow at Cranfield School of Management said: “UK Universities are at a tipping point. Whilst it is understandable that they are adopting a shorter term, results focussed approach owing to pressures to perform better and a reduction in financial resources, they run the risk of failing to deliver their long-term mission. Our report recommends the need to craft a hybrid performance management approach that balances stewardship and agency practices and is appropriate to the institution’s own distinctive characteristics.”

The research included insights from more than 1,000 staff, both academic and administrative, working in UK Higher Education Institutions and 110 detailed interviews.


The report is co-authored by Dr Monica Franco-Santos from Cranfield School of Management, Dr Pilar Rivera from the University of Zaragoza and Professor Mike Bourne from Cranfield School of Management.

The research was based on case studies and a substantial survey of staff in Higher Education establishments. More specifically: –

  1. Case studies were used to look at the performance management mechanisms in six universities. The research looked at three Russell Group and three post-1992 universities focusing on both its academic and administrative staff. This included interviewing 110 key informants from across institutions, from Vice Chancellors to front line staff in central services and in four schools/faculties (Education, Math, Business & Management, and Art).
  2. A survey of university staff was conducted obtaining over 1000 usable responses. The results from the survey were combined with other publicly available data, from the National Student Satisfaction survey, the last Research Assessment Exercise, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and the Universities and College Union’s (UCU) academic staff wellbeing survey.

Link to report

Monica Franco-Santos, Pilar Rivera & Mike Bourne, (2014), “Performance Management in UK higher Education Institutions: The need for a hybrid approach”.

Written By: Cranfield CBP

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