The HE sector: organisation cultures and management; Research Quality Assessment

Submitting Institution

University of Greenwich

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Other Education

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Summary of the impact

McNay's work is at the boundaries between HEIs and their environment: policy analysis, particularly of Access and, here, Research Quality Assessment, and the impact on internal strategies; and organisational analysis and the way internal cultures and processes are conditioned by external influences. His conceptual model of cultures is used by professionals worldwide to evaluate and improve leadership and management and introduce change. RAE impact analysis has influenced policy (eg on the teaching /research nexus) in the UK and elsewhere) and staff behaviour. It was a factor leading to adjustment of later exercises towards profiling, consistency of criteria and impact

Underpinning research

Two strands have been selected from work covering policy analysis and leadership/management. Both are based on input from front line professionals as well as senior staff; the managed as well as managers.

Strand A
Ian McNay developed the matrix of four `cultures' in HEIs which plots control of policy development against control of policy delivery, within a Swiss international symposium funded by the Jean Monnet Foundation [3.1], and research focusing on enterprise [3.2]. McNay led research within an ESRC/SRHE funded seminar series [3.3], which reviewed shifts in cultural balance to corporate enterprise as predicted by the model and confirmed within an LFHE-funded project on leadership and organisation culture in a period of austerity [McNay, 2012, Jameson and McNay, 2013]. Loss of collegiality and a clash of perceived values were highlighted in a project funded by a private foundation [Bone and McNay, 2006; McNay, 2007, 2008]. This led to current concepts of stratified institutions with a `paperwork' university seen in documents (reports, policy statements, regulations) and a `professional' university reflecting the lived reality, closer to core activities.

The original model integrates work by Weick (1976), Handy (1976) and Clark (1983). It was tested with, and elaborated by, participants in successive management programmes and commissioned consultancies: an early form of crowd-sourcing. Participants showed, for example, that the contention of conflict across the diagonals of the matrix was not universal: collegiality and bureaucracy characterise different operations in the Open University, while staff in the London University external degrees office evidenced their role as entrepreneurial bureaucrats, selling exam administration globally.

Successive projects have confirmed the risk of corruption of values within each quadrant. Bureaucracy can move from equity of treatment to rigid standardisation, and from supporting the collegium to a surveillance service for the corporate centre. The enterprise can move from client service and sensitivity, to `selling' in a competitive climate. A key finding is the need to reduce corruption by moderation between adjacent quadrants: the collegium should recognise client needs eg in impact of research; knowledge transfer needs the quality output from the collegium as a source base [3.2, 3.3].

Strand B
Work on processes for assessing research quality began when HEFCE commissioned an evaluation of the RAE's impact after unification of HE systems. This was published in 1997; projects since then have updated the findings through staff surveys and documentary and policy analysis. Recent work has developed comparative study of different national approaches and chronological studies relating procedural means to changing policy ends.

The main findings include:

  • The failure of RAE processes to match the criteria set for the exercises, eg transparency, fairness etc [3.4, 3.6].
  • Staff in the squeezed middle of units of assessment experienced greater stress, in contrast to the `confident' at the top and `carefree' at the bottom [3.5].
  • The damaging effect the RAE had on teaching by privileging research.
  • The frequent failure to link research to teaching or, more recently, to enterprise, even where support for enterprise was structurally located with research support [3.5].
  • The limited success of corporate approaches to driving research, a collegial activity.

References to the research

(REF1 submitted staff in bold, **REF2 Output)

Strand A

3.1 McNay, I. (1999). Changing cultures in UK higher education: The state as corporate market bureaucracy and the emergent academic enterprise. In D. Braun & F. Merrien (Eds.), Towards a new model of governance for universities: A comparative view (pp. 34-58). London: Jessica Kingsley.

3.2 McNay, I. (2003). The e-factors and organization cultures in British universities. In G. Williams (Ed.), The Enterprising University: reform, excellence and equity (pp. 20-28). Buckingham:Open University Press.

3.3 McNay, I. (2006). Managing universities in a mass HE system, in I. McNay (Ed.), Beyond Mass Higher Education: Building on experience (pp. 161-170). Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Strand B

3.4 McNay, I. (1999). The paradoxes of research assessment and funding, in B. Little & M. Henkel, M. (Eds.), Changing Relationships between Higher Education and the State (pp. 191-208). London:Jessica Kingsley. [Papers from an ESRC seminar series]

**3.5 McNay, I. (2009). Research Quality Assessment: Objectives, approaches, responses and consequences, in A. Brew & L. Lucas (Eds.), Academic Research and Researchers (pp. 35-53). Maidenhead: Open University Press.'

**3.6 McNay, I. [2011] Research Assessment: Work in progress, or la lutta continua', in M. Saunders, P. Trowler, & V. Bamber (Eds.), Reconceptualising Evaluation in Higher Education (51-57). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Evidence of quality
Google Scholar records 974 citations for work on Strand A, and 315 for Strand B. Well over a hundred citations for HEFCE [1997] can be added to Strand B. [3.1] has 34, and [3.3], 22; on strand B, [3.4] has 72. Citations come from across the globe. Earlier outputs in both strands have over 400, and satisfy Adams' criterion for ranking in the top 5% of cited works worldwide.

Strand B work led to an invitation from UNESCO to write a framing paper for its policy development on research, and a commission to write the chapter on research assessment for the International Encyclopaedia of Higher Education. The report with Bone, Higher Education and Human Good was called in as evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee considering the future of higher education.

Details of the impact

Strand A
In the 1980s and 1990s, UK HEIs were challenged by external trends including government pressure for accountability and research excellence, and the introduction of corporate structures led by managers rather than academics. They were also constrained by their own insularity, insufficient responsiveness to the needs of their markets, and resistance to corporate management even when it was enabling rather than authoritarian. Ian McNay developed a heuristic model of organisational cultures that enabled discussion of the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each one in order to best manage change and achieve organisational goals. The model showed that each culture — of collegium, bureaucracy, corporation and enterprise — was needed but that internal and external forces could corrupt values and jeopardise the necessary balance and tension between them. McNay's research showed that the best institutions have a strong sense of identity/mission and a `collegial enterprise', market-facing culture. The model is used by HE professionals across the world to evaluate leadership, management and service provision, and introduce change.

This strand has contributed to policy on institutional change, including:

  • Informing decisions on appropriate cultures for a merger in Wales [Drowley, 2013]
  • Supporting decisions on optimal approaches to student engagement at the University of Bath. Corporate bureaucracies did not provide a good `fit' with student preferences for collegial relationships, though with some enterprise elements emerging after recent changes in fee level. "The collegium and the enterprise culture allow for a more direct involvement with seems much more effective to work with one's Students' Union in partnership [collegium] or as a fellow stakeholder [enterprise], either directly or through localised, empowered representation." [Van der Verden, 2012]
  • The head of a devolved campus at the University of Southern Queensland, influenced by the model, set out to establish enterprise [with some collegiality] as defining the campus culture.
  • Work at the University of Cape Town on e-learning innovation concluded that "there is a crucial relationship between policy and use but organisational culture is fundamental to how that relationship is played out" and advocated a collegial culture in e-learning development because it led to more, and more varied use — "the corporate culture may not facilitate staff level innovation and variety in use". [Czerniewicz and Brown, 2009]
  • Yong-Tao Gan [2008] claims that in the analysis of the impact of external factors on internal governance and decision-making, there is "inspiration in this model to promote the reformation and development of higher education in China".

Impact is enhanced by work with end users through consultancy and CPD. For example, City University Business School's official history records the effect of a commissioned CPD programme in changing the strategic focus and processes of the school, and enhancing quality. David Sweeney, HEFCE Director of Research, Innovation and Skills, claimed of his participation in CPD programme `Preparing for Strategic Leadership': "It changed my career direction; it is a major reason why I am in my present role." His predecessor was also a participant in several programmes.

Strand B
McNay's first review of the impact of the RAE following unification of HE systems in 1992, published by HEFCE in 1997, had an immediate impact on policy in Australia: the Bourke Report [1997] recommended against imitation of the UK model. That decision has been in place throughout the period since, despite several attempts to institute UK practice.

In the UK, McNay was a significant voice arguing for reform of the RAE in order to recognise and support research diversity, and research applied to the needs of society and integrated with teaching, and to discourage conservative, convergent conformity. The impact of his work within HEFCE was acknowledged by the then Chief Executive in a speech to an SRHE conference [Fender, 1997]. The critique of definitions used in gradings and the voice given to those researching smaller, applied projects in partnership with users, formed part of the pressure to change, eventually, to profiling output, and to strengthening relevance as an integral part of quality. Oancea [2010] copied the methodology in her review of impact of the 2008 RAE on Education research, to which McNay was an advisor.

The decision by the Institute for Learning and Teaching to establish a group to review the teaching/learning nexus, led by Professor Roger Brown, was influenced by McNay's findings on the impact of the RAE on teaching. His findings continued to be validated by later work.

In recent years, the work has been cited in government policy papers in Canada and Germany. It underpinned an invited paper to UNESCO on possible policy initiatives.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Strand A
Contacts have been provided from the University of Bath and University of Southern Queensland to comment on use of the research in professional policy making. A contact at Coventry University will comment on the wide recognition of the model and its influence on management thinking within HEIs.

Strand B
A contact at Liverpool Hope University will comment on the work on research quality assessment, particularly the impact on teaching and policy on the research/teaching nexus. A contact at HEPI will comment on broader influence on policy.