Implications of the Senior Management Survey (SMS), by Carl Walker

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Carl Walker gives background to the recent Senior Management Survey and summarises the results in a guest post for HE Marketisation. Of interest to activists and trade unionists resisting the negative impact of marketisation on higher education institutions across the UK (and beyond), the survey found “widespread dissatisfaction with senior management practices across the HE sector with staff believing that this has negative impacts on their students, their health and well-being, and their ability to do a good job”.

The full results – including for each of the institutions represented- can be found here

Dr Carl Walker, a psychologist from the University of Brighton, is one of the academics coordinating the project. He can be contacted at if you have any questions.



As we know, the National Student Survey (NSS) is an annual survey for all final year undergraduate degree students at institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However there is much that students don’t know or see about how a university is organised, and the many factors that set the context for the experiences that they have.

The National Senior Management Survey (SMS) was developed as an anonymous audit for university staff around the UK to complete about the practices of their senior management team. It seeks to mirror the NSS and so is an overall audit of senior management practices across the sector. This audit was designed to move the gaze from the narrow metrics of staff performance to the senior management teams who set the conditions through which staff performance becomes possible. In so doing it seeks to ask questions of the current trajectory of higher education in the UK and to broaden debate about what universities should and could be for our students.

Findings are being disseminated as widely as possible and a league table of university performance has been be produced. The audit was designed by a small group of academics around the country. It was designed to ensure a good balance of positively and negatively valenced questions so as not to be leading. The audit survey was represented electronically on an independent BOS account and was accessed via a weblink. The project sought to get the views of as many academics across the UK. As such a multi-method dissemination strategy was used. This included:

  • Contacting the University and College Union (UCU) and asking them to put it on their email list
  • Contacting education interest groups online to ask them to represent it to their members
  • Snowball sampling via social media
  • Contacting education media outlets and asking them to let people know about the project



As well as creating an initial league table, the findings give a problematic picture of the higher education (HE) sector in the UK. We produced a league table based on staff satisfaction with management that includes 80 universities (we had too little data for the remainder).

The very top scoring university has 37% of staff satisfied with management, the average across the sector is 11% of staff satisfied with senior management and several universities at the foot of the table don’t have a single member of staff satisfied with management.

  • 70% of academics say their SM don’t give them enough hours to support their students
  • Only 21% of academics believe their SM positively impacts how they can support students
  • 67% of academics believe that NSS and module feedback scores are not being ethically used to encourage staff performance
  • Only 8.8% of academics believe their managers deserve the salaries they are paid
  • Only 12.6% of academics believe their senior management favour holding down tuition fees
  • Only 16% of staff believe their senior management encourage a supportive working environment
  • 15% of staff feel respected and valued by their senior management
  • 80% of staff work evenings and/or weekends to fulfil their roles
  • 78% of staff are not satisfied with the way their university is managed


Implications and future

The implications of this work are clear. There is widespread dissatisfaction with senior management practices across the HE sector with staff believing that this has negative impacts on their students, their health and well-being, and their ability to do a good job.

Moreover, despite the overload of accountability metrics experienced by the sector, none hold account the senior management teams who direct so much of the policy and practice in HE. We believe that there needs to be a serious conversation about HE management practices and about effectively holding management to account in order to protect our students, our staff and the academy as a whole.

As well as publishing the results in the media ( and in an upcoming Guardian blog, we have published them in other blogs ( . I am also talking at an upcoming REF event on the project (

Our team are currently seeking to analyse the almost 2000 qualitative accounts that staff gave. We are seeking to embed the league tables in a variety of online university sites (Unistats,Whatuni etc.) as well as contacting HEFCE and the HEC to establish a dialogue about broadening accountability measures in the sector. We will also wrote to the vice chancellors of each university to ask for their response to their staff satisfaction and make suggestions for good practice and possible changes.



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