Lecturers weary of management-speak

29th August 2008 at 01:00

The last 20 years have seen considerable change in the structure and management of further education. Our research among lecturers has looked at how these changes have affected their experiences - leading us to suggest that their work has been degraded and intensified, and has even undermined their view of themselves as public-sector "professionals".

They are required to work harder and longer and to an increasingly managerially defined "efficiencyproductivity" agenda. Power has shifted away from them as professionals to a growing tier of managers who use the language and logic of efficiency and managerialism to legitimise themselves. Managerial performance controls such as benchmarking, target- setting and audit is now pervasive, leading to a position that, some argue, contrasts sharply with the ideals of professionalism under which power and decision-making are shared.

Many lecturers reported they felt their jobs had been de-skilled as younger, cheaper staff had been brought in to replace them. Concerns that newcomers are often low on experience and under qualified, less likely to join unions and more compliant to senior management were also raised.

Despite the introduction of "professional contracts", many lecturers felt less inclined to see themselves as professionals. Some used McDonald's as a metaphor to explain how they felt about their work: they were churning out a standard product under highly regulated and controlled conditions.

Increasingly, lecturers have been required to teach outside their subject specialism. Any unwillingness to do so was categorised as inflexibility. One clear example was a philosophy lecturer told to teach basic skills to trainee hairdressers. Another referred to the new style "Martini" contact - under which staff are required to teach "anytime, anyplace, anywhere".

The impact has been to increase levels of mistrust, job insecurity and alienation. Lecturers feel worn down, depressed, and demoralised. Two said they felt alienated, and others reported wanting to quit largely due to administrative requirements.

The research found lecturers' sense of their own professionalism was largely derived from their sense of doing their best for their students, but many felt that the managerialisation of FE had affected their relationship with their students.

Although the management literature waxes lyrical about woolly concepts such as inspirational leadership and empowerment, the reality for many lecturers was having to cope with centralised control legitimised by rhetoric that many didn't believe in.

As one said: "It's all money driven now. I mean, it's not really for the community or the students, is it? It's money driven. Everything has to make a profit, you know, student in-student out, and that's not education really, is it?"

FE is facing a huge challenge - the reskilling of large sections of the UK workforce - and, given this, it is frightening how much the unending succession of change, targets, management fads and fancies and performance management gimmicks have demoralised staff.

Lecturers are weary of change, weary of so many initiatives and, more specifically, very weary of rhetoric-laden, managerially defined interventions of quality and customer service that they feel deflect them from doing their real job - teaching students. The teaching baby appears to have drowned in the managerial bathwater.

Professor Worrall's research was carried out with Dr Kim Mather at Wolverhampton University.

Professor Les Worrall, University of Coventry.

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