University staff will by now have seen the summary results of the survey. Like you, we received the results via the Principal’s email and links on Monday morning, so we haven’t had much time to digest the findings. We will be asking university management for more information, particularly a breakdown of results by gender, and a breakdown by academic/professional staff.
Management have already told us that they’re going to be wary about circulating free text comments because of confidentiality concerns, but we’ll ask for some analysis of them (e.g. words/phrases commonly used). If you think there is anything else we should ask for, please let us know.
When we looked at the results on Monday it soon became clear that in most categories we’re at or near the bottom of the Russell Group (and indeed most other) universities. This is particularly so in the category of leadership and change management, with (for example) just 36% of participants agreeing that they have confidence in the leadership of the university, and a dismal 24% agreeing that the university manages change effectively.
This is, or should be, an embarrassment for senior leaders. The Principal’s covering email made no acknowledgement of this fact: we are glad he was ‘pleased to see some very positive results’ but we are puzzled at his interpretation. He mentions ‘pride’ where we managed to score at the Russell Group average, ‘respect’ where we were 13 percentage points below with just 66% of respondents agreeing that the University treats them with respect, and ‘relationships’ where we scored at the UUK average (only three Russell Group universities included this question).
Are those ‘very positive results’? We don’t think so. The only acknowledgement of the very poor results in most other questions was a bland admission that ‘as expected, there are also areas which we could improve on’.
Why the weasel words when we know the Principal is capable of tough talking? Whilst we don’t endorse the National Student Survey as a valid measure of student ‘satisfaction’, we can’t help contrasting the Principal’s communications about the NSS results with these ones.
When the university’s NSS results turned out to be towards the bottom of the Russell Group, the Principal did not pull any punches in telling staff to get our act together. We were all responsible, he told us, and we needed to shape up and do better. Where, then, is the ‘clarion call’ to culture change amongst senior leaders in relation to this survey?
Change at the Top Needed
We’ll ask him. We’ll also be looking out for any indications that responsibility for what looks like systemic failure is going to be passed down the chain to heads of schools, subject areas and service units, rather than being shouldered by senior leadership where it belongs. Whilst we agree that everyone has their part to play, we’ve long believed that structural and cultural change is needed at the very top and the survey results appear to confirm that.
It is clear from the results that the disconnect between staff and senior management is greater than ever. We believe that only by engaging with the entire staff/student community can the problems with staff engagement be addressed. As such UCU, in discussion with the other campus unions, will be asking senior management to include representatives from all staff; such as casualised staff, postgraduate students, early career academics, professional services staff, technical staff, disabled staff, the staff pride network etc., in a wider consultation and in any responses to the issues this survey has raised.