The Irresistible Rise Of Academic Bureaucracy

In the satirical series Yes Minister, Jim Hacker’s well-intentioned efforts to reduce bureaucracy often ended in failure. One memorable moment occurred when Hacker learned that a new hospital had 500 administrative staff but no patients; he called the National Health Service (NHS) a case of "galloping bureaucracy." His civil servant replied that it was more of a "gentle canter." This exchange came during the hiring of new managers for the NHS to make it more efficient and business-like, a trend that has occurred in higher education over the past decade. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), in the UK higher education sector, the number of managers increased by 33%, from 10,740 in 2003-04 to 14,250 in 2008-09. During the same period, the number of academics increased by 10%, and the total number of students increased by 9%. This new group of non-academic professionals handles finance, marketing, student services, human resources, and quality assurance, among other things. However, many academics believe this expansion is a reflection of new bureaucratic controls over their work. As universities seek to cut expenses, they may question the roles of these managers. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has increased the amount of paperwork needed for course design and learning outcomes. Some scholars argue that a "hyper-bureaucracy" has taken over higher education, motivating managers to gather more information to cover themselves, leading to further expansion. Grahame Lock, a fellow in the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, argues that metrics like meal preparation times, word usage, and other quantitative evaluations tend to predominate. This approach may require yet more managers to cover all the factors that come into play. Dennis Hayes, professor of education at the University of Derby and a founder of Academics for Academic Freedom, believes that "brilliant administrators worth their weight in gold" can positively contribute. However, many new management staff do not understand the principles of academic freedom. Hayes suggests an exchange program to help these groups appreciate each others’ cultures. As the higher education budget tightens, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, states that university leaders must focus on the core purposes of universities.

People who have dedicated their careers to education, such as academics, possess a deep understanding of universities and higher learning. Therefore, it is wise to rely on their vast experience and expertise.

Recent years have seen many managers recruited to universities, and a large number of them belong to the Association of University Administrators. According to Maureen Skinner, the registrar of Thames Valley University’s faculty of the arts and the chair of the Association, despite an increase in managerial roles, there hasn’t been an increase in total cost as many of the managers are involved in income generation.

Universities have grown significantly in size over the past few decades. For instance, student services, which were once neglected, have expanded and taken on a crucial role in a large institution. Additionally, student finance, accommodation, and welfare, all become factors that universities need to address in a massive social and economic structure that is a university.

In line with universities’ growth, roles such as marketing and human resources have increased in number. Having the right people in these roles is essential to the success of a university. It is vital to note that an excellent administrator’s work often goes unnoticed. Administrators are unsung heroes that do a fantastic job behind the scenes, accounting for about 70% of the Association of University Administrators’ membership.

Anthony McClaran, the QAA’s Chief Executive, emphasises that the body makes significant efforts to reduce bureaucracy and ensure that all expenditures, whether monetary or human resource-related, align with University goals.


  • isabelbyrne

    Isabel Byrne is a 32-year-old blogger and student who resides in the United States. Byrne is an advocate for education and has written extensively on the topic of education reform. Byrne is also a proponent of the use of technology in the classroom and has spoken at numerous conferences on the topic.