Researchers led by the University of Bristol's Richard Watermeyer conducted a survey in which they asked more than 1,000 UK academics about their institutional leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. As they report in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, the researchers found that 84 percent of survey respondents think the pandemic has led to a further consolidation of decision-making power among senior leadership teams and that 60 percent of respondents think it has weakened the autonomy of academics.
"There seems to be a real sense among the academic community in the UK that universities are using the pandemic as an opportunity to push through certain cost-cutting agendas," Watermeyer tells Nature.
Nature adds that some of academics' concerns may have been long standing, as previous surveys had also found faculty and staff disapproved of their institutions' management teams, and Watermeyer further traces the issue to a shift in the late 1990s when universities began to be run more like businesses.
Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, tell Nature, that the COVID-19 pandemic has put financial pressures on universities though "their fundamental mission has not changed."