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    The Evolving Role of Head of Department in Irish Higher Education

    Meagher, Martin (2017) The Evolving Role of Head of Department in Irish Higher Education. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    Academic Heads of Department play a central role in higher education leadership and management. However the role is often unscripted and unacknowledged. Although this subject has been investigated internationally, little research has been undertaken in Ireland on academic middle management in higher education. This study investigated the role of Heads of Department in an Irish Institute of Technology through their lived experiences. The study explored the socio-political and cultural discourses and institutional practices that shape Irish higher education where Heads of Department are located. Adopting a social constructionist paradigm and a case-study method, the research examined the micro-practices of leadership and management enacted in the role The findings of this study add further weight to the evidence in the literature about the impact of the discourses of neoliberalism and managerialism on Irish higher education at the macro, meso and micro–levels. For HoDs in this study the discourse and institutional practices of managerialism entails less autonomy and a more regulated, monitored and managed regime than in the past. The study reveals that the managerialist discourse positions HoDs as middle managers in the IoT sector where their identity and role is constructed in terms of their middle or in-between position in the hierarchy; expressed and defined by their relationships with those above and those below. Thus HoDs negotiate at the mesolevel a network of power relations which are structural and multi-dimensional. This positioning is disempowering for HoDs as they have key responsibilities in relation to staff and students but have low levels of authority and power. HoD is a multi-faceted role enacted as leader and manager, at the micro-level, with a hybrid mix of operational and strategic leadership. HoDs are caught between an institutional culture of managerialism and a professional need for collegiality at department level. However, relational leadership is at the heart of the HoD role as influencing, building trust and team work are pivotal to leading academic staff. Thus the study argues for a shift to constructing HoD leadership as a relational, dynamic and flexible practice viewed through the lenses of context and relations of power. The study identifies enabling practices and agency introduced by HoDs to counteract the constraints of managerialism. Although the results of the study cannot be generalised, as practitioner-based research it makes a number of recommendations for practice. These include reframing the HoD role in order to strengthen collegial forms of governance; and a call on senior institutional management to empower and support the HoD role. The study also recommends a bespoke training programme for HoDs including relational leadership; and the further creative and strategic development of HoD Forums in order to further enable agency.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Keywords: Evolving Role; Head of Department; Irish Higher Education;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Adult and Community Education
    Item ID: 13838
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2021 12:25
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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