The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities

Chapter Four

Management Information Systems in Universities

Much of the work on management information systems (MIS) in higher education has been done in North America by, amongst others, Lewandowski (1984), Vogel & Wetherbe (1984), Penrod & Dolence (1987), Penrod & Douglas (1988), Schmidtlein & Milton (1988), Holdaway & Meekison (1990), and Langenberg (1994). In studies of this kind, such as the Holdaway and Meekison analysis of the process of strategic planning at the University of Alberta, the emphasis is on the positive benefits that can accrue to universities from a strategic planning and implementation process. However, Noble and Newman's (1993) study of the implementation of a management information system in a large American state university is less optimistic. Concentrating mainly on the administrative rather than academic aspects of the implementation, they found a high degree of resistance to implementation from competing administrative departments. Since the potential stakeholders could not agree on the direction the project should take, they found that the system eventually implemented was so fragmentary that it could not be described as either a vertically or horizontally fully integrated management information system.

Similar results have also been found in the United Kingdom. In a study of 82 Deans in 30 universities Chaston (1994) found that the MIS used were effectively preventing the full use of resources. Chaston blamed this on senior managers and outlined the principal requirements of senior managers if such systems were to be managed effectively:

To avoid the onset of organisational chaos, senior managers need to become the central core of a synergistic strategy control system, responsible for ensuring that information systems, interdepartmental interfaces and

employee interactions are all being effectively managed. This change from directing to orchestrating is vital because only in this way can the organisation be certain that scarce resources are allocated to those areas of activity which have the greatest potential for maximising internal productivity and external customer satisfaction. (Chaston,1994, p.74)

Miller (1995), in examining Aston University, has also described the way in which management information can become centralised in the hands of a small group of senior managers led by the university's Vice-Chancellor. This group has access to a "superior information base on courses, student characteristics and staff" (Miller, 1995, p. 127). This, Miller believes, was used to manage the budget reductions that Aston University suffered in 1981. Sizer (1987) has shown that this style of information management was not altogether a success. In analysing three universities that had suffered cuts in 1981 (Salford, Sheffield and Aston), Sizer found that " all three cases the planning process was based on clear, top-down requests for information followed by top-down proposals with the opportunity for bottom-up responses, but these responses did not lead to fundamental changes" (p. 362).

As mentioned in Chapter One the problems experienced by some universities in implementing and maintaining management information systems may in part be explained by the lack of attention given to what managers in universities actually require from such systems. Too often it appears that management information requirements are not considered at an early enough stage in the development process, that little attention is paid to information that is external, qualitative or subjective, and that solutions to problems are often technology-led rather than information-led. For example, as Pellow (1991, p. 24) suggests, the MAC (Management and Administrative Computing) initiative by the UFC (Universities Funding Council) to supply universities with software for a range of information management functions such as finance, student and staff records as well as research and consultancy and physical resources, appeared to focus on the application of technology to these areas rather than on the decision-making processes underlying them. In some cases, management information systems in operation have led to duplication of effort within institutions, and universities, for example the University of Sheffield, have taken steps to co-ordinate work previously undertaken by a number of administrative departments within new Departments of Corporate Information (University of Sheffield, 1996, p.1).

Front PageContentsChapter 5

The Management Information Needs of Academic Heads of Department in Universities: a Critical Success Factors Approach, by Francis Greene, Brendan Loughridge and Tom Wilson
British Library Research and Development Department Report 6252 1996
Grant no: RDD/G/254