Executivism and deanship in selected South African universities

Oliver Seale, Michael Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


It has been argued that traditional governance practices and decision making associated with the collegial model are no longer effective in universities, and business-like management techniques should be adopted. Dwindling resources, external demands for accountability, and increased competition for market share, have resulted in efficiency measures and increased demand for performativity. Executive leadership techniques that crept into universities during the early 1980s, referred to as ‘managerialism’ or ‘executivism’, are now widely practised. The increased focus on managerialism in the last decade has resulted in collegial crises and heightened conflicts between academics and administrators. The emergence of ‘executive deanship’ in South African higher education about a decade ago was in keeping with international trends and local demands for efficiency and performativity. With specific reference to the universities in the Gauteng province, this paper argues that the blanket introduction of executive deanship (referred to as executivism) appears not to have contributed to the envisaged operational efficiency, performance, and effectiveness, as initially claimed. Rather than fostering an enabling and empowering environment, it has added new layers of complexity to deanship pointing to a potential crisis in the advancement of the academic project. The position of dean is now more management oriented and allows little or no room for strategic intellectual and academic leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-290
Number of pages16
JournalOxford Review of Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018


  • University deans
  • executive deanship
  • executive leadership
  • managerialism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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