The Impact of Institutional and Cohort Levels factors on Universities Performance Indicators

  • Walaa Bakry

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


The use of performance indicators in British higher education is now well-established. The relationship between the state and universities began to change as the state started looking to universities to play a more significant role in the economy in return for taxpayers’ funding. Pressure grew to measure the performance of universities in order to increase accountability and subject the sector to a market-oriented performative culture similar to those introduced in the public sector. Accordingly, this study examines the performative culture present in UK higher education with a specific focus on exploring the impact of institutional and cohort level factors on universities performance indicators.

Centrally collected data about the UK higher education sector provided a rich ground for quantitative analysis using modern statistical techniques such as multilevel modelling. A mixed-methods research approach was adopted in this study in order to gain a deeper undersetting of the quantitative results and explore how performance indicators impacted institutional policy in practice. Performative culture in higher education was examined through the lenses of measurement theory, managerialism, neoliberalism and new public management theory. The resulting literature review represented a purposive narrative for the research.

The study quantitatively analysed a comprehensive data set focusing on performance indicators similar to those used in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This was followed by a qualitative analysis of the responses of selected senior leaders from the sector. The participants were interviewed and asked to reflect on the findings of the quantitative analysis with their views on how performance indicators impacted on institutional policy then explored.

The study found that performance indicators are not only impacted by the variations of many factors but also by the way each factor varies within the institution. These factors represent integral characteristics of institutions (e.g., their size) and cohorts specifics (e.g., ethnicity and gender). Using the multilevel modelling statistical technique, the study examined university and cohort characteristics to identify those with significant effects on performance indicators.

The study found that different factors aligned to cohort and university characteristics have significant effects on performance indictors’ outcomes. However, the non-continuation outcome was predominantly impacted by cohort characteristics. Participants also indicated that other external factors, beyond their control influenced these outcomes, such as societal gender and ethnic bias as well as employers’ practice. The study also highlighted that the current informal hierarchy of the sector does not serve policy aims and the variability in outcomes occurs largely between universities which is an indication of a highly differentiated sector.

The study concluded that linear performance indicators as they stand are unsuitable for the UK sector as there are large variations between universities. It also concluded that variations within a university are relatively stable over time. The study found that the context within which institutions operate is important and should be considered when evaluating performance. Based on the finding, a conceptual framework is proposed to aid future policy and practice development.
Date of Award23 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorKendall Jarrett (Supervisor), Dawn Albertson (Supervisor) & Andrew Pitchford (Supervisor)


  • higher education
  • Performance management
  • higher education management
  • TEF
  • Multi level Modelling
  • Mixed methods

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