Research into internal communications with the best universities in the world suggests that although they put effort into creating a vision, they are poor at cascading information down to colleagues or ensuring senior directors and leaders have excellent communication skills. Whilst the senior executive team is highly visible and communicates regularly with staff, internal communications are not integral to university decision making. There is little connectivity between the senior management and other departments in terms of messaging or communications systems.

22 universities ranked in the World Top 100 and 200 undertook this survey about internal communications and staff engagement in higher education. The questions follow the first management stage of the methodology HEliX, the internal communications system developed by four British universities as part of Hefce’s leadership, governance, and management fund.

The indicators developed for British universities for HEliX were also thought to be important for world-class international universities.

Roughly two-thirds of the indicators for good internal communications were judged to be well-executed (good or outstanding in these universities), but a third were well below standard (judged to be absent or just developing).

The indicator given the highest importance score (Excellent communications skills is an essential selection criterion for all senior executive and heads of department positions) is one where performance is actually rated very poor. It is ranked as 98 out of a possible 100 in terms of importance, but respondents only gave themselves an aggregate 55 score for performance out of a possible 100.

Louise Simpson, director of the World 100 Reputation Network, a group of leading universities, commented: “We wanted to see how good the very best universities in the world are at internal communications, given that reputation management is core to their success. It appears that the concerns we see in Britain are pretty similar around the world and being excellent at research is no guarantee of excellent internal communications. We have a picture of leaders creating visions but not explaining them to academics or professional staff, a lack of staff engagement strategy and systems, and a failure to develop staff to be effective ambassadors, despite these universities having world-class profiles.”

In the areas of best practice, the world-class universities appear strong at crisis communications and news dissemination. They are also good at campus communications, although as an area it was felt to be fairly unimportant.

Staff engagement appears to be highly valued by most world-class universities, but performance is patchy in some surprising areas, and best practice indicators that might improve performance (such as regularly evaluating communications, and having a strategy for it) are weighted as being of low importance.

For more information:

– HEliX (higher education: leading internal communications) was developed by four partner universities in the UK, Bristol, Leicester (the lead project university), Oxford Brookes and Edge Hill, and funded by the British government’s Higher Education Funding Council. For more information, see: or

– For more information about the research or the World 100 Reputation Network, contact Louise Simpson,, or telephone 00-44-1223-366327.