The policy-reality gap of bullying in higher education: implications for HR and managers – a comparative study of Australian and Croatian universities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between higher educational institution bullying policies and the subsequent cultural impact to determine the effectiveness of policy in ameliorating bullying within the university culture. Design/methodology/approach: This study consisted of two separate but related case studies at two universities in different countries, focussing on university staff. The field work gathered data about existing anti-bullying policy, the extent to which it was part of the organisational culture for staff, and the levels of staff bullying experienced or seen within the organisation. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected. Findings: The study found that despite one university having significant policy and the other having very little policy, the knowledge of policy in both universities was and subsequent experience of bullying for staff were very similar. Research limitations/implications: The findings indicate that anti-bullying policy alone appears to have a limited impact on organisational behaviour. This suggests that the entrenched and historical master/servant relations of academia enable such practices to continue. Policy implementation is insufficient and training and development to generate more inclusive, people-focussed management cultures is necessary to ameliorate bullying behaviour. Practical implications: The paper draws on the experiences, critique and suggestions of the study participants to prepare a possible agenda for cultural change that human resource (HR) managers could develop in association with academic and professional managers within their institution. Social implications: The findings suggest that in any social setting or organisational structure where strong historical patterns of master/servant endure, the opportunity for bullying behaviours to grow and flourish is fertile and that policy statements alone may have little impact on curtailing such behaviour. Originality/value: This study makes two contributions to existing knowledge. First, it provides evidence that anti-bullying policy is alone unlikely to have an effective impact on instances of bullying within the culture. Second, the case study contrast displays that unacceptable levels of bullying exist in two very different institutions in two very different cultures. Whilst one country has a war-torn history and the other exists in splendid isolation, the same patterns persist, indicating that universities have structured cultural issues that are difficult to change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-749
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2024


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