Academic journal article International Advances in Economic Research

The Evaluation of University Departments. A Case Study for Firenze

Academic journal article International Advances in Economic Research

The Evaluation of University Departments. A Case Study for Firenze

Article excerpt

Abstract Over the last two decades, the interest to assess the quality of university teaching and research has considerably grown. This paper presents a study concerning the evaluation of the departments of the University of Firenze using Data Envelopment Analysis. It shows several applications with different variables choices to assess the performance both in teaching and in research activities. The reliability of the preferred specification was verified with a heuristic experiment, using different variables and a different number of variables. Particular attention is given to the problem of data availability and quality (e.g. for research output assessment).

Keywords University evaluation * Efficiency analysis * Data envelopment analysis

JEL C10 * 100 * O50


Recently, it has been considered more and more important to assess the quality of university research and teaching activities. The attention to quality enforcement is due to a different attitude towards the academic world, and this attitude has produced a new concern "about the increasing cost of funding university-based research [...] and the need to obtain 'value for money' for public expenditure on higher education" (OECD 1987). According to the Lisbon Agenda, Europe hopes to become "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world", yet, except for some excellent situations, European universities suffer from serious problems--the first being the lack of adequate funding (Lambert and Butler 2006).

In Italy, the evaluation process of academic activity, enforced in 1999, is currently relevant because universities are subjected to budget cuts by the government. In this context, a rising portion of the allocated financial resources is meant to be calculated on the base of effectiveness and efficiency indicators.

The evaluation among and inside universities (among departments and/or faculties) is a difficult task, because it is hard to identify and measure inputs and outputs of the underneath production process, especially when the research areas in which the different units are involved are dissimilar. An additional difficulty is given by the necessity to simultaneously consider the different inputs and outputs: in this step the evaluation process should aim to minimize the subjective component that is normally involved in multifactor approaches.

Many papers present a large number of performance evaluations applied to universities, faculties or departments. All of that research suffers from the complexity of university activity and organization and tries to find a solution with very different approaches. For example, as far as international comparisons are concerned, the Academic Ranking of World Universities compiled by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai Jiao Tong University 2007) is based on research output and citations plus the affiliations of Nobel Prize winners, while the Times Higher Education Supplement annually publishes a ranking of the world's top 200 universities; this ranking is based on both quantitative data and on a 'peer review' system (Ioannidis et al. 2007). For Italy we can mention Agasisti and Dal Bianco (2006), who made a study on the efficiency of the 58 Italian public universities.

Substantially, the different approaches to evaluate efficiency in higher education are: the one based on indicators and their combination, the one based on models (for instance, by means of stochastic frontier approach), and the one based on linear programming methods.

In this paper, we made an application on the departments of the University of Firenze, and the work is focused on the efficiency in resource utilization. When comparing departments of different kinds, which can have very different production processes, the evaluation of academic performance can be rather difficult. For this reason, we decided to measure the efficiency of departments relative to a frontier constructed over the data by means of Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA), a method that doesn't make explicit a specific production function and finds the frontier empirically. …

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