Academic journal article Management Revue

The Impacts of University Management on Academic Work: Reform Experiences in Austria and Germany**

Academic journal article Management Revue

The Impacts of University Management on Academic Work: Reform Experiences in Austria and Germany**

Article excerpt

This contribution analyses the impacts of managerial governance on academic work, and more especially on research, comparing German and Austrian universities. First, recent reforms of university governance in the two countries are summarized. Second, the degree of implementation of managerial governance at universities is analysed as well as its effects on decision-making and on the organisation of research by individual academics, drawing on 39 interviews conducted in the 2 countries.

Empirical evidence suggests that (a) managerial decision-making structures have been implemented at the central level; (b) deans basically see their role as protecting academics from pressures emanating from managerial interventions of university leadership; and (c) restrictions experienced by individual academics with respect to their personal research agendas are due to shortages of resources rather than to the newly-introduced mechanisms of external guidance or competitive pressure. As a conclusion, the growing importance of non-academically defined criteria for research performance is highlighted as a major consequence of the introduction of university management which could, in future, make traditional academic quality standards less relevant.

Key words: New Public Management, University Management, University Research, International Comparison, Empirical Research, Europe

1. Context

In recent decades, the regulatory frameworks for academic work in universities in Europe have been undergoing substantial changes. Since the 1980s, the introduction of managerial approaches of university governance has affected the traditional power balance of academic self-organization and government regulation. The growing demand for higher education and the increasing relevance of higher education in the knowledge society, as well as decreasing public budgets have led to the efficiency and accountability of universities becoming key concerns of higher education policy. The long standing public trust in the general ability of universities to contribute to national welfare, be responsive to societal needs and adapt to change has eroded. Rather, the consensus principle which characterizes academic decision-making, in combination with state bureaucracy, seemed to hinder the adaptation of universities to changing national and international frameworks.

Thus, like other public sector institutions, universities were subjected to reforms inspired by the New Public Management concept (see for example Bleiklie 1998; Neave 1988 and 1998; Scott 2001). An increasingly Off-loading state' redefined its role from supervision to guidance. By minimizing bureaucratic procedures and state influence on institutional structures, the state increased the decision-making power of university leadership. Together with this, it promoted more hierarchical structures for intra-university decision-making. Governments focused their own role on setting priority development objectives and monitoring universities' progress in their achievement (output control). Furthermore, they reorganized the distribution of public funds amongst universities by basing it on past performance or competitive tendering. In order to measure performance, accreditation and evaluation processes were established. Where there had been historical privileges of individual institutions, these were increasingly called into question. Among political decision-makers, the general idea is that reforms improve the working conditions of high-performing academics.

The pace of reforms differs markedly across countries. Although the different national reform projects adhere to a common conceptual idea, the procedures that are chosen largely depend on historically grown structures (path dependency) (see for example Kehm/Lanzendorf 2006a). In any case, reforms are rather far-reaching and can be assumed to have fundamental impacts on the work of universities.

New models of university governance have been the object of quite a number of studies. …

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