Performance Management in Higher Education - Development versus Control

Article excerpt


Since the late 1980s higher education in Australia has been the focus of major restructure and reform in a search for greater efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. A key component has been performance management of academic staff with performance appraisals being the main process used. This paper examines enterprise bargaining agreements of universities to explore the status of performance management. It asks a number of questions such as: What do performance management systems look like? Are they linked to strategic goals? What feedback mechanisms are used? Do they have a developmental or monitoring/ control focus? It concludes that universities express a strategic link to performance management with the result that individual academic performance is increasingly being linked to organisational goals. However the use of performance management as a developmental or monitoring/control tool is less clear. This is apparent as performance appraisals are being used to reward staff in areas that were traditionally considered as standard working rights and conditions.


Since the late 1980s higher education in Australia has been the focus of major restructure and reform in a search for greater efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. Policies have been introduced designed to increase efficiency and reduce costs through amalgamations, downsizing and changes in delivery and accountability. A key component of higher education reform both in Australia and overseas has been the search for improved quality assurance and management and within that context a focus on academic accountability. Universities in Australia introduced the concept of measuring academic performance in 1988 and formally introduced performance appraisal for developmental purposes in 1991 (Lonsdale 1998). Since that time a number of reviews and audits have highlighted the central role of performance management of staff in achieving good quality outcomes.

From the late 1980s, the neo-liberal agenda has been the driver of managerialism and New Public Management policies which successive governments have adopted and used internationally and in Australia to alter funding, structures and work practices across the whole public sector (Young 2004). Running parallel with these policy and management changes in higher education were changes in the industrial relations arena which have encouraged an emphasis on efficiency and productivity through decentralisation and bargaining at the enterprise level. More recently industrial relations has become a vehicle of change in the higher education sector (Barnes 2006) as government industrial relations policy has included a greater focus on the individual and individual agreement making (O'Brien Valadkhani, Waring and Dennis 2007).

These parallel changes in the Australian university environment have major implications for the work of academics yet it is surprising that since the early 1990s there is a paucity of research on the performance management (PM) of academics within universities. This article explores the status of performance management by examining the current Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) of 37 Australian universities. First, the article examines the literature incorporating performance management and its use in Australian universities. Second, using the literature and recommendations from the Hoare Report (1995) as an analytical framework, the article analyses the key components of the EBAs. And finally conclusions are drawn incorporating further areas for research.


Performance appraisal (PA), once associated with a basic process involving an annual report on a subordinate's position has now become a general term for a range of activities that organisations now undertake to assess employees, develop their competence and distribute rewards (Fletcher 2001). In many cases performance appraisal has evolved to become part of a wider approach to integrating human resource management strategies, known as performance management (Fletcher 2001). …


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