Skip to main content

Danish universities under transformation: Developments in staff categories as indicator of organizational change


Claims of fundamental changes of the organizational model of universities have been widespread during the latest decades. To empirically assess the character and extent of organizational change is however not straightforward. This article contributes with partial, but also very tangible evidence of long-term organizational changes at Danish universities by analyzing detailed data on staff composition and salary distributions. The article shows that Danish universities indeed have undergone significant transformations, but that the full extent of these changes only becomes visible when a fine-grained analytical approach is employed. On the academic side of the organizations, relatively low-wage temporary positions have boomed at the expense of more expensive permanent ones. On the administrative side, specialized and highly educated administrative staff has surged substantially, while less expensive positions such as clerks, technicians, and service staff conversely have diminished in relative terms. Hence, while the analysis supports the overall claims in the literature, it also adds important nuances to the dominant narratives of organizational change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8


  1. In Denmark, collective agreements regulating individual positions form a good indicator for educational background. They rigidly separate those with a master-level degree from those without. The latter group usually holds a vocational education and gives on-the-job training higher priority.

  2. Top 10 most used job titles with no less than 400 FTEs from 1999 to 2017


  • Aagaard, K. (2017). The evolution of a national research funding system : transformative change through layering and displacement. Minerva, 55.

  • Aagaard, K., Hansen, H. F., & Rasmussen, J. G. (2016). Mergers between governmental research institutes and universities in the Danish HE sector. European Journal of Higher Education, 6(1).

  • Aagaard, K., & Mejlgaard, N. (2012). Dansk forskningspolitik efter årtusindskiftet. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

  • Aarhus University. (2018). Udgifter til eksterne konsulenter. Accessed 14-01-2019. Aarhus University.

  • Abbott, A. (2016). Processual sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Aberbach, J. D., & Christensen, T. (2017). Academic autonomy and freedom under pressure: severely limited, or alive and kicking? Public Organization Review, 18(71).

  • Amaral, A., Meek, V. L., & Larsen, I. M. (2003). The higher education managerial revolution? Dordrecht: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Baltaru, R.-D. (2018). Universities’ pursuit of inclusion and its effects on professional staff: the case of the United Kingdom. Higher Education.

  • Baltaru, R.-D., & Soysal, Y. N. (2017). Administrators in higher education: organizational expansion in a transforming institution. Higher Education, 74.

  • Bleiklie, I., Enders, J., & Lepori, B. (2017a). Managing universities - policy and organizational change from a Western European comparative perspective. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bleiklie, I., & Kogan, M. (2007). Organization and governance of universities. Higher Education Policy, 20(4).

  • Bleiklie, I., Michelsen, S., Krücken, G., & Frølich, N. (2017b). University governance—organisational centralisation and engagement in European universities. In I. Bleiklie, J. Enders, & B. Lepori (Eds.), Managing universities - policy and organizational change from a Western European comparative perspective. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Boden, R., & Wright, S. (2010). Follow the money. An interim report on Danish University funding prepared for Dansk Magisterforening. Working Papers on University Reform, (16).

  • Bonaccorsi, A., & Daraio, C. (Eds.). (2007). Universities and strategic knowledge creation: specialization and performance in Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Borggräfe, M. (2018). Der organisationale und institutionelle Wandel deutscher Universitätsverwaltungen - Eine Organigrammanalyse. Dissertation: University of Kassel.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brunsson, N., & Sahlin-Andersson, K. (2000). Constructing organizations: the example of public sector reform. Organization Studies, 21(4).

  • Burton, D. M., Cohen, L. E., & Lounsbury, M. (2016). In The structuring of work in organizations. In Bringing jobs back in - toward a new multi-level approach to the study of work and organizations. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Clark, B. R. (1983). The higher education system: academic organization in cross-national perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • De Boer, H., Enders, J., & Leisyte, L. (2007). Public sector reform in Dutch higher education: the organizational transformation of the university. Public Administration, 85(1).

  • Degn, L., & Sørensen, M. P. (2015). From collegial governance to conduct of conduct: Danish universities set free in the service of the state. Higher Education, 69(6).

  • Desrochers, D. M., & Kirshstein, R. (2014). Labor intensive or labor expensive? Changing staffing and compensation patterns in higher education. Delta Cost Project Issue Brief.

  • Drori, G. S., Meyer, J. W., & Hwang, H. (2006). Globalization and organization: world society and organizational change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gornitzka, Å., Kyvik, S., & Larsen, I. M. (1998). The bureaucratisation of universities. Minerva, 36(1).

  • Gornitzka, Å., & Larsen, I. M. (2004). Towards professionalisation? Restructuring of administrative work force in universities. Higher Education, 47(4).

  • Gornitzka, Å., Larsen, I. M., & Gunnes, H. (2009). Universitetsadministrasjon i Kvalitetsreformens tiår. Oslo: NIFU.

  • Hüther, O., & Krücken, G. (2018). Higher education in Germany - recent developments in an international perspective. Cham: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Karlsson, S., & Ryttberg, M. (2016). Those who walk the talk: the role of administrative professionals in transforming universities into strategic actors. Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy, 2.

  • Kehm, B. M. (2015). Academics and new higher education professionals: tensions, reciprocal influences and forms of professionalization. In T. Fumasoli, G. Goastellec, & B. M. Kehm (Eds.), Academic work and careers in Europe: trends, challenges, perspectives. Cham: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kleimann, B. (2018). (German) Universities as multiple hybrid organizations. Higher Education.

  • Krücken, G., Blümel, A., & Kloke, K. (2009). Towards organizational actorhood of universities: occupational and organizational change within German university administrations. FÖV Discussion Papers 48. Speyer.

  • Krücken, G., Blümel, A., & Kloke, K. (2013). The managerial turn in higher education? On the interplay of organizational and occupational change in German academia. Minerva, 51(4).

  • Krücken, G., & Meier, F. (2006). Turning the university into an organizational actor. In G. S. Drori, J. W. Meyer, & H. Hwang (Eds.), Globalization and organization: world society and organizational change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (2013). Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press.

  • Logue, D. M. (2014). Adoption and abandonment: global diffusion and local variation in university top management teams. In G. S. Drori, M. A. Höllerer, & P. Walgenbach (Eds.), Global themes and local variations in organization and management: perspectives on globalization. London: Routledge.

  • Mckinsey & Co. (2009). Analyse af universiteternes og sektorforskningsinstitutionernes finansiering og organisering. Videnskabsministeriet & Finansministeriet.

  • Moderniseringsstyrelsen. (2016). Vejledning om ISOLA Standardgrundlag løn- og personalestatistikker. Copenhagen: Moderniseringsstyrelsen.

  • Paldam, M. (2015). The public choice of university organization: a stylized story of a constitutional reform. Constitutional Political Economy, 26(2).

  • Pedersen, M. N. (1982). Denmark: state and university - from coexistence to collision. In H. Daalder & E. Shils (Eds.), Universities, politicians and bureaucrats: Europe and the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers. (2011). Analyse af de administrative omkostninger til generel ledelse og administration i 2008 og 2009 på de danske universiteter. Ministeriet for Videnskab, Teknologi og Udvikling.

  • Ramirez, F. O. (2013). World society and the university as formal organization. Sisyphus - Journal of Education, 1(1).

  • Ramirez, F. O., & Christensen, T. (2013). The formalization of the university: rules, roots, and routes. Higher Education, 65(6).

  • Rhoades, G. (2017). Beyond the academic profession, the organization, and the nation: new structures of academic and professional employment. In P. Scott, J. Gallacher, & G. Parry (Eds.), New languages and landscapes of higher education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rhoades, G., Kiyama, J. M., McCormick, R., & Quiroz, M. (2008). Local cosmopolitans and cosmopolitan locals: new models of professionals in the academy. The Review of Higher Education, 31(2).

  • Rhoades, G., & Sporn, B. (2002). New models of management and shifting modes and costs of production: Europe and the United States. Tertiary Education & Management, 8(1).

  • Ryttberg, M., & Geschwind, L. (2017). Professional support staff at higher education institutions in Sweden: roles and success factors for the job. Tertiary Education and Management, 23.

  • Schneijderberg, C., & Merkator, N. (2013). The new higher education professionals. In B. M. Kehm & U. Teichler (Eds.), The academic profession in Europe: new tasks and new challenges. Dordrecht: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Seeber, M., Lepori, B., Montauti, M., Enders, J., de Boer, H., Weyer, E., et al. (2015). European universities as complete organizations? Understanding identity, hierarchy and rationality in public organizations. Public Management Review, 17(10).

  • The Danish Government. Progress, innovation and cohesion: strategy for Denmark in the global economy – summary (2006). Copenhagen.

  • Thoenig, J.-C., & Paradeise, C. (2016). Strategic capacity and organisational capabilities: a challenge for universities. Minerva, 54(3).

  • Whitchurch, C. (2013). Reconstructing identities in higher education: the rise of “third space” professionals. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whitley, R. (2008). Universities as strategic actors: limitations and variations. In L. Engwall & D. Weaire (Eds.), The university in the market. London: Portland Press.

  • Whitley, R. (2012). Transforming universities: national conditions of their varied organisational actorhood. Minerva, 50(4).

  • Whitley, R., & Gläser, J. (2014). The impact of institutional reforms on the nature of universities as organisations. Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 42.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andreas Kjær Stage.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


Appendix 1. Staff thesaurus

A fully expandable thesaurus over the multi-level staff categories can be provided by request to the corresponding author.

This thesaurus extends down to separate job titles accounting for at least five full-time equivalents during the period under examination (n = 895). To indicate the relative weight of (sub-)categories and job titles, the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) for the full period is displayed next to the name:

  • Category/title name | number of FTEs

Figure 9 is an explanatory snapshot of the thesaurus with the various levels colored.

Fig. 9
figure 9

Explanatory snapshot of thesaurus

Appendix 2. Full 22-category level

The full 22-category level includes academic and student sub-categories. We draw upon these developments in the “Macro trends in the staff composition at Danish universities” section.

Fig. 10
figure 10

Change in number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) between 1999 and 2017 by sub-categories. The length of the bars shows change in full-time equivalents in absolute numbers. The numbers next to the bars show growth rate in percentages and change in share of total in percentage points

Appendix 3. Frequently used job titles

Tables 4, 5, and 6 show a side-by-side comparison of the most frequently used job titles within the same-named sub-categories of “clerks” and “degree-holding professionals.” These sub-categories are “administrative managers and head of units,” “administrative officers,” and “consultants and coordinators.”

Table 4 Managers and head of units
Table 5 Administrative officers
Table 6 Consultants and coordinators

In Table 4, the number of full-time equivalents for each job title during the full period from 1999 to 2017 is displayed in brackets. We delimit the most frequently job titles to the top 10 most used job titles with no less than 400 FTEs in total during the 19 years. Below the top 10 list, we briefly summarize the residual job titles.

Appendix 4. Salary distributions across staff categories

While the violin plot (Fig. 7) shows the relative change in composition, it does not convey changes in absolute numbers. The Fig. 11 below shows the absolute salary distributions and the variation between the six staff categories. In terms of salary, the figure lays out the hierarchy both within and between the staff categories.

Fig. 11
figure 11

Salary distribution across staff categories

Appendix 5. Salary across sub-categories

Table 7 Salary in thousands (DKK) across staff sub-categories

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stage, A.K., Aagaard, K. Danish universities under transformation: Developments in staff categories as indicator of organizational change. High Educ 78, 629–652 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Staff composition
  • Salary distribution
  • Universities as organizations
  • Non-academic professionals
  • Organizational change
  • University administration