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English and German academics’ perspectives on metrics in higher education: evaluating dimensions of fairness and organisational justice

Abstract

Many contemporary analyses criticise metrics-based evaluation in the higher education context as a neoliberal technology, notwithstanding the different national contexts and organisational topographies in which metrics are used. This Anglo-German study offers a comparative exploration of the role of metrics in two contrasting cases: highly developed, state-driven sectoral use of metrics in England, and more dispersed, decentralised use of metrics in Germany, in the case of research particularly. This survey-based study examines academics’ perceptions of fairness of accountability practices associated with metrics-based evaluations at the organisational level. Drawing on organisational justice theory, the analysis focuses on the extent that academic evaluations of fairness are underpinned by contextual evaluations linked to organisational practices or more abstract evaluations of these measures. In the English context, fairness evaluations were more related to organisational uses of metrics. In the German context, negative justice evaluations do not seem closely associated with organisational factors but relate to a cultural critique of metrics. The analysis demonstrates that academics may hold views on metrics which are contingent not only on their perceived accuracy as measures but also on their perceived efficacy as tools which support broader sectoral and organisational developments, such that metrics start to lead their own life in organisational contexts. The comparative dimension to the study suggests that in some cases, context-sensitive use of metrics can enable emancipation from informal power networks in academia.

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Correspondence to Catherine O’Connell.

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Bloch, R., Hartl, J., O’Connell, C. et al. English and German academics’ perspectives on metrics in higher education: evaluating dimensions of fairness and organisational justice. High Educ 83, 765–785 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-021-00703-w

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Keywords

  • Metrics
  • Educational indicators
  • Organisational justice
  • England
  • Germany