Academic Perception of Governance and Management
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Governance refers to the institutional arrangements higher education institutions (HEIs) apply to “govern” organizational and staff behaviors. Management is associated with the processes and instruments HEIs use to accomplish their objectives in an efficient way. In different HEIs the governance and management models have been changing, and the effects are differently perceived by academics.
Changes in Governance and Management
Changes in HEIs’ governance and management have been identified worldwide both at the system level, usually referred to as changes in the steering model, and at the institutional level (Deem et al. 2007; Krüger et al. 2018).
At the system level, there has been a tendency for the reduction of state direct control over HEIs by giving them more autonomy. This tendency is referred to in the literature as the shift from a “regulatory” to a “facilitatory” state (Neave and van Vught 1991) or toward an “evaluative state” (Neave 1998). Institutional autonomy is followed by increasing accountability mechanisms to control institutions’ performance to assure that they fulfil the state expectations (Bleiklie 2018; Krücken et al. 2018).
These tendencies result in an increasing importance attributed to management values and norms in HEIs, which, inspired by New Public Management, tend to be assumed as more efficient to the extent that they are oriented to management policies and practices traditionally dominant in for-profit organizations.
Governance at the institutional level is translated into a change in the balance between the principles of collegial and hierarchal coordination (Krüger et al. 2018).
In the European context, until the 1960s HEIs were organized based on the notion that academics were the best-prepared and the right actors to manage HEIs. Academic collegiality was considered as the basis for all decision-making processes (in some cases that included also students and administrative staff) with the central administration having a weak position in the power structure (Krücken et al. 2018). This governance model is also known as “shared governance” (Shattock 2002, 2006; Stensaker and Vabø 2013). Academic collegiality was considered as an essential feature in assuring academic freedom. The structural reforms developed under the New Public Management (NPM) and managerialism influences were sustained in the rhetorical assumption that collegial structures were less efficient (Santiago and Carvalho 2012; Carvalho and Santiago 2010, 2015; Deem et al. 2007), and, to counter this, more management-like models of governance started to be implemented, imposing a management culture in HEIs (Ball 2015, 2016). The implementation of these models turned HEIs into complete (Enders et al. 2008) or unitary institutions (Carvalho and Santiago 2010). From being considered as organized anarchies or loosely coupled institutions, HEIs started to be expected to answer as a single voice to external pressures. In the coordination system, HEIs’ organization and management started assuming a fundamental role (de Boer et al. 2007), in particular the performance management and the development of audit and quality assurance systems. Power started to be more concentrated at the top, and rectors or vice-chancellors were (re)configured from primus inter pares into CEOs (chief executive officers) (Carvalho and Machado 2011; O’Connor 2014).
Simultaneously, HEIs were expected to be more accountable to society and to justify the value of the money they receive from public sources. These tendencies have been framed in narratives centered on the idea of “opening HEIs to society.” Within this framework, an increasing presence of external stakeholders started to be assumed as necessary to include the general interests of society in HEIs’ decisions. The increase in stakeholders’ power to take relevant decisions at the institutional level, such as the election or appointment of rectors, is concomitant to the decrease in the influence of collegiate bodies (Krücken et al. 2018).
In parallel, the accountability and quality mechanisms associated with the tendency to increase institutional autonomy resulted in augmenting the number and qualifications of administrative/management staff in HEIs (Gornitzka and Larsen 2004; Whitchurch 2008; Whitchurch and Gordon 2010; Carvalho and Videira 2017; Carvalho et al. 2016).
New Governance and Management Models and Academics
Despite being undeniable that similar general tendencies occurred in changes in governance and management models, one cannot dismiss the existence of relevant differences between countries, questioning the thesis of isomorphic homogenization between distinct higher education (HE) systems. Actually, different comparative studies reveal relevant distinctions between countries (Teichler et al. 2013). In the European context, some countries are identified as having faced a high reduction in the collective influence of academics over decision-making in HEIs, as is the case for the Netherlands (Bleiklie et al. 2011), while others, such as Poland, tend to maintain their collegial structures (Kwiek 2015). Based on CAP (Changing Academic Profession) empirical data, including data from 13 European countries, Aarrevaara and Dobson (2013) reveal that collegial decision-making still has a role in these European countries, this being especially true for Germany.
The same tendency to identify differences between countries was found by Harry de Boer et al. (2007) who developed a comparative study on the shifts in university governance in four countries (England, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany). The authors reveal the existence of similar general tendencies in governance restructuring in these countries but also identify significant differences between them.
In being part of the decision-making structures, based on collegiality, academics had control over their work conditions. This control was not only related with the definition of their reward systems and their operating conditions inside institutes but above all with their privileged power positions which gave them freedom to define their research and teaching agendas. The new governance and management models, being more or less collegial, redefined HEIs’ power structures, resulting in limitations to the academic self-governance of HEIs and, in consequence, to their control over academic work. In this context, there is a general consensus that the changes in governance and management represent a threat to academic freedom (Karran 2007, 2009; Aarrevaara 2010; Carvalho and Santiago 2015; Höhle and Teichler 2013; Teichler et al. 2013).
This conclusion is corroborated by de Boer and colleagues’ study on England, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. In all of these countries, the governance reconfigurations seem to be translated into a retreat of academic self-governance, since “whatever new powers the university leadership and external stakeholders win, the academic profession loses” (de Boer et al. 2007, p. 150). Yet, this does not mean, contrary to the expected, that there is an inevitable reduction in academics’ institutional power. Actually, de Boer et al. (2007) conclude that it is possible to have strong leadership along with a strong professoriate and that academics still play a part in the system’s governance. The authors defend that if it is true that collective academic power, as well as the individual academics’ influence, has been weakened, it is however still possible to acknowledge academics relevant role in policy- and decision-making (de Boer et al. 2007). In the same line, Bleiklie et al. (2011) argue that reputed academics can still assume the most prestigious top hierarchical positions and coordinate their institutions by means of soft steering, legitimacy, and prestige, instead of authority, with the consensus-oriented culture remaining as the dominant style in HEIs’ top decision-making in some countries (de Boer et al. 2007).
Christine Musselin (2013) reinforces the conclusion that there is a common route in governance reforms to reduce collegial decision-making; however she defends that, in fact, this reduction ended up empowering the academic elite. According to her, academic oligarchy maintains a relevant role in essential activities that are part of the professional regulation such as the peer review processes, the research evaluation, and the definition and development of national research programs (Musselin 2013).
This conclusion seems to be reinforced by studies that are more recent. An empirical comparative study between Portugal and Finland showed a tendency for a decrease in collegial decision-making, which was equally perceived by academics in both countries (Carvalho and Diogo 2018). However, important interprofessional differences were also acknowledged, with some academics with management responsibilities recognizing that they are still called to participate in institutional strategic decision-making, both in Finland and in Portugal.
To conclude, one can say that common tendencies on changes in governance and management have been acknowledged in different countries, even if this is also accompanied by important differences. The implementation of the new governance and management models is expected to have promoted a decrease in academics’ organizational power. Actually, there is a tendency for academics to perceive a decrease in their participation in collegial decision-making in different national contexts. However, this general feeling is followed by more specific perceptions in some subgroups, calling attention to the relevance of actors’ agency when analyzing change processes.
Empirical studies, based on academics’ perceptions, reveal that there is an individual dimension that needs to be taken into account when analyzing the way academics perceive changes in governance and management. The reduction in academics’ power is a common tendency, but the personal prestige and position each academic has inside academia can determine the stronger or weaker perceptions of power restructuring. As Carvalho and Diogo (2018) state, despite the reduction in academics’ power, “taking the heterogeneous character of the profession, certain sub-groups with positional power can actually perceive the maintenance, or even an increase, in their professional autonomy” (Carvalho and Diogo 2018: 29).
To better understand the way changes in governance and management models redefined power structures in HEIs, it is also relevant to analyze how academics perceive the increasing influence of other key actors within this governance and management framework.
Perceptions on the Redefinition of Power Structures
The new governance models value a model of decision-making in which a great diversity of actors participate, including both internal and external stakeholders. In this context, academics’ traditional power within HEIs is said to be diminishing, while the power of other groups, such as professional managers and external stakeholders, is increasing. Nevertheless, empirical studies reflecting on actors’ perceptions on HEIs’ power redefinition seem to evidence realities that are more complex.
External stakeholders can be defined, according to Amaral and Magalhães (Amaral and Magalhaes 2002: 2), as “a person, or an entity with a legitimate interest in higher education and which, as such, acquires the right to intervene.” In order to make HEIs more responsive to environmental needs, external stakeholders are said to increase their prominence in HEIs in different national contexts (Pinheiro 2015). The presence of external stakeholders tends to be recognized as positive by academics (Bruckmann 2015); however this does not mean that a shift in power is seen as effective. Actually it seems that academics’ cognitive framework didn’t change as a result of the increasing presence of external stakeholders in governance models because academics keep the conviction that academic and scientific issues should be mainly decided by academics (Bruckmann 2015).
Simultaneously, the roles of managers and administrators have been strengthened and professionalized. This increasing presence of professional managers is said to promote academics’ deprofessionalization (Gornitzka and Larsen 2004). However, other perspectives present a more complex situation, arguing that instead of a shift in power, there is a redefinition of boundaries between the two professional groups. Whitchurch (2008) identifies a third space, as a result of blurred boundaries, resulting from the creation of partnerships between teaching and nonteaching staff.
An empirical study developed in the Portuguese context reveals that transformations in HEIs’ governance models with a concentration of power in decision-making at the top and the loss of influence of collegial bodies in decision-making processes are not necessarily accompanied by an increase in managers or administrative staff power (Carvalho et al. 2016; Carvalho and Videira 2017). In the Portuguese context, both teaching and nonteaching staff recognize the persistence of the “traditional” power relations with the teaching staff still being recognized as having a higher degree of participation in decision-making processes (Carvalho and Videira 2017). The internal differences in the academic profession can be identified as a relevant justification for these perceptions. As seen previously, it is possible to have a more hierarchical structure within the new governance models with the power being still concentrated in a small group of academics.
Krücken et al. (2013) advance another argument to explain the persistence of representations of academics as a group with institutional power within HEIs. In analyzing the German case, the authors conclude that new categories of administrative and management positions have emerged along with a decrease in lower-level positions, such as those related with clerical work. Yet, this was accompanied by the maintenance of the traditional professional organizational model with HEIs remaining controlled by academics and not by administrators or managers. The authors advance that this may be explained by the fact that academics are increasingly incorporating more administrative and management roles to the traditional teaching and research activities that they traditionally performed. Furthermore, the impact of changes in governance and management roles may be lessened or moderated by the core characteristics of a professional organization that has been characterizing HEIs for several years (Krücken et al. 2013).
To conclude, one can say that the tendency to transform governance and management models in HEIs is not perceived in the same way by all academics. There is a general tendency to consider that academics lose power in the new models, but there are relevant differences between subgroups with contradictory tendencies concerning the way they perceive transformations in power relations with other groups in academia. Research in this field needs to include academic internal segmentation and to reflect on the way power is allocated in HEIs, as well as on the distinct sources of academics’ power, which may contribute to clarify the persistent perceptions of a maintenance of traditional institutional status quo in a less collegial academia.
This work is funded by National Funds through the FCT—Foundation for Science and Technology under the project UID/CED/00757/2013.
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