Thursday, 27 September 2018

2015 Ethos at stake: Performance management and academic work in universities

Show all authors Kirsi-Mari Kallio, Tomi J Kallio, Janne Tienari, ... First Published October 26, 2015 Research Article Article information Article has an altmetric score of 6 Free Access Abstract Higher education has been subject to substantial reforms as new forms of performance management are implemented in universities across the world. Extant research suggests that in many cases performance management systems have disrupted academic life. We complement this literature with an extensive mixed methods study of how the performance management system is understood by academics across universities and departments in Finland at a time when new management principles and practices are being forcefully introduced. While our survey results enabled us to map the generally critical and negative view that Finnish scholars have of performance management, the qualitative inquiry allowed us to disentangle how and why our respondents resent the ways and means of measuring their work, the assumptions that underlie the measurement, and the university ideal on which the performance management system is rooted. Most significantly, we highlight how the proliferation of performance management can be seen as a catalyst for changing the very ethos of what it is to be an academic and to do academic work. Keywords academic careers, academic work, ethos, knowledge-intensive organizations, management, organizational theory, performance appraisal and performance feedback, performance management, public management, university Introduction Higher education is subject to substantial reform as new forms of performance management (PM) are implemented in universities. It is argued that academia is becoming market oriented or marketized (Czarniawska and Genell, 2002) as it is viewed by policy-makers and other stakeholders as a service that is subject to competition between service providers (Engwall, 2007) and can be marketed to current and prospective customers (Ng and Forbes, 2009). At the same time, the work of individuals and groups in universities is increasingly determined by the strategic goals set for the organization (Patterson, 2001; Sousa et al., 2010). Close connections with business and industry are valued highly (Henkel, 2005), and external accountability is exercised through sophisticated measures and metrics (Marginson, 2008). This has been referred to as managerialism, emphasizing the role of management in efficiently allocating resources and ensuring through measurement and control systems that the goals of the organization are being pursued effectively (Chandler et al., 2002; Pollitt, 1993). In Europe, marketization and managerialism are promoted by the claim that universities are gaining more autonomy from the State to define their own strategies and to vitalize their funding base (Aarrevaara et al., 2009). However, the ‘internal rhythm’ of the university that once ensured for academics their precious ‘freedom of play’ as Derrida (1983: 19) put it, seems to be under threat. Higher education in Finland is a case in point. As a Nordic country, Finland prides itself on its high level of education available to all citizens regardless of wealth or family background. Equal access to higher education was one of the cornerstones of state-coordinated capitalism and the welfare state model practiced in Finland. The State provided the funding for universities and dictated their mandate to serve the educational needs of the nation (Kuoppala, 2005). Since the 1990s, however, ‘free market’ policies and practices have challenged the tenets of the welfare state and its approach to higher education (Aarrevaara et al., 2009). While a new performance-oriented approach to managing Finnish universities was first adopted in 1995, bringing about a gradual shift towards a market-oriented model (MinEdu, 2005), a radical change occurred in 2010 when a new University Act and funding scheme were introduced (Välimaa, 2012). These reforms aimed to enhance the competitiveness of the Finnish system of innovation in the global market, and they put unprecedented pressure on Finnish universities and academics to produce measurable results. Universities in Finland were put in a position where they had little leeway in choosing what objectives they wished to pursue. However, they had more autonomy over how to achieve these objectives in terms of their strategic focus, management approach and resource allocation (Kallio, 2014). Extant research across Europe suggests that market-driven managerialist reforms have disturbed the life of academics. Findings from the United Kingdom (Chandler et al., 2002; Parker and Jary, 1995; Willmott, 1995) are echoed in other countries where marketization and managerialism in higher education and academic work are a more recent phenomenon, including the Nordic countries (Czarniawska and Genell, 2002; Engwall, 2007; Krejsler, 2006; Raffnsøe-Møller, 2011; Ylijoki, 2005), the Netherlands (Sousa et al., 2010; ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012), Germany (Teichler, 2011) and France (Boitier and Reviere, 2013). The new externally exposed quantitative targets and metrics are argued to be in conflict with traditional academic values such as freedom, autonomy and belonging to a community, and this has been found to lead to insecurity among those who do academic work (Knights and Clarke, 2014; Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). However, while PM and its effects in universities has been the subject of active discussion, the bulk of the research has either dealt with the higher education sector at large or has focused on select individuals and groups from particular university departments. We argue that there is a paucity of knowledge on how PM systems are understood by academics across universities and departments in a specific societal and socio-cultural setting at a time when new management principles and practices are actively introduced. In this article, we aim to elucidate how the ethos of being an academic is changing as a result of PM. Our contribution is based on an extensive study of scholars representing 12 departments in three universities in Finland where a significant change towards a new form of PM has been experienced. Our empirical materials include both quantitative survey data and responses to an open question (‘How does PM affect the attractiveness of an academic career?’). We applied a mixed methods approach in our study: while the survey results (including 966 academics) enabled us to map the generally critical and negative view that Finnish scholars have of PM, the qualitative inquiry (including 823 responses) allowed us to dig deeper into this criticism by disentangling its various topical issues and dimensions. Beyond metrics and measurement, our respondents describe the emergence of a new kind of university ideal that favors competition and short-term results over collegiality and academic discussion. Crucially, our findings indicate that for the majority of scholars, PM appears to be a catalyst that changes the very ethos of being an academic and doing academic work. We conclude that in the Finnish case this stance is something that is shared by academics across universities and fields of science, and argue that our comprehensive treatise of how scholars make sense of PM complements extant theorizing on the wider implications of such systems in universities and academic work. This article is structured as follows. We first address research on higher education reforms in general and the proliferation of PM principles and practices in particular. Next, we set the scene for our empirical study and outline higher education reforms in Finland. We then introduce our research design and offer examples from our data and analysis. Finally, we discuss our findings and offer conclusions on the basis of our study. Marketized and managerialist academia Since its inception, the concept of university has drawn meanings from surrounding society. Its position and relative autonomy has been legitimized and contested in different ways in different locations at different times. Universities have been subject to alternating religious, cultural, political and economic forces, and most universities in western countries have been a more or less independent part of the public sector. However, while societal and socio-cultural specificities have impacted the university institution, the structure and content of higher education – and the notion of the university – have also converged across nation-states at several historical junctions (Rüegg, 2004). Nevertheless, it is too simple to claim that universities today are experiencing a clear-cut change from a Humboldtian idea of the Ivory Tower, where free-thinking scholars pursue a call for the universal values of knowledge and truth, to a new system or regime. While advocates and critics of change construe social reality in universities in different ways, extant research suggests that the question of changing academic identities is more nuanced (Herbert and Tienari, 2013; Knights and Clarke, 2014; Sousa et al., 2010; Ylijoki, 2005; Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). Variation in how higher education is assembled in different societies, too, continues to be ‘dazzling’ (Shavit et al., 2007). Different emphases notwithstanding, a general trend is in evidence where policy-makers take markets and business management as benchmarks for advocating transformation in higher education (Chandler et al., 2002). Although marketization has proceeded at a different pace (Krejsler, 2006) and taken somewhat different forms (Czarniawska and Genell, 2002) in different countries, current pressures for transforming the position and function of universities are strikingly similar across the West and beyond (Wedlin, 2008). In effect, marketization means that universities are expected to compete against each other in attracting the ‘best’ students and scholars as well as funding from the market in order to deliver a high quality service (Engwall, 2007; Hemsley-Brown and Goonawardana, 2007). The UK was a forerunner in this development in Europe in that policy reforms that embraced market discourse (Fairclough, 1993) leading to the ‘commodification’ (Willmott, 1995) or ‘McDonaldization’ of higher education (Parker and Jary, 1995) and stress among academics (Chandler et al., 2002) took place somewhat earlier than in most other European countries. Resistance, compliance and ambivalence could be witnessed among academics facing the new order (Chandler et al., 2002; Clegg and McAuley, 2005; Gleeson and Shain, 1999; Henkel, 2005). Perceived harshness in how market-driven managerialism was implemented in universities was characteristic of the UK experience (Chandler et al., 2002). State policies in Europe today are not only based on cutting down public spending but also on viewing universities as producers of knowledge that need to become more ‘open’ to wider society and to the global economy (Aarrevaara et al., 2009). Universities are expected to make themselves useful to external stakeholders such as business and industry. Among other things, this means that universities are recommended to embrace multi- and interdisciplinarity (Gibbons et al., 1994) rather than to protect their conventional disciplinary boundaries as a source of identity and autonomy (Henkel, 2005). This discourse has been embraced in countries such as Finland (Aspara et al., 2014) and Sweden (Styhre and Lind, 2010). In this way, the new dominant discourse establishes economic development as a key function for the university alongside research and teaching to the extent that the ideal university is dubbed ‘entrepreneurial’ (Clark, 1998), and senior scholars embracing it can be called ‘entrepreneurial professors’ (Lam, 2008). Universities are also conceptualized as hubs that operate at the intersection of institutional domains in the knowledge economy (Powell and Snellman, 2004; Stevens et al., 2008), acting as producers, repositories and brokers of knowledge in building bridges between basic research and its various applications (Starkey and Madan, 2001). At the same time, in the discourse of marketization, higher education is presented as a service, and universities are seen as service providers that are measured in terms of the ‘use value’ they provide for their customers (Ng and Forbes, 2009). Overall, in becoming marketized, universities have engaged in a balancing act where they are expected to comply to global standards of quality and its evaluation on the one hand, and to differentiate themselves from their competitors on key quality criteria on the other. They must lend themselves to standardization and ‘make themselves comparable,’ as Czarniawska and Genell (2002: 455) put it, but also ensure that they stand out in the ensuing competition with other service providers. To achieve this, universities worldwide have begun to systematically clarify their strategic goals (Patterson, 2001) and to employ marketing, brand and reputation management strategies to craft favorable perceptions among their key stakeholders (Aspara et al., 2014; Chapleo, 2010; Lowrie, 2007; Waeraas and Solbakk, 2009). They have also introduced new forms of academic career systems to attract ‘top talent’ across the world (Herbert and Tienari, 2013). Extant research further suggests that with marketization comes managerialism, which reasserts ‘management’s right to manage’ (Gleeson and Shain, 1999: 465). The discourse of marketization establishes that universities need to be professionally managed so that they are better equipped to fulfill their service function in society. Indeed, it claims that they can be readily compared to other service providers (Engwall, 2007). Marketization is thus characterized by the increasingly influential position of career managers in universities who tend to hold an instrumental view of ‘use value’ rather than assuming that universities have an intrinsic value defined by the academic community itself (Aspara et al., 2014). In other words, they have a tendency to run universities like businesses (Chandler et al., 2002; Parker, 2014). Moreover, Whitchurch (2008) has used the term ‘third space professionals’ to denote the highly qualified specialist staff members who have become increasingly influential in universities. In addition to career managers and administrators, scholars are converted into managers to do the work of filtering market-driven principles into the academic workplace (Clegg and McAuley, 2005; Gleeson and Shain, 1999; Sousa et al., 2010). Overall, marketization is reflected in how the performance of scholars is managed. New measurement systems, instruments and metrics that target performance in terms of ‘use value’ put new demands on academic work and on those who do it (Marginson, 2008; ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012; Ylijoki, 2005). Such measurement serves the purpose of detailing how the university compares with its competition, how it succeeds in accreditations and how it fares in university rankings (Wedlin, 2008) or ‘league tables.’ Performance management and its discontents With the new systems and metrics, a particular philosophy – or ideology – of managerialism enters the university, with PM as its integral part (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2000). Sousa et al. (2010) argue that PM differs from traditional academic quality assessment via peer reviews in two significant ways. First, outputs are compared with objectives and used for comparative benchmarking. Second, outputs are linked to input and used for assessing efficiency in the use of resources. A peer review, then, is considered something that can be harnessed as a tool in managerialist performance appraisal. Ter Bogt and Scapens (2012) further detail a shift from a developmental to a judgmental measurement of performance; whereas traditionally measurement in universities served to develop individuals to improve their future performance, the new system seeks to quantitatively evaluate their past performance. This underscores that external standardization of the criteria for excellence in terms of departments and individuals plays an increasingly central role in contemporary academia (Czarniawska and Genell, 2002). Managerialism elevates metrics and indicators, and the system is likely to become self-referential and self-fulfilling. Hines (1988) argued that accounting does not merely communicate some pre-existing objective reality but serves to produce that reality. As Fauré et al. (2010: 1249) put it: ‘accounting, in all of its manifestations, produces the organization, and does not simply occur within it.’ Constructing a PM system, choosing the metrics and indicators, and implementing it are efficient means for constructing reality within the academia. In due course, you get what you measure. This fundamental self-fulfilling feature of management control systems in academia has not passed unnoticed (Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). There is ample evidence to suggest that PM has led to discontent among scholars in universities (Anderson, 2008; Chandler et al., 2002; Henkel, 2005; Knights and Clarke, 2014; Parker and Jary, 1995; Sousa et al., 2010; Willmott, 1995; Ylijoki, 2005; Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). Willmott (1995) lamented the commodifying logic of capitalism that permeates academia, and Parker and Jary (1995) argued that it increases the power of management and diminishes the autonomy of academics. External accountability and serving the transient needs of business and industry have arguably led to more short-term thinking in academic work where the fast pace of corporate research and development (R&D) is mimicked (Styhre and Lind, 2010). It also feeds individualism that, the critics remind us, may be detrimental to collaboration and a sense of community in academia (Ylijoki, 2005). At the same time, enthusiastic calls for interdisciplinarity (Gibbons et al., 1994) have further complicated academic work in that established disciplinary conventions and theoretical debates are openly challenged (Henkel, 2005). Paradoxically, however, in fields such as business studies, the new metrics of research performance have been found to support the crafting of methodologically elegant discipline-based publications with little or no practical relevance (Michailova, 2011). It would appear that scholars no longer see themselves as governors of their Republics of Scholars. Some critics have even argued that universities have been ‘hijacked’ by career managers and administrators whose sovereignty is placed above the interests of scholars and students (Aronowitz, 2000; Ginsberg, 2011) and who feel entitled to discount the past and claim that ‘everyone who is against change is either self-interested or doesn’t understand the “real world”’ (Parker, 2014: 281). As such, it has been argued that marketization and managerialism run into problems because universities are not like other organizations and because academic work is not like any other work. Universities do not have clearly delineated producer and consumer roles for either themselves or their stakeholders, and this renders the emerging instrumental focus on ‘use value’ problematic (Aspara et al., 2014). Instead, the various kinds of value that universities provide in the form of research, education and societal impact are co-created with myriad stakeholders with different and sometimes conflicting interests and expectations – think of, for example, local and international scholarly communities, current and prospective students, alumni, employers, donors, accreditors and the State – rather than produced unilaterally by the university and consumed by particular customer groups (Naude and Ivy, 1999). Developing and retaining an academic identity1 seems to be as ambivalent and confusing as ever. In the Humboldtian discourse cherished until recently in countries like Finland (Välimaa, 2012), idealized expectations of what it means to be a scholar include originality and a passion for independent critical thinking (Gabriel, 2010; Krejsler, 2006). For those inclined to draw on this discourse the intensification of academic work and the demands for external accountability can be overwhelming; the Humboldtian ideal is even more difficult to live up to than before (Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013), and the new market-driven and managerialist university is likely to feed insecurity among scholars (Knights and Clarke, 2014),2 especially as it is increasingly based on control from a distance and through a faceless system (ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012). To work with this insecurity in identity, historical notions of academia and academic work can be tapped into, and the present and future can be contrasted with the past. Market discourse can be criticized and ridiculed in nostalgic comparisons with the good old days (Ylijoki, 2005). Alternatively, this discourse can be a source of great enthusiasm when new ideas and metrics are embraced as a remedy to the inefficiencies and inequalities of the past (Dowd and Kaplan, 2005; Tienari, 2012). In other words, academic identities can be narrated in multiple ways (Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). While extant research has shed light on the various aspects of how PM affects academic work and identities, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of how scholars across universities, departments and fields of science make sense of this shift. In the following sections, we set the scene for developing such an understanding with regard to Finnish universities by outlining reforms in the Finnish higher education sector over the past 20 years. While PM principles and practices faced today are grounded in reforms introduced since the 1990s, the change towards managerialism in Finland has accelerated rapidly since 2010. Higher education reforms and performance management in Finnish universities In 1995, at a time when many western governments introduced reforms in higher education, the Ministry of Education in Finland3 adopted a new approach to managing universities. While the Finnish term used for this approach is ‘management by results’ – grounded in Peter Drucker’s (1954) notion of management by objectives – its spirit and content are in line with what has been referred to in the literature as PM (Sousa et al., 2010; ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012).4 While the PM model was introduced to the Finnish public sector by the Ministry of Finance in the late 1980s, it became an important doctrine in dealing with the severe economic recession of the early 1990s. Since 1997, the PM model has been used regularly in budgetary negotiations between the Ministry and universities to determine the amount of funding for each university (Kuoppala, 2005; Salminen, 2003). Detailed objectives are set out and funding is allocated in exchange for measureable output. Today, there are a total of 14 universities in Finland that are by law administered by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Most of the funding for Finnish universities is still provided by the State. From 1995 to 2013, however, the Finnish higher education sector was subject to several structural and operational reforms. The university funding scheme was renewed several times, the basis of funding and the applied indicators were changed, the university employees’ pay scheme was renewed, and the University Act was enacted and revised. The major changes in higher education and governmental policy affecting the steering of Finnish universities are summarized in Figure 1. The emphasis on output has become increasingly imminent in the PM model, which now emphasizes the autonomy of university management in finding the means for securing the desired output. The control mechanism in the system is based on outcomes and ex post monitoring as opposed to the previous, ex ante planning model. figure Figure 1. Changes in the Finnish higher education and governmental level policies during the last 20 years. PM = performance management. The most important changes in the Finnish higher education sector took effect in 2010 with the renewal of the University Act and the university funding scheme (Välimaa, 2012). Several universities were merged, and more detailed objectives for the funding for each university were set. While the performance indicators for State funding were fine-tuned again in 2013, it is generally agreed that the changes in 2010 affected the PM of Finnish universities in a fundamental way. With the new University Act, the number of study credits and degrees, the amount of external funding and the number of publications became the main indicators in the university funding scheme. This put Finnish universities in a new position where detailed outcome targets at university level and managing the performance of each scholar gave universities little leeway in choosing what objectives they wished to pursue, although they had relatively more autonomy over how to do this. Moreover, as the State budget for the universities remained at the same level, the universities were now in practice forced to compete with each other for their public as well as private funding. It seems that the steering hold of the Ministry increased rather than decreased with the reforms that took effect in 2010 (Kallio, 2014). Like other member-states of the European Union, renewing the university funding scheme in Finland is heavily influenced by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommendations. Although the OECD has no formal authority over States and universities, it is highly influential in the promotion of ideas of what good government is and what constitutes good university management (Aarrevaara et al., 2009). The role of universities has become increasingly instrumental as they are seen as the promoters and executors of ‘national innovation policies’ (Kristensen et al., 2011). Under the rubric of the ‘third mission,’ the University Act of 2010 encourages Finnish universities to interact with, and contribute to, industry and society through research and education. In the Education and Research 2011–2016 development plan of the Ministry of Education and Culture, it is stated that ‘university . . . research, development and innovation will be used to diversify the industrial structure, to develop the creative economy and new growth areas . . . to renew the service structures in society, and to promote sustainable growth’ (MinEdu, 2012: 46). Overall, while the primary purpose of the Ministry in introducing and revising the PM system has been to redirect the higher education sector as a whole (Kuoppala, 2005; Kallio and Kallio, 2014; Salminen, 2003), institutional changes have been found to affect the internal functioning of universities; for example, in terms of management (Aspara et al., 2014) and career systems (Herbert and Tienari, 2013). This is argued to have contributed to a polarization of identity constructions among academics between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ even among colleagues in the same department (Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). Research design and process The empirical materials for our study were generated by administrating a survey in August–September 2010 in three universities located in different geographical regions in Finland. The survey was timed after the renewal of the University Act in 2010 and the universities’ funding scheme. Our sample comprised scholars in four departments5 in each university: business and economics, mathematics and natural sciences, humanities, and education sciences. The materials were generated by an internet-based survey questionnaire that was sent to all academic employees in the chosen departments. This totaled 2870 people in research- and/or teaching-oriented positions (referred to as ‘academics’ and ‘scholars’ in this article). A total of 966 respondents completed and returned the survey. The response rate of 33.6 percent can be considered very satisfactory (Baruch and Holtom, 2008). A non-response analysis by university, department and field of science indicated no systematic loss, and the share of men and women as well as the amount of full professors and other teaching and research staff in our data were in line with the demographics of Finnish universities. The survey included an open question: ‘How does Management by Results [i.e. PM] affect the attractiveness of an academic career?’ A total of 823 scholars (85% of all respondents) answered this open question. It is noteworthy that many of the respondents wrote a lengthy passage of text, reflecting in detail not only on academic career, but on the impact of PM principles and practices on academic work, the university ideal, and being an academic. We applied a mixed method approach where different types of data complement each other in developing insights on the phenomenon studied (Morse, 2003). We followed Miles and Huberman’s (2002: 396) advice in that ‘quantitative and qualitative inquiry can support and inform each other in important ways.’ Our quantitative analysis of responses to the survey questionnaire enabled us to map the overall perceptions of the respondents toward the PM system in use. This mapping informed the focus of our qualitative analysis of the responses to the open question, which enabled us to explore the reasoning behind the responses. Overall, our research process was iterative in that we moved back and forth between developing our theoretical framing and elaborating on our empirical analysis. In terms of the former, we first considered using a framing inspired by institutional theory (i.e. contrasting institutional logics), but eventually settled for a focus on the problematics of PM in universities and academic work. In terms of empirical analysis, the theoretical choices led us to elaborate specifically on our qualitative inquiry. First, we analyzed the responses of the quantitative part of the survey, which depicted perceptions about PM. Among other things, the results show that PM is considered by our respondents to have been unsuccessful in Finnish universities. This is illustrated in Table 1, which depicts respondents’ satisfaction with the current PM system broken down by field of science. A large share of respondents from all 12 university departments indicated that they were not satisfied with the current PM system. Although academics are encouraged to think critically, we interpret the amount of respondents not satisfied with PM to echo a generally negative impression of the higher education reforms and the new university funding scheme. At the same time, as indicated in Table 2, the majority of our respondents in all departments indicated that PM has no clear steering effect in their own work and does not affect their work efficiency. Furthermore, only 19 percent of the respondents definitely or mostly agreed with the statement that PM is useful in encouraging researchers to produce innovations. With regard to these responses, no statistically significant differences were detected on the basis of background variables, such as the respondent’s university, department, position and years of employment. These findings led us to dig deeper into the reasoning behind the responses. Table Table 1. Satisfaction with the current performance management system by field of science. Table 1. Satisfaction with the current performance management system by field of science. View larger version Table Table 2. Claims concerning performance management (PM). Table 2. Claims concerning performance management (PM). View larger version Second, we analyzed the responses to the open question in the survey (‘How does Management by Results [i.e. PM] affect the attractiveness of an academic career?’). Using open questions arguably resembles a semi-structured interview setting in that respondents are not asked to choose from predefined options but can use their own words and expressions in dealing with the question (Kovalainen and Eriksson, 2008). Reading the 823 responses several times, it became clear to us that they could be positioned into categories of negative effect, no effect, positive effect, dual effect (positive and negative), or indifferent. This led to a general breakdown of the overall content that was in line with the survey results, where the majority (55% of all responses) depicted a negative view of PM on the attractiveness of academic career (see Figure 2). figure Figure 2. Percentage breakdown of the effects of performance management on the attractiveness of an academic career. Third, we carried out an in-depth thematic analysis of the responses to the open question. This led us to identify different aspects and dimensions of PM on the basis of which the respondents unpacked its effects on the attractiveness of an academic career. The texts were filled with irony and sarcasm as well as witty observations of the state of Finnish universities. The reasoning of the respondents seemed to revolve around four dimensions: (1) what is measured, by whom, and how; (2) what are the assumptions that underlie performance measurement; (3) what kind of a university ideal is created through PM; and (4) what kind of academic ethos should academics harbor in the system. Distinctions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ academia were (re)constructed in relation to these dimensions. Examples of responses by our respondents, categorized by the four dimensions identified, are offered in Tables 3, 4, 5 and 6. Table Table 3. Reflections on measurement and metrics. Table 3. Reflections on measurement and metrics. View larger version Table Table 4. Reflections on assumptions underlying performance measurement. Table 4. Reflections on assumptions underlying performance measurement. View larger version Table Table 5. Reflections on the ‘new’ academia. Table 5. Reflections on the ‘new’ academia. View larger version Table Table 6. Reflections on the ‘new’ academics. Table 6. Reflections on the ‘new’ academics. View larger version Distinguishing between different dimensions of PM and its impact is an analytical exercise informed by our theoretical framing. Many individual responses incorporate several dimensions, and the dimensions often overlap in the responses (e.g. more than one dimension is discussed in the same sentence). We do not imply that we are projecting some kind of objective reality with our analysis; rather, we realize that our reading of the materials is not exhaustive and exclusive. Other readings based on other theoretical framings are possible. However, we have attempted to be systematic and transparent in our research process as well as in reporting our findings so that the reader is able to follow our line of argumentation and decide whether our conclusions are plausible. In the following, we specify and illustrate the ways in which PM is understood by our respondents to impact academic work and being an academic. Academics facing performance management First, the question of what is measured, by whom, and how, formed an integral part of how our respondents perceived the effects of PM on the attractiveness of academic career (see Table 3). PM was viewed through the measures and metrics used as well as the practices of performance appraisal applied in the measurement. A typical way to address this was to assert that PM increases ‘bureaucracy’ in the university, and that it is not only time-consuming and irrelevant but also alien to academic work. At the same time, a clear distinction between academic employees and ‘administration’ was constructed in the responses. ‘In a sensible world you’d seek to keep administration as light and local as possible,’ a female lecturer in humanities remarked. ‘However, sensibility has never been a criterion in any educational reforms in Finland, so I guess it’s just too much to ask.’ A recurring theme in the responses was that ‘bureaucracy’ (administration) multiplies itself even in conditions of austerity in universities. Another theme highlighted in the responses was the inequality that the metrics and measurement construes between different disciplines and research traditions. A typical general concern raised by our respondents was that the system favors natural sciences at the expense of social sciences and humanities because of the differences in publishing traditions and processes. To simplify, in social sciences and humanities, the tradition is to publish alone or with select partners with qualitative data generated over extensive periods of time, whereas in natural sciences the tradition is to publish at fast speed with quantitative data and with a large number of scholars as authors. The current PM system is commonly understood to favor the latter. As stated by a male professor in business and economics:In some fields, notable international research is a natural part of making a career, and the PM system could even encourage this; whereas in other fields, the situation is completely different. The system may in fact effectively shrivel some fields of science completely. If this happens, the educational role of the university in society is in real danger. Overall, PM was considered by our respondents to discourage innovation and novelty and lead to bland research. They pitted quality against quantity and were confident that the new system favored the latter. Furthermore, our respondents flagged the shift from collegial university management to quantitative measurement on all levels, from the university to department and to individuals. Measuring the performance of individuals was perceived to lead to ‘industrial manufacturing of research,’ as a female researcher in mathematics and natural sciences put it: ‘[With] artificial quantitative measurements, quantity does not guarantee quality. It does not encourage risk-taking and groundbreaking research [i.e. research] that involves the chance of failure. It encourages easy and mundane publications, so that the numbers look good.’ Second, the question of what assumptions underlie performance measurement spurred strong comments about being under surveillance (Parker and Jary, 1995; see also Lorenz, 2012; Sewell et al., 2012). Beyond the practical nuisance caused by PM practices, the system was perceived to cause anxiety and stress (see Table 4). Assumptions about what academics are like and what they (should) do in order to perform well in their career gave rise to considerations of a shift from developmental evaluation, where the core of the system is personal progress, to judgmental PM, where the system serves to control and steer academic work from the outside (ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012). A male lecturer in educational sciences put it: ‘At any rate, [PM] does not increase the attractiveness [of an academic career]. Creative work requires a certain amount of freedom and flexibility, which are now under threat.’ Typical responses dealing with the underlying assumptions of PM also claimed that the system encourages short-term thinking, which can lead to sub-optimization in the functioning of the university. As a male lecturer in mathematics and natural sciences put it: ‘Your career as a researcher is lifelong, not the duration of a given funding period.’ However, while the dominant perception of PM in our data was distinctively negative, some respondents wrote about the metrics-based evaluation system as a positive development. A typical response was that owing to PM, it is possible to quickly advance in your academic career and that there are more opportunities to increase your salary with excellent performance. As a female researcher in humanities wrote: ‘It is attractive that people’s merits can be compared with clear criteria (the amount of publications and their quality). It is possible to get ahead in your career as a young person.’ Third, our respondents reflected on the question of what kind of a university ideal is created through PM (see Table 5). The representations and meanings attached to the university ideal were perceived to be changing. Our respondents implied that the ideal of academia is changing from Humboldtian to market oriented. It was argued that the practical or business interests pushed forward by marketization and managerialism prevail in how key stakeholders see universities. Academically interesting research is run over by applied research interests. As stated by a female researcher in humanities: [PM] doesn’t attract those kinds of people who believe that in the cradle of academia people think and discuss deep philosophical questions for hours – the current university doesn’t enable this with its increasing demands, and idealists can perceive this as really frustrating. Fourth, and finally, the question of what academic ethos scholars should harbor in the university where performance is measured in new ways prompted our respondents to reflect on the attractiveness of an academic career from the perspective of the profound changes taking place in academic identity (see Table 6). This was done by providing examples of a profound change in the ethos of academic work. Our respondents were concerned about identities that become available in pursuing an academic career – and what identities are simultaneously marginalized and excluded. Those responses that dealt with the changing ethos of academic work constructed a narrative on how being a scholar has changed for the worse. Many respondents explicitly noted that a new kind of scholar is attracted to the changing academic ethos and the adoption of more judgmental PM practices that enables fast career development for some; these scholars are typically unlike those with whom the respondent themselves (presumably) identify. A male professor in business and economics stated: ‘[PM] makes an academic career seem less interesting to gifted and smart people, but it might persuade other kinds of people, so that there is a constant supply of labor.’ In a similar vein, a male lecturer in business and economics suggested: [The effects of PM on the attractiveness of an academic career] is deteriorating unless you have status ambitions to become a publishing machine because that’s the only way you can be appointed to better positions. And it is possible to develop the ability to manufacture articles without actually saying anything meaningful and relevant. Even if it were generally perceived that the new PM system had a negative effect on the attractiveness of an academic career, some respondents explicitly underlined their strong intrinsic motivation to be a scholar and their ethos towards doing meaningful academic research (Karran, 2009; Kallio and Kallio, 2014). For example, a female professor in humanities stated: ‘An academic career is attractive as it is, and [PM] cannot destroy that attractiveness entirely.’ Numerous respondents indicated that the ethos of the new academics is competitive as the current PM indicators favor opportunistic, career-oriented people who are likely to neglect tasks not appreciated by the indicators, such as teaching (Herbert and Tienari, 2013; Kallio and Kallio, 2014). Such people were contrasted with others (presumably like the respondents themselves) who still harbor the traditional collegial academic ethos. However, the latter were predicted to ‘fade away from Finnish academia,’ as a female lecturer in educational sciences put it. ‘Opportunists survive’ as they are ‘more fitted for this job,’ as a male lecturer in business and economics concluded. Discussion How are we to theorize on the findings detailed above? Our study of academics in three Finnish universities indicates that the principles and practices of PM are generally understood to give rise to a ‘new’ academia that emphasizes not the objectives of academic work per se but rather the measures and metrics representing those objectives. Previously, the peer review practice meant that the work came before the person, but in the new academia, products are used to qualify persons (Sousa et al., 2010). Managing academic performance in new and more judgmental ways is not merely about metrics and measurement (ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012); it construes a new university ideal. The new academia is based on the assumption that academics need to be controlled from the outside, and our respondents comment on this ‘surveillance’ with some irony and sarcasm (Parker and Jary, 1995; see also Lorenz, 2012; Sewell et al., 2012). They are acutely aware that with the proliferation of PM principles and practices, the very meaning of the university is (once more) challenged. Our findings underscore that the work done in universities has become a site of struggle between scholars and other interest groups ‘for control of matters previously taken for granted as academic prerogative’ (Henkel, 2005: 164). PM does not remove subjectivity in measurement but relocates it at a greater distance from the measured subject (ter Bogt and Scapens, 2012). Our respondents lament the increase of ‘bureaucracy’ that accompanies the adoption of PM. While not entirely surprising, this may be considered paradoxical when the crux of the new system is considered: while efficient use of inputs to produce maximum output is the rationale for why performance in universities is measured in new ways (Sousa et al., 2010), our respondents argue that it leads to meaningless extra work and sub-optimization of resources from the point of view of the university as a whole. Perhaps most fundamentally, however, it serves to change the ethos of what it means to be an academic; it disrupts the sense of collective identity among scholars and accentuates an elusive search for meaningfulness (Knights and Clarke, 2014; Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). Figure 3 summarizes the four dimensions of the change brought about by PM as seen by our respondents. figure Figure 3. Dimensions of performance management in the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ academia. The question of changing ethos is significant because it cuts to the originality, autonomy and freedom at the heart of academic work. A focal point in marketization and managerialism in universities is the renegotiation and dissolution of academic freedom (Tierney and Lechuga, 2010), which has traditionally involved a freedom different from other occupations (Baruch and Hall, 2004). For individuals and groups in universities, academic freedom has meant ‘free’ choice of research topics and methods and ‘being trusted to manage the pattern of one’s working life and priorities’ (Henkel, 2005: 169). It has perhaps also meant a mandate to voice criticism that is independent of external interests. Neave (1988) talked about academic autonomy (rather than freedom) as the right to determine the nature of one’s work within a community of scholars. With reference to universities as organizations, Czarniawska and Genell (2002: 472) view the change in academic freedom and autonomy in terms of a dilemma: while the (traditional) epistemic culture fostered by universities is based on plurality of thought and a pledge to ‘fight totalizing language,’ universities are dependent on their perceived legitimacy, which in the current system means that they are forced to adhere to some form of standardization of goals and criteria of success in order to be taken seriously by key stakeholders such as the State and the business community. Our respondents see the adoption of PM as a violation of academic freedom and of the traditional collegial values of university. Marginson (2008), however, points to complexity in the ways in which marketization and managerialism afford some freedoms while restraining others. Retaining a critical perspective to the new discourse, he argues for a fine-grained understanding of gains and losses of individual freedoms. In the same spirit, and answering to Karran’s (2009) call for empirical inquiry on how scholars comprehend change in their freedoms, Herbert and Tienari (2013) show how scholars faced with new management systems may perceive that they have less power to determine the goals of their work (because university managers and administrators now intend to do that) while still retaining some freedom to control how those goals are achieved. Our respondents demonstrate a more one-dimensional conception of academic freedom and autonomy, and the notion of changing ethos captures its essence. While under perceived threat people tend to become increasingly aware of where their allegiances lie, pressures for change in universities show how identity and insecurity are ‘conditions and consequences of one another; insecurity tends to generate a preoccupation with stabilizing our identity yet the contingent nature of the world makes such stability unrealizable and this reinforces the very insecurity that we expect identity to dissipate’ (Knights and Clarke, 2014: 336). In our data, this takes the form of academic nostalgia that Ylijoki (2005) referred to as the collective yearning for the good old days. She presented nostalgia not as an objective description but as a selective idealization and simplification of the past, which serves as a coping mechanism that enables scholars to deal with the changing conditions and conflicting pressures in their work. Another aspect of this coping is that the majority of our respondents indicate that they do not let PM have a steering effect on their own work. However, such ‘resistance’ has a distinctive melancholy flavor in our data. Typically, the reflections are about anticipating the future as much as they are about describing the present. The sensemaking is forward-looking but in a pessimistic way. At the same time, some scholars in our sample clearly embrace PM and the competition it encourages. These scholars resemble what Dowd and Kaplan (2005) refer to as ‘mavericks’ who see themselves as entrepreneurs rather than as members of academic communities and who are self-contained and engaged in their own personal development. Perhaps these individuals offer a glimpse of things to come in Finnish universities: the new academia may give rise to new elites who accelerate in their careers and occupy professorships at a young age while indoctrinating their own doctoral students to the competitive ethos. PM may thus reinforce the polarization of academic identity constructions into losing out and becoming successful (Ylijoki and Ursin, 2013). Hence, metrics (over)emphasizing particular indicators over others may become a self-fulfilling prophecy (see Fauré et al., 2010; Hines, 1988) in terms of who is considered eligible to do academic work. Conclusion Our extensive study of Finnish academics has offered a comprehensive analysis of how PM is changing universities, academic work and academics. As such, it complements extant theorizing on the wider implications of PM systems in academia. We conclude that the ethos of what it means to be an academic is at stake, as a new competitive ethos is challenging the traditional collegial academic ethos. It directs those who do academic work to pursue goals that are rewarded by PM measures and metrics, even if the scholars themselves do not agree with the rationale and usefulness of these indicators. While contemporary reforms in higher education and university management converge across the West and beyond (Wedlin, 2008), we suggest that more attention should be paid to the societal and socio-cultural context where principles and practices of PM are adopted and adapted. How Humboldtian discourse on autonomous and free-thinking scholars fares in the face of PM is a case in point. A significant feature of the Finnish case is that after over a decade of more incremental change fundamental reforms are now carried out quickly and methodically, putting unprecedented pressure on scholars to reconsider their relationship to the work they do and, indeed, their academic identities. While universities in Finland have traditionally been seen in the Humboldtian spirit as national cultural institutions (Välimaa, 2012), the new system affords them a more instrumental role and steers them towards competition with each other. It is not a surprise, then, that the question of ethos emerged as prominent in our study. Some 20 years earlier, in their study of UK academia, Parker and Jary (1995) concluded that marketization and managerialism should be resisted in universities, but not with nostalgia for a previous order. How nostalgia plays into the responses by academics facing radical change needs to be studied further, especially if we want to better understand the idiosyncratic forms and possibilities of resistance in the new academia in the West and beyond. While we have made some progress in studying academics who face PM, our empirical material is limited to Finland. Comparative studies – carried out in universities in different countries – of the adoption and translation of PM and its consequences for academic work are needed in order to understand how variations in the organization of higher education impact upon the experience of change in academia. Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. Notes 1In keeping with, for example, Ylijoki and Ursin (2013) and Knights and Clarke (2014), identity is understood here as (re)constructed, negotiated and worked in social interaction, and it seeks to answer questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘how should I act?’ 2The proliferation of university branding has arguably accelerated the insecurity of academic identities. While some critics argue that universities have turned into promotional institutions (Hearn 2010), others suggest that higher education is inherently too complex for corporate brand management techniques to be applicable (Lowrie, 2007; Waeraas and Solbakk, 2009; Chapleo 2010). Nevertheless, managers and administrators in universities embrace branding in their quest for competitive positioning and advantage. Whether or not they are comfortable with it, academics get involved in an ongoing negotiation of representations of the university and what it stands for (Vásquez et al., 2013). 3The name Ministry of Education was changed to Ministry of Education and Culture on 1 May 2010. 4We use the term PM instead of management by results in the following sections. 5In Finnish terminology, ‘faculty’ is used to describe sections of universities. However, since the use of the term is different in British and American English, we use the term ‘department’ when referring to specific sections of the university (e.g. humanities). References Aarrevaara, T, Dobson, IR, Elander, C (2009) Brave new world: Higher education reform in Finland. Higher Education Management and Policy 21(2): 1–18. Google Scholar, Crossref Anderson, G (2008) Mapping academic resistance in the managerial university. Organization 15(2): 251–270. 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[Email:] Tomi J Kallio is Professor of Management and Organization at Turku School of Economics at the University of Turku, Finland. He holds PhDs both in Administrative Science (University of Tampere) and in Business Economics (Turku School of Economics). His research and teaching interests include organizational theory, performance management, knowledge-intensive organizations, organizational creativity, responsible business and research methodology. He has published in journals such as Studies in Higher Education, Policy Studies, Facilities, Journal of Business Ethics and Culture and Organization. [Email:] Janne Tienari is Professor of Organization and Management at Aalto University School of Business, Finland. Tienari’s research and teaching interests include managing multinational corporations, mergers and acquisitions, strategy work, gender and diversity, branding and media, and changing academia. His latest passion is to understand management, new generations and the future. His work has been published in leading organization and management studies journals such as Human Relations, Organization, Organization Studies, Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Review and Organization Science. [Email:] Timo Hyvönen is Professor of Accounting in the School of Management at University of Tampere, Finland. His work has been published in a variety of journals like European Accounting Review, Management Accounting Research, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal and Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management. His research interests include management accounting change, performance measurement, accounting profession, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems and public sector accounting. [Email:] View Abstract