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Changing dynamics between administrators and academics in European universities

About the working group

During the inaugural search conference for the project ‘European Universities - Critical Futures’, we heard stories pointing to tensions between academics and administration. These are echoed in recent literature (see Amelia Veiga's research on the erosion of academic power in Portuguese universities).

With this initiative we are trying to understand how the positions held by faculty and administrators in the university ecosystem have changed, and why this change has happened. Have these changes led to shifts in who effectively runs the institution?

In particular, we are focusing on how the introduction of new technologies for managing, marketing and ranking universities has led to a growth in administrative tasks for both academics and administrators. By new technologies, we are referring to, for example, research evaluation mechanisms, student management platforms (VLEs), marketisation (e.g. commercial conference management); education evaluation systems; competitive research funding.

Each of these technologies has to be administered, often by a new kind of professional administrator who has to forge new, or revise old, relationships with academics, whose own sense of professionalism may be affected in the process.

Our aim is to collect case studies to explore new relations between academics and administrators and in particular to find examples where personal, professional or systematic ways of developing productive working relations have been found or where tensions had been resolved.

We are therefore looking for colleagues interested in investigating a case study in their institutions with the understanding that these case studies will be analysed to see whether any systematic patterns emerge about an evolving power dynamic in European universities.

Format for each case study

  • Brief outline of the new management technology, why it has arisen, rough idea of how it has spread across Europe.
  • Any literature or reports on the new administrative role involved in that technology.
  • A study of one particular instance – with at least two interviews: one with an administrator on how s/he enacts this new role and how s/he sees academics reacting; and the other with an academic on their experience of this new technology and administrative role. How is the new relationship developing practically and affectively? How are professional identities, work roles and power relations changing? Any tensions? How are they handled or resolved?

Possible examples

  • Bibliometric Research Indicator (BFI) introduced by the Danish government to allocate funding and boost International rankings. Librarians now have to check each academic’s publications before they enter the system, which means instead of just supporting academics’ research and teaching needs, librarians now check up on them. This change has both been affective and shifted the sense of professionalism on both sides.
  • Commercial computerised conference system – its introduction upset the work of many other administrators, and made it almost impossible for academics to organise a conference.
  • HRM tools (technologies like work allocation models) - how they have been introduced in British higher education.
  • SITS, a new student management system, introduced into an institution 5 years ago, with persistent divisive effects.