Will Self-management replace managerialism in higher education?

Onderwijs - schaalvergroting ROC Leiden

The megalomaniac building that paved the way of a Dutch educational institution into bankruptcy 

In the eighties of the 20th century managers started taking over power in educational institutions[1]. Their ambitions were towering: More well paying foreign students, higher scores at international rankings, monitoring systems to control the duration of studies, institutionalized quality control systems. Numerous mergers, ostensibly for reasons of efficiency, impressive buildings and private drivers fuelled the egos of the new managerial class. New Public Management offered the exquisite administrative instruments they needed: integral management, hierarchical leadership and performance indicators to control middle management, teachers and students.

Meanwhile, the results have become visible: Occasional successes but many failures: Towering debts – often as a result of real estate projects – rising admission fees, calculating and consumptive students, overloaded – mostly not tenured – teachers, dominance of research over education, and growing organizational clutter[2] and overhead. Traditional well-known small-scaled colleges, where teachers and students formed close-knit communities, went lost.

Change is in the air. Students and teachers are revolting against the commodization of the educational system, universities in particular. They fear one-sided vocational orientation, uncritical collaboration with commercial firms and decreasing academic quality. Besides, a long row of scientific publications gives strong evidence that the mergers and acquisitions are increased costs, rather than bringing savings[3].

More democracy and autonomy must be paired

Worldwide students and academics ask for more democracy. More democracy often is identified with empowering representative bodies, without necessarily easing the regulative power of the government of universities. If this is all, the lack of freedom in the workplace and the pressure of bureaucracy will persist. As a consequence, democracy at institutional level must include a satisfactory level of autonomy in the workplace, where research and teaching are organized.

Onderwijs - rendementsdenkenHierarchical personnel management and extensive planning and control systems enabled late 20th century companies to produce massive volumes at low prices for relatively stable and continuously growing markets. Nowadays, the environment is changing at high-speed, requiring flexibility and development of new products in short notice. The labour force is well educated and prepared to take or share managerial responsibility. At the same time most workers feel disengaged under conditions of vertical control.

The demand for self-management is growing worldwide and goes beyond educational institutions. A growing number of publications have created an inspiring picture of the 21century organisation. One of the first protagonists of self-management was Ricardo Semler, who asked for more happiness and relaxation at work[4]. Lars Kolind has disclosed his own experience in a self-managing company[5], Brian Robertson has described his creation of holacracy, an elaborated model of self-government[6]. The absolute bestsellers of Laloux[7] and Getz[8] offer descriptions of companies and other organizations that have implemented self-management.

The ultimate goal of the transformation process of educational institutions, as part of a broader movement, is better education and research under responsibility of teachers, researchers and students practising distributed management, supported by a capable staff and enabled by engaging leaders. Less bureaucracy and overhead will increase money for education and research.

[1] Wikipedia is describing managerialism as belief in the value of professional managers and of the concepts and methods they use. It is associated with hierarchy, accountability and measurement.

[2] Decluttering higher education is a challenge. Read my last blogpost: http://wp.me/p3lna5-5G

[3] Ben Martin: What’s Happening to our Universities? From: Science Policy Research Working Paper Series, University of Sussec 2016. https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=2016-03-swps-martin.pdf&site=25

See also: David Matthews: Centralising Universities ‘ignores evidence of what works best’ in Times Higher Education February 15th 2016 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/centralising-universities-ignores-evidence-what-works-best

[4] Ricardo Semler: Semco style, 2013

[5] Lars Kolind & Jacob Botter: Unboss, 2014

[6] Brian Robertson: Holacracy, 2015

[7] Frederic Laloux: Reinventing organizations, 2015

[8] Isaac Getz and Brian Carney: Freedom, Inc., 2014.

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