A qualitative case study exploring the nature of New Managerialism in UK higher education and its impact on individual academics' experience of doing research.

Author:Nickson, Alicen


UK Universities are very different places to work in than they were 30 years ago. The Higher Education Sector within the UK has undergone a major shift in terms of its fundamental role and function within society as well as the mechanisms through which it is delivered. This pace of change continues as the Government increasingly looks to the HE sector to provide innovation, and a skilled workforce, in support of national economic competitiveness (Lambert, 2003; Leitch, 2006; Sainsbury, 2007; DIUS 2008; BIS 2011). What was once a fairly independent sector is now subject to a range of different pressures arising from being situated somewhere in between nationalisation and privatisation (Tight, 2006, p.254).

These developments have been analysed through a New Managerial (NM) framework. The concept of NM was originally developed in the context of changes to the way that governments approached the organisation and delivery of public services. NM suggested that the public sector was organised on the basis of neoliberal ideologies associated with economic competitiveness within a global market place, and that greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of services was sought through the use of management practices derived from the corporate world (Politt 1990; Clarke & Newman, 2004; Hursh, 2005; Davies et al 2006). Many studies suggested that changing management practices had primarily negative effects on universities and academics (Deem et al, 2000, 2007; Shelley, 2005). This was associated with challenges to the professional position and identity of the academic as well as increased stress, bureaucratisation, marketisation, corporatisation and performance measurement within the academic work environment.

However, the concept of NM itself has been problematised with the suggestion that it has changed over time, and that its application within HE in particular has been either hybridised or is incomplete (Deem et al 2007; Clegg, 2008). In addition, given the negative impacts identified, it is unclear why individual researchers appear to continue their research activity with apparent enthusiasm and success. Moreover, it is unclear how universities seemed to adhere to NM ideologies and practices whilst upholding more traditional academic values and customs. This questions the actual nature of NM in universities and, consequently, how this impacts upon individual academics. Other studies focus more directly on the experience of the individual academic. These studies indicated that academic workers engaged in strategies that enabled them to pursue their own agenda and attain ideals of academic freedom in spite of management regimes (Bennich-Bjorkman, 2007; Archer, 2008; Clegg, 2008, Kolsaker 2008; Akerlind, 2008).

Further exploration was therefore undertaken to try to understand the particular nature of management practices being applied to research activity, and how these practices affected the working lives of university researchers. This article presents a qualitative case study investigating the impact of New Managerialism (NM) on the perceptions and experiences of individual researchers by exploring what it is like to do research work within a selected English university.

New Managerialism in UK Higher Education

New Managerialism

Attempts to define NM have arisen as commentators have sought to understand, describe and explain the changes taking place in the provision of public sector services since the late 1970s. It has been defined as:

* an ideology, legitimizing the development of new organizational forms and relationships;

* a practical ideology of 'being business like' in order to make the new arrangements work. (Clarke & Newman, 2004, p. 32)

The concept of NM therefore seeks firstly to explain the socio-economic and political reasons behind why particular organizational regimes have been developed and, secondly, to describe the ways in which public services are now being delivered.

The NM legitimisation of new organisational forms originated from a view that professional-bureaucratic modes of organisation were inefficient and could not cope with the challenges arising from increasing globalisation (Pollitt, 1990). This provided a context of crisis in which supposedly inevitable forces of globalisation required a fundamental restructuring of public service provision around a neoliberal ideology of deregulation, privatisation and free market mechanisms (Clarke & Newman, 2004, pp. 8-13; Davies et al, 2006, p. 305; Hursh, 2005, p. 13; Lazeretti & Tavloetti, 2006, p. 32). To achieve restructuring, business-like practices based on a neo-Taylorist view of work were appropriated. Organisations were thought to operate most efficiently by planning ahead, breaking down tasks and allocating responsibilities to find the most efficient way of performing each task (Handy, 1999, p. 21) Work tasks are monitored and controlled to improve productivity, motivating individuals through financial reward (Mullins, 2002, pp. 55-58). Efficiency is thought to be driven by having to meet customer needs within a competitive market place.

NM as a concept and set of practices has not, however, remained static. Early neo-Taylorist versions have been replaced by a neo-technocratic variant (Deem et al, 2007). This is linked to the changing practices associated with New Labour's modernization agenda which moves away from a purely neo-liberal framework. Whilst greater cost-effectiveness using business-like mechanisms is still sought, there has been a movement away from purely market based mechanisms to drive efficiency, to contractual mechanisms and performance measurement through audit (Clarke & Newman, 2004, p. 80). Furthermore, 'consumers' are recast. Not only should they have choice regarding where and how they receive services, but they should be actively involved in determining what services should be provided (Deem et al, 2007, p. 15). This represents a fundamental shift in terms of how the role of public service provision is conceptualised and the relationship between government, public sector organisation and 'consumer'.

However, discussion of the impact of NM in the past has tended to focus on an ideal type (Alford, 1993, p. 136). No ideology or set of management practices is necessarily applied in its entirety and the current version of NM has inherent tensions. Neoliberalism requires self-regulating competitive markets and promotes competitive individualism (Roberts, 2007, p. 360). However, practices associated with neo-technocratic managerialism constrain the market through government intervention (such as standards and reporting) and social inclusion objectives (Hursh, 2005, p. 11). An emphasis on social diversity and regulated standards does not fit with neoliberal ideals. In addition, the introduction of performance management and measurement leads to issues regarding what exactly to measure, whether specific measures are appropriate and how these should be interpreted (Cutler & Waine, 2000, pp. 325-329). Thus neo-technocratic managerialism itself appears to be a hybrid concept trying to merge neoliberal ideals of markets and business-like practices with alternative ideologies associated with social agendas and government controls. These tensions within the NM model question both how, and the extent to which, it impacts on actual service provision and providers.

The Impact of New Managerialism on Higher Education and Academic Workers

Traditionally made up of self-governing state funded organisations, universities have historically been relatively removed from Government influence. However, in spite of a neoliberal advocacy of decentralisation and deregulation, the sector has been brought increasingly closer to Government and is now subject to growing control through a variety of management mechanisms derived from the corporate world. Indeed, the influences of NM thinking can be traced through government initiatives and policies for HE over recent decades and have resulted in a fundamental change in the role and practices of UK HE. These changes have resulted in a number of pressures. In particular, the increased size of the sector and reduced public funding has created a resourcing crisis and the context in which conditions were 'ripe' for the implementation of NM, mirroring developments in the wider public sector (Pollitt, 1990, p. 28). Analysis of key reforms indicates a number of new managerial practices that are now in evidence within the sector:

* A neoliberal legitimization of organisational forms.

* The need to respond to, and be successful within, a competitive external environment.

* A requirement to conform to external performance indicators.

* An emphasis on income generation.

* The emergence of marketing strategies.

* Increased customer oriented administration.

* Increased bureaucracy.

* Increased performance management and evaluation against outputs.

* Transparent measures of performance.

* Clearer demarcation of teaching and research.

* Concentration of resource in pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness.

In addition, however, universities themselves have appropriated a range of management practices as a way of developing and managing themselves within a changing and increasingly complex environment. In an attempt to understand why these changes have taken place, how universities are now being managed and how this affects people working in universities, the framework of NM has been used.

For instance, Deem et al (2000) examined the extent to which NM was perceived to have permeated the management of UK universities. The findings from this study suggested that the UK higher education system could now be characterized as being highly managerial and bureaucratic, with declining trust, discretion and self-governance by academics. It was found that HE displayed hybridized forms of NM that had variable impact. They posit that UK universities and British Higher Education policy are now...

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