Friday, 27 February 2015

A subject of the Queen?

As previously noted on this blog, I have been thinking about becoming British. But, well, there are a few reasons that may speak against it:
Anyway, all of this is just a prelude to announce that this week I have indeed become a British citizen (as well as subject of the Queen).

Sunday, 15 February 2015

What kind of organisations are universities?

Stop treating universities as if they were a football game’ - that was the title of a newspaper article a few weeks ago criticizing that ‘universities are now virtually run by the various measures of their performance’.
  This analogy sounded somehow familiar. Oh well, I suggested it too when I blogged a year ago about eight different modes how academics perceive universities and their jobs. In the previous post, I was mainly interested in the micro level (ie individual academic researchers). Thus, now some thoughts about the organisational level, ie what is the best analogy for universities?
  • Football teams may indeed be a possible analogy if we think that the work at universities is mainly a ‘direct fight’ against other units, eg, for scarce grants or placements in prestigious journals. Alternatively, one could say that it is more akin to a sailing or rowing team competition, ie each unit tries to be as a good as possible without any direct contact with its competitors. However, a problem with all sports analogies is that universities operate permanently, not only for a particular competitive event.
  • So, perhaps comparisons with other highly competitive groups may work better, for example, military units or crime gangs? But that seems to go too far as universities have (usually, I suppose) no interest in destroying other units. Another analogy may be political parties; but here too we’d have a zero-sum game (ie you can only gain votes if your opponents loose) which is not how it works in universities since each unit may also indirectly benefit from good quality in other units.
  • Thus, private companies may be a better analogy: some other companies are your competitors but others are your suppliers or customers. Moreover, different companies may have different strategies, eg, there may be some niche companies similar to smaller universities. However, there also is a problem with this analogy, namely that research and higher education have a social dimension (or are even a public good).
  • So, a better analogy may be to say that universities are akin to hospitals. Or, as considered in my previous post, like an extended family or a shared house. But then there would be almost no competition with the other units which may be a bit unrealistic (and, perhaps, not ideal).
  • Thus, finally, the theatre ensemble analogy: each unit wants to perform well, but the main aim is not to ‘beat’ another ensemble (though there is some competition), but mainly to be as good as possible to the benefit of the ‘audience’ (students etc), also considering the public function of culture (research/education). That sounds about right.