36th EGOS Colloquium
Organizing for a Sustainable Future:
Responsibility, Renewal & Resistance
University of Hamburg
July 2–4, 2020
36th EGOS Colloquium
July 2–4, 2020
This sub-theme explores the current challenges facing universities and academia more generally, which, as some have argued,
pose a significant if not existential threat to a hitherto very successful organizational model of knowledge generation and
dissemination (Readings, 1996; Ernst & Young, 2012). It asks for papers that examine in some detail at the main driving
forces and agents as well as explore possible reactions to these developments.
Universities go back to the Middle Ages with early foundations in Bologna, Paris and Oxford – with many others following these frontrunners over time. Today, according to the Ranking Web of Universities (2017), there are more than 25,000 universities worldwide – demonstrating the popularity of this organizational form. The growth of the university population occurred particularly after the Second World War, driven in large part, it seems, by high expectations of their performance and their contribution to individual development as well as national competitiveness (Gibbons & Johnston, 1974). However, in the 21st century, their hitherto highly appreciated characteristics are increasingly questioned, and even their existence as a unified organization seems under threat (Cota et al., 2012). These challenges to the university model, and academia more broadly speaking, has several origins:
First, the expansion of the university population has implied an increasing competition for students, faculty, resources and, particularly, reputation. This in turn has had the effect that universities are increasingly putting efforts in building their brands signalling to students that studies at a particular university will be a positive experience leading to well-paid jobs in the future. Similarly, they are stressing their creative research environment in order to attract high quality faculty members as well as research resources. In this competition, accreditations, rankings and evaluations have come to play an increasingly important role. Among the effects, there appears to be a stronger focus on short-term performance and accountability (cf., for example, Wedlin, 2006; Whitley et al., 2010).
Second, universities are under competition not only among themselves but also from other organizations whose mission involves the production of novel knowledge and its dissemination. Some corporations have full-fledged research divisions and others have established corporate universities (Crainer & Dearlove, 1999, ch. 9). In addition, there is a vast and growing population of other knowledge-intensive organizations, such as consulting think tanks, boasting of their “research” and academic credentials (Garsten & Sörbom, 2017; Kipping, 2018). As a result, the competition for talent and resources have become even fiercer. On top of that, modern information technology has provided the basis for learning on the web through Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). Commercial providers, many of them multinationals, as well as universities provide platforms for these. These developments drive dramatic changes in the core activities of universities (e.g., in curriculum; Frank & Gabler, 2006), as well as its professional ethos (Macfarlane, 2013), and have led some observers, like the Flemish executive Robert Stouthuysen, to the conclusion that “the classic university is at the point of death” (De Corte et al., 2016: xvii).
Third, the universities are under increasing pressure from political actors to contribute to various political goals such as economic growth as well as gender and social equality. There are expectations that research should to be “useful” leading to patentable innovations that will contribute to national competitiveness (cf., for example, Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 1997). Universities are also expected to both raise and even out the competence of citizens. Governments signal these expectations through various regulations, to which universities tend to respond by lobbying and with efforts to handle compliance.
Fourth, universities are under increasing pressure to act “managerially”. Large corporations have become a role model for other organizations, in particular those in the public sector, universities included – a trend often subsumed under the label “New Public Management” (Hood, 1995). This has had the effect that universities are increasingly forced to adopt a more hierarchical structure and management tools from the private sector. In many universities, this starts at the board level with the selection of persons with managerial and financial background. Likewise, university presidents are increasingly recruited by means of search consultants on a labour market of external candidates rather than the traditional approach of selecting the primus inter pares (Engwall, 2014). All this seems to increase bureaucratization of universities with significant reporting requirements for faculty members, constituted a highly regulative market of higher education (Duryea & Williams, 2012; Palfreyman & Tapper, 2014).
Fifth, and last not least, universities are under strong financial pressures (Sommer, 1995; Bok, 2003; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004; Engwall & Weaire, 2008; Berman, 2011; McGettigan, 2013). In addition to the managerialization discussed above, one reason for this is the cost of equipment particularly in the natural sciences and the life sciences. A second reason is the above-mentioned competition for talented faculty, which means that universities start to resemble the world of sports with costly transfers. A third reason is the strong position of publishers, which are able to charge high subscriptions and submissions fees since researchers are eager to read the published research of others and to publish their own work (while being willing to review and edit for free). On top of that, bureaucratic structures have led to increasing administrative costs. In order to cover all the mentioned costs, universities are seeking various solutions of raising their revenues. In countries with tuition fees, this has led to a questioning of the level of these fees.
Against the above backdrop, the sub-theme aims to shed light on the challenges faced by modern universities and their responses to these challenges by inviting both conceptual and empirical papers. We, particularly but not only, welcome submissions that examine:
the increasing competition among universities, including the role played by rankings in these developments
the role of various related actors, including but not limited to, consultants, think tanks and publishers
political pressures on universities, often in terms of achieving a set of economic and social objectives
the managerialization of universities at multiple levels and its manifestations and consequences
funding challenges in modern universities, both public and private, including the remedies applied and their repercussions
the impact of this sense of crisis on university operations (research, teaching), its social engagement, and its management, as well as on academic professionalism