The new public management policies and agency of young academics. Insights from an empirical study of German universities

Karmaeva, Natalia (2014). 'The new public management policies and agency of young academics. Insights from an empirical study of German universities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The new public management policies are about implementation of market principles into the evaluation of academic work and funding distribution. They include changes in budgeting mechanisms and cost-cutting (see for example Henkel 2000, and Krücken/Kosmützky/Torka 2007; Musselin 2011). They are implemented in the context of the Bologna reform. These developments lead to the changing conditions and content of academic work, including the components of research, teaching and administration (Kehm 2012). For teaching it means standardization of teaching, growing workload, trend towards separation of teaching from research (see for example Musselin 2007, 2011). For research, it means decreasing academic autonomy in deciding on research content and functional fragmentation in big research teams. The position of young academics in German universities is peculiar: they are in a qualification stage as scientists or future professors. That is why they can hardly enjoy work autonomy and employment security. At the same time, they are reluctant to leave academia and seek opportunities outside.

Capability Approach (CA) (see Sen 1999; Alkire 2002) argues in favor of social change which would promote new practices. The practices will allow for achieving higher levels of well-being. In the context of academia, development would mean enabling opportunities for action and meaningful work in the context of the university as well as in the broader context of the academic labor market. Agency analysis would be about how academics pursue new action paths under given structural conditions. The research had an aimed at (1) investigating how academics are placed into the structures of the academic labour market; and (2) how these structures promote or support agency, especially with respect to teaching as a practice seen as less career-relevant.

The empirical study was based on 16 qualitative interviews with junior academics (NachwuchswissenschaftlerInnen) in the positions below full professor level. They were from social sciences, and were involved into academic teaching and/or research in several universities in Germany. Additionally, some of them were working outside the academe as trainers or consultants. Based on the identity negotiation approach (Meisenbach 2008), it will be demonstrated in the paper how agency of academics is constrained by the material reality of their work under the conditions triggered by the new public management policies. The framings of teaching as hired work (work for money) and research as grant application related research will be presented and discussed. It will show how particular framings of teaching and the teaching-research relation confront existing professional discourses and available academic career structures, and how it affects development in the space of agency of these academics. The author would like to discuss the possibility of quantifying the proposed evaluative technique. The dimensions include 'resources' as structures enabling agency, and 'self-reflection' as the ability to reflect on the meanings of academic work, reframing it and relating to other contexts. Here existing professional discources, that is, cultural aspects, come into play. The indicators are formulated based on the code system and classifications developed in the qualitative study. Some of them will be presented as examples based on the interview extracts. The evaluative technique is based on a qualitative study which developed evaluative dimensions and proposed indicators. Such evaluation could be a promising diagnostics toll for socially responsible personnel management on the university level. It may enrich the list of performance indicators and help identifying structures which constrain professional development of young academics.

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