22 SES 04 A, Postdoctoral Researchers: Working Conditions and Career Prospects
Purpose of this paper is to investigate the shifting dimensions of the public and private character of the universities as a labour organization, by revisiting the classical question of publicness of organizations (e.g. Bozeman, 2007). While postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) are an increasingly important and productive group of employees in academia (e.g. Davis, 2009; O’Grady & Beam, 2011), they are lacking visibilty and embeddedness within their organization. This paper provides a rare glimpse into this relatively unexplored but important group. A preliminary comparative study amongst two Dutch universities contained a survey with both closed and open questions amongst 225 respondents (Van der Weijden et al., in review). This study revealed that nearly all postdocs (85%) want to stay in academics, but only less than 3% was offered a tenure track position.
Postdocs seem to be trapped between the formerly public organization of the universities and the more privatized conditions of their employment, as well as their own ambitions and the lack of career possibilities both inside and outside academia. It is therefore very important that on the one side postdocs aim for a better visibility within their organization, while on the other hand, the universities should provide more clarity and openness about their further career perspectives in- and outside academia. In order to investigate this duality, within our multi-method study, we have chosen to organize a number of focus group meetings at a number of universities, consisting of postdocs, their supervisors and research managers. We will report the findings in the full paper.
Up to a certain point in time, universities could be considered as organizations with typically public sector features. Most of them were functioning as part of the public sector, they were often financed by the public sector, their structures and working conditions were relatively stable and they did not need to compete for financial resources nor for students. Their labour conditions were managed at the central level. The quality of their services was supposedly guaranteed through their professional employees.
The current situation is quite different, and more private values have entered the higher education sector. We have argued elsewhere (Teelken, 2014) that within the European Area of Higher Education (EAHE), the impact of 'New' Public Management (NPM) has been profound (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2004). A key feature of NPM is its focus on performance in all aspects of management, primarily through instruments such as performance appraisal and performance indicators. This resulted in demands for higher levels of transparency and accountability as a means of steering and control but in a more distanced, more output-oriented manner. This means that universities should be able to compete for clients, funding, and prestige and to meet the growing pressure to cut costs (Christensen and Lægreid 2001). Consequently, universities must be ‘publicly managed’ with more openness and transparency instead of being considered ‘bureaucracies’ (Eurydice 2010) which should result in an improved productivity and quality. However, these managerial developments do not always sit easily with the provision of excellent research and teaching (e.g. the Bergen communiqué, as part of the Bologna Process, 2005).
The current higher education systems provide a fruitful sector for investigating the shifts between public and private features because of the variety of such sometimes-contradictory demands and expectations that are imposed upon universities. We present briefly the developments at the national level concerning performance measurement and accountability
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