22 SES 12 A, Evaluation as a Basis for Policy and Practice in Higher Education: International Perspectives
Nowadays, the use of evaluation as a strategic management tool is widespread in academia (Henkel 2005). It is not only used in governmental inspection schemes, but also, increasingly, by higher education institutions themselves. This is a study of four Swedish universities, which have all initiated large-scale evaluation projects covering education as well as research. One of the universities has also evaluated its administrative support system. The aim is to reach a greater understanding of the rationale behind such initiatives. Why would a university management team voluntarily initiate evaluation exercises, which are costly and unpopular with internal stakeholders? Further: what are the consequences of such projects? The study builds on interviews, policy documents and bibliometrics from a meta-evaluation of research assessment exercises and a comparative study of educational quality initiatives (Karlsson et al. 2014). New institutional theory is applied. That is to say, the evaluation projects are regarded less as instrumental management tools and more as travelling ideas (Czarniawska & Joerges 1996, Sahlin & Wedlin 2008). They are part of a global fashion that emphasises accountability, performance and strategic actorhood (Ramirez 2010). The main rationale behind the projects is found to be the need to respond to external demands related to quality. This can be interpreted as a strategic move to protect the legitimacy of the university in an ever more competitive environment. The evaluation projects have also been used to further internal change agendas. In relation to consequences, the data is somewhat contradictory. Quantitative data suggests little measurable change. However, interviews indicate that the exercises have resulted in, or contributed to, profound attitude change. Many academics experience, and actively discuss, the mounting pressure to publish and to pay more attention to strategy, communication and administrative order - all of which are signs of a more ‘performative’ culture.
Czarniawska, B., & Joerges, B. (1996). Travels of ideas. In B. Czarniawska & G. Sevón (Eds.), Translating organizational change. Berlin: de Gruyter. Henkel, M. 2005. Academic Identity and Autonomy in a Changing Policy Environment. Higher Education, 49(1), pp.155–176. Karlsson, S., Fogelberg, K., Kettis, Å., Lindgren, S., Sandoff, M. & Geschwind, L. (2014). Not just another evaluation: a comparative study of four educational quality projects at Swedish universities. Tertiary Education and Management, 20 (3), pp. 239-251. Ramirez, F. O. (2010). Accounting for Excellence: Transforming Universities into Organizational Actors. In L. Portnoi, V. D. Rust, & S. S. Bagley (Eds.), Higher Education, Policy, and the Global Competition Phenomenon. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Sahlin, K. & Wedlin, L., 2008. Circulating Ideas: Imitation, Translation and Editing. In R. Greenwood et al., eds. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE.
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