32 SES 10, Organizational Learning Labs and the Task of Universities
The role of universities has changed due to an increased intake of students and to an adamant demand for openness toward society. This has resulted in both more and qualitatively new tasks for academics and other staff at the university employed to meet university needs in areas such as external and internal funding, information systems, human resource management, marketing and public relations, knowledge transfer and public-private partnerships (Bleiklie, Enders, Lepori, & Musselin, 2011: 174). This plethora of new task as well as the growing emphasis upon the role of universities in knowledge production in the knowledge societies may give rise to questions in relation to the traditional tasks of university. One may wonder whether the new tasks results in diminished emphasis on the importance of education and teaching as part of the core tasks of universities. The majority of the scholarly debate on the new role of universities due to the changes of management has been on the consequences for research and knowledge production (e.g. Kallio, Kallio, Tienari, & Hyvönen, 2016) rather than the consequences for education other than the financing hereof (Wright & Williams Ørberg, 2008).
The debate seem somewhat less interested in the role of education although the main bulk of a university teacher’ work is teaching and supervision (on average 60%). Further, the Danish universities are witnessing annual cuts in appropriations, which results in the growth of less cost-intensive ways of teaching (i.e. mass lectures and collective forms of supervision) and away from more cost-intensive teaching forms (i.e. small group teaching, individual supervision). This development clearly creates a new kind of obscurity vis-à-vis the core task(s) of universities in as much as this/these task(s) are intricately connected to the universities renowned status and role as primary producers of knowledge at a societal level in a still more competitive market of knowledge producers (e.g. Czarniawska & Genell, 2002). I.e. how the relation between research (‘knowledge production’) and education (teaching of students) is affected and affecting the definition of the core tasks of universities.
Two intra-related circumstances in this field of problems has stirred our interests: First it seems as though processes towards producing the product (research-based learning) are being confused – or is being managed without knowledge of how learning occurs in students (bodies), among academic staff and organizationally. The argument for how universities are restructured seems mainly to be driven by economic rationales, which one could assume will be to the detriment of student learning. How this shift towards a more marked based form of organizing the student learning situation affects the learning of students is either black boxed or backgrounded in the process.
Second the organizing processes towards market driven universities affect the core task of academic staff in their efforts to produce knowledge and as a result of these changing working conditions both core tasks and employee relations (i.e. motivation, passion, wellbeing) (Buch, Andersen, & Klemsdal, 2015; du Gay, 2008; Lorenz, 2012) hereto changes in presumably negative ways. This complex of problems is well known in the everyday practice of university education, but has not been dealt with in research. The aim of the paper is from an organizational theory and organizational learning perspective to unveil some of the intricacies in the relation of the processes and core tasks of universities viewed as research-based educational institutions.
We will therefore ask how education can be understood and analyzed as a core task of the university, and how the new developments in the nature and magnitude of tasks related to education find expression in the organizing of work (professional knowledge production), management and passion.
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