ERG SES H 05, Policies in Education
The present research investigates the phenomenon of government-initiated leadership programmes for educators as a constitutive part of NPM reform implementation. In education, leadership of school and university administrators is often considered as a crucial factor of policy enactment. Bolden, Petrov and Gosling (2008) describe how leadership is perceived as a “panacea for organizational ills” and placed by national governments at the heart of education reform as a “fundamental driver of national competitiveness” and a “key pillar of the modernization of public services” (p. 359). The emphasis on leadership explains the emergence of multiple government-affiliated programmes preparing leaders for education and offering them diverse support. The attention to the managerial capabilities of educational administrators has also increased as a part of new public management (NPM) reform in education. NPM positions managers as key actors in any public institution, and emphasizes the primacy of management compared to all other activities and competencies (Gunter et al., 2016). This ‘new managerialism’ is associated with adopting business management styles in the public sector; with greater responsibility and freedom of action for local managers (‘liberation management’ in Ferlie et al., 2008); and with greater subordination and control for managed professionals.
Theorists of public administration recognize the collaborative character of modern public action. They assert that governments are no longer able to impose their will alone, but have to work together with many actors who intervene in decision processes on all stages of reform implementation (Salamon, 2002; Pons and von Zanten, 2007). Hence, public administrations should be capable of the “cooperative action orchestrated through complex networks” (Salamon, 2002, p. 15) and need to motivate targeted groups, persuading them to recognize the reform legitimacy and making them implement the proposed rules (Mayntz, 1993, 1983). According to Mayntz, direct and intrusive instruments are not effective in steering networks of organizations. Instead, governments have to resort to non-coercive tools and rely on the voluntary compliance and co-operation among affected actors.
Persuasion of actors takes multiple forms. As field experts, they are invited to contribute to regulative documents, consult governing bodies, or participate in law hearings. In other settings, actors become students: they are enrolled into training programmes to develop managerial and leadership competencies and inform themselves of the new policy requirements. This is not the traditional education, but a relatively new phenomenon of government-initiated training for “managers” of public institutions, which indicates the attention of the state to implementation actors described by Salamon, Mayntz and other authors. Leadership programmes for public sphere administrators represent a kind of capacity tools of policy-making which provide “information, training, education, and resources to enable individuals, groups, or agencies to make decisions or carry out activities” (Schneider and Ingram, 1990, p. 517). At the same time, training programmes also bear characteristics of symbolic and hortatory tools in the same classification by Schneider and Ingram, since they are used as “persuasive communications that seek to change perceptions about policy activities and goals” (p. 519) and to transfer values and priorities of the government to public actors. Labeling the programmes as “leadership” and “offered only to the leaders” can itself be interpreted as an association of particular policies with positive symbols and images.
This research studies the strategies of persuasion of educational administrators into the NPM logic (application of private sector instruments to public education) by scrutinizing which ideas of public administration are included into and excluded from training programmes for educators. It also investigates the roles of participants in shaping programmes’ content and reacting to the proposed ideas.
The research studies a programme for Russian senior university administrators as a case of a government-initiated training that facilitates the implementation of NPM reform. Marketization of higher education in Russia that has started in 1991 and has been further shaped by continuous reforming is going along the lines of the global NPM reform which introduces business and market mechanisms into public sector (Maximova-Mentzoni, 2012). However, this reform has met numerous obstacles in Russia that hinder and debase its implementation: from the lack of financial resources and institutional capabilities, to ideological tensions between reform proponents and wide groups of experts and public. The government has addressed the problems of underfunding in 2000s, increasing the per cent of GDP spent on education and attracting funds from international organizations (Gounko & Smale, 2007). Necessary legislation was also developed to support the major structural changes. The challenges of leadership shortage and resistance to reform are still to be tackled. The state needs “agents of change” on leading administrating positions in universities that would be more favorable towards NPM. Hence, since 2012 the Ministry of Education and Science funds the New Leaders of Higher Education programmes that train, inspire and network university leaders. The training programme in focus claims to influence the whole higher education system in Russia, educating senior university administrators from all over the country. It states as its aim to “change thinking” of programme participants and to facilitate the development of “principally new” and “breakthrough” ideas. This provokes the question of what the organizers imagine being wrong with university leaders’ thinking and current ideas, and in what ways they need to be changed and developed. In other words, which ideas the programme seeks to include and exclude? And how participants are engaged in and influence these processes of inclusion and exclusion? Methodologically this research is a qualitative case study. At the first stage of the research, transcripts of the programme lectures were analyzed through a theory-guided qualitative content analysis procedure, in order to discover convergences and divergences of the programme content with the NPM narrative. At the second (ongoing) stage, the primary means of data collection are interviews and participant observations. The analysis will focus on the ways in which programme participants utilize the lectures’ content, bring in alternative ideas, and support or divert different ideas within group discussions.
The first stage results show that 80 per cent of the programme contents are in line with the NPM narrative, which is justified primarily through international competitiveness argumentation. The role of the state is frequently discussed in ambiguous ways: the state is positioned as the main controller or stakeholder, but also as a barrier for development. The student-centeredness typical for the NPM agenda lacks from the programme narrative, while industries and regions are pictured as important stakeholders. The analysis also uncovered contradictions within the narrative: the call for universities’ cooperation contradicts the emphasis on enhanced competition; the orientation to the global market contradicts the cherishing of the local functions of universities; and suggested NPM means of university administration contradict humanitarian missions of higher education that are emphasized in the programme’s contents. The results of analysis at the second stage are expected to reveal creative ways in which participants deal with the programme contents and bring in their own ideas. The contradictions discovered in the lectures’ content open up possibilities for participants to support different narratives, to discuss validity of the ideas proposed and express own position that might be in line or in conflict the dominant NPM narrative. At the same time, presenters, discussion facilitators, and participants themselves are expected to employ diverse strategies in including and excluding different ideas while moving through the programme and developing group projects. The study of these strategies and the agency of participants will develop understanding of the mechanisms of NPM reform implementation through leadership training programmes, in the studied context and beyond it.
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