22 SES 04 B, Consumerism and Enslavement
Paper/Pecha Kucha Session
Research Question: How do UK universities experience - and negotiate - their domestic social science doctoral funding policy landscape?
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's chief source of social science research support, selectively and competitively allocating state funding to universities. In 2009, it began to reshape the way it supported social science doctorates, inviting universities to bid for either large Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) and smaller Doctoral Training Units (DTUs). 84 applications for this funding were submitted, but the policy launch and final award straddled a swingeing government Spending Review. The result was that all ESRC doctoral funding was then channelled through 46 elite universities in 21 Doctoral Training Centres for the next six years. This excluded the majority of UK HEIs from offering ESRC-funded doctorates, many of whom had previously had ESRC-funded students. It has long been observed phenomena in the UK that students in the more selective universities tend to come from middle class backgrounds, and the policy therefore served as both an organisational and socially exclusionary policy; there are few alternative sources of funding for domestic doctoral students.
There is relatively little literature on this topic, and the majority comes from senior academics involved in running DTCs. They describe the ESRC becoming increasingly ‘dirigiste’ in dictating how research training is packaged, and how universities should deliver more 'professional' (i.e. career-oriented) social science doctorates in general. There is also evidence of the Research Councils as a group creating somewhat exclusive regional territories of doctoral training. This paper describes the organisational experiences of, and responses to, this policy from universities both within and outside the ESRC DTC 'fold', though interviews with 30 senior researchers and university managers.
It draws on a theoretical approach known as 'neo-institutionalism', which holds that organisations in a given field - an 'institution' - align themselves across that field through a combination of coercion, mimesis, and normativity. Coercion exists through organisations having to align with other organisations they have a relationship with. Mimesis is essentially copying what other organisations do to solve new problems or even simply to look good. Normativity operates where cases of professional standards and practices become embedded, and this creates shared ways of thinking and acting, essentially a professional or organisational identity.
While the focus here is on UK policy in its substantive part, it is hoped that the project and itself will provide a number of parallels or points of entry of European interest. Firstly, it is well documented that we are seeing global trends in higher education around more selective allocations of resarch funding, and particularly away from non-STEM subjects; the ESRC policy must also be understood in relation to the other UK Research Councils' approaches to doctoral funding. Also, the ESRC explicity justified its DTC policy as a means of maintaining world-class doctoral training, which connects with broader notions of competition within the so-called global knowledge economy. Secondly, this research is seen as the starting point for internationally comparative studies exploring doctoral funding policies elsewhere in Europe and furher afield. It is hoped that colleagues at ECER may provide examples contrasting (and similar) doctoral funding programmes in other countries. This could serve to identify other countries and policies for potential comparison, and also to potential collaborations. Finally, the theoretical approach, neoinstitutionalism, is rarely seen in UK higher education research but is well-developed in mainland Europe studies. The findings are likely to provide some theoretical novelty (see below), and advice from colleagues may well lead to advice on how the theoretical aspect of this project can be improved.
As mentioned above, 30 senior academics/research administrators were interviewed, using a semi-structured interview approach, either in person or remotely (phone/Skype etc). The participants were drawn from across the university sector, from both elite universities with DTCs, as well as elite and non-elite universities without DTCs. Most of the staff interviewed were senior academics involved in postgraduate research provision within their institution. Those at 'DTC universities' were directly involved in the management of the DTC itself. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded according to text where incidences of coercion, mimesis and normativity were evident. It should be noted here that the focus was on the participants descriptions of/references to the university's activities and identity, rather than their own individual experiences.
The three conceptual categories proved useful in isolating elements within the interviewees' accounts. There were four organisational levels where universities’ doctoral provision activity was influenced or limited in a coercive manner. The first was through the government imposing a straitened funding situation. The second was from the ESRC, which dictated issues such as degree content, subject pathways, how scholarships were divided up within DTCs. They also set boundaries around the eligibility for funding, which excluded many universities from being able to bid for it. In addition to this, DTCs which involved multiple universities had to find agreed ways of working together, to share funding, and so on. The same was true within universities, who had to develop new ways of working around DTCs. Mimesis could also be seen at different levels. Firstly, the ESRC itself was copying and adapting a doctoral training model first introduced by another research council and subsequently adopted by the others. Universities learnt from/copied each other, from having other kinds of doctoral centre, and the DTCs themselves shared practice. Some universities without the ESRC funding copied the model, partly as they saw it as good, but also to make sure they were in a good position when the policy was renewed, which happened in 2015-16. Finally, Normativity could be seen in several ways. The ESRC in essence has created a new norm in terms of redefining the doctorate as broader methodologically, and more transferrable to non-academic contexts. It was also possible to see that research-intensive universities saw having ESRC funding as essential to their organisational identity. More teaching oriented universities, on the other hand, either bemoaned their inability to attract funding and thus develop their doctoral provision, or saw themselves as simply too underdeveloped in research to perhaps ever be part of the ESRC ‘game’.
Deem, R; Barnes, S & Clarke, G (2015) In Reale, E & Primeri E (2015) Universities in Transition: Shifting institutional and organisational boundaries. Rotterdam, Sense Publishers pp.137-162 DiMaggio, Paul J., & Powell, Walter W. (1983). The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160. Harrison, John, Smith, Darren P., & Kinton, Chloe. (2016). New institutional geographies of higher education: The rise of transregional university alliances. Environment and Planning A, 48(5), 910–936. Lunt, I; McAlpine, L & Mills, D (2014) Lively bureacracy? The ESRC’s doctoral training centres and UK Universities. Oxford Review of Education, 40:2 151-169
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