22 SES 08 B, Teaching and Learning: Professionalisation and Leadership
The rise of managerialism as a dominant ideology and management practice has profound consequences for the professional lives and work of university academics in universities worldwide. In contexts such as China and Korea, governments promote aggressive management practices to ensure that their universities do well in research and academic quality assessment due to their commitment to pursuing world-class universities. Consequently, since research excellence underpins academic excellence in world-class universities, academics in these contexts are compelled to plan their career paths and professional activities in alignment with research productivity and performance evaluation.It has also become necessary to appreciate the challenges that university academics have to address as they are compelled to perform by the new managerialist ideology, which increasingly motivate governments to adopt ranking exercises ‘as a mode of governance’ in controlling universities. So far, limited research has examined the potential impacts of research performance auditing as a control strategy characteristic of new managerialism on academics whose universities are involved in global ranking exercises.Even less is known about researchers in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), who may be more vulnerable in this regime of new managerialism than academics in hard science. It must be noted that international university ranking exercises have favoured research outputs in hard science subjects such as medical science or engineering, often ‘at the expense of humanities when it may not have the resources to become competitive in science research’. Researchers in HSS disciplines often feel ‘especially vulnerable’ in their universities’ research assessment in comparison with their counterparts in hard sciences. To appreciate HSS academics’ challenges, this paper explores the potential impact of research assessment on HSS academics in mainland China.
The higher education context in mainland China is different from many Western contexts in terms of its socio-political conditions and governance. University operations are closely controlled and managed by the Chinese state.In light of the unprecedented socioeconomic growth in recent decades, the Chinese government has become increasingly assertive about its university dream and has implemented various strategic initiatives to promote Chinese universities and place them in the same league as other global universities.Since 2015, Chinese universities have been called upon by the government to develop into ‘first-class’ universities with ‘first-class’ academic disciplines (創建一流大學和一流學科,or雙一流), reflecting a deep-seated desire to see both Chinese universities and specific academic disciplines in Chinese universities well ranked in the international ranking system.Given their socio-political context, managerial practices in Chinese universities have unique characteristics, especially with regard to HSS academics’ professional activities. Unlike governments in other parts of the world, however, the Chinese government invests relatively generously in HSS, but HSS academics are also given unique tasks in comparison with their colleagues in the hard sciences. While their colleagues in hard science disciplines have to fulfil expectations from the Chinese government that are similar to those in other national contexts, HSS academics have to achieve these aims with strict restrictions on teaching and research imposed upon them. Since the Chinese government has always believed that HSS research is crucial to its control of Chinese society’s collective consciousness and thinking,This draws attention to some of the inherent contradictions and tensions in Chinese HSS academics’ professional work as they strive to help Chinese institutions gain international recognition through academic research in HSS. One may wonder about the following question:
What challenges do humanities and social sciences (HSS) researchers need to address in China’s race to compete in global university ranking exercises?
To address the research question, the enquiry combines the Critical Incidents Technique (CIT) and internet-based discourse analysis drawing on a variety of data including state mass media texts and social media discussions on three interrelated ‘critical incidents’ that unfolded between November 2015 and May 2016.They include: (1) the Chinese government’s release of policy texts launching the initiative to achieve ‘first class universities and academic disciplines’ on 5 November 2015 (2) (2) the controversy surrounding the first-tier journal list (A類期刊, literally Class A journals) published by the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Center (CDGDC) and then rescinded after 12 days, and (3) Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Meeting of National Philosophy and Social Sciences Academics. By using several key words (in Chinese) such as ‘world-class universities’, ‘first-tier journal list’ and ‘HSS research’ in the search engine, we collected two sets of data from the internet: (1) the news release related to the policy documents and political speeches representing the government’s ideology in the quest for world-class universities. We selected the original scripts of the policy documents and political speeches from the websites of official news agencies, consisting of 37,000 words in Chinese; and (2) HSS academics’ responses to the critical incident of the first-tier journal list. Their responses were collected from forum discussions and microblogs on social media, consisting of approximately 48,000 words in Chinese.. We conducted discourse analysis through ‘paradigmatic analytic procedures’, in order ‘to produce taxonomies and categories out of the common elements across the database’ for the qualitative analysis .First, we independently read the policy documents, news release and academics’ responses in the database for a general idea of the various key issues involved in the critical incident. First-level codes were assigned, such as the objectives for Chinese HSS research, world university ranking, the legitimacy of using a journal list, international recognition, national interest, and so forth. Then, we employed a ‘constant comparison method’.through repeated readings to abstract the codes into themes, establishing connections between the categorical data for interpretation. During this stage we collaboratively identified three pairs of dichotomies: centralisation vs. autonomy; national vs. international; and universal values vs. ideological correctness. Finally, we constructed the research narrative on the basis of the identified themes.
Our enquiry has identified the challenges that Chinese HSS academics face as a result of the new managerial strategy that the Chinese government has adopted in its search for world-class universities. First, Chinese HSS academics have to cope with a highly centralised research and academic performance evaluation system that is firmly within the control of central government. While missions to achieve international excellence may be more straightforward for hard scientists with preferential government investment, Chinese HSS researchers have to cope with the erosion of academic autonomy at multiple levels including institutional, disciplinary and individual, even though such autonomy is crucial to HSS academics’ efforts in pursuing international research excellence. Second, Chinese HSS academics have been entrusted with a highly challenging mission to promote national interests in the Western-dominated knowledge-making industry, but the objective to achieve international research excellence does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with the ultimate goal of carving out a discourse space for China to counteract the hegemony of the West. Understandably, every government has expectations for their own academics to address local problems and voice local needs. Third, it seems that Chinese HSS academics are expected to achieve international research excellence with a heightened awareness of ideological correctness. They face the challenge of strategically tackling the ideological differences that arise between the political ideology endorsed by the government and other traditions of thought that are commonly accepted in the international academic community. While international academia, given its liberalist tradition, does not necessarily reject the publication of manuscripts due to ideological reasons, Chinese HSS academics have to maintain a constant vigilance with respect to the ideological stance of their work due to the importance of ideological correctness in their domestic context.
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