Strategic Management of Academic Human Resources: A Comparative Analysis of Flagship Universities in Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Austria

Strategic Management of Academic Human Resources: A Comparative Analysis of Flagship Universities in Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Austria

Tatiana Fumasoli
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7244-4.ch002
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This chapter investigates whether and how institutional autonomy enhances strategic management of academic human resources. National regulatory frameworks, available resources, university policies, and practices at the working floor are compared in four European flagship universities. Disciplinary affiliation is taken into consideration through the selection of history and chemistry. The cases reflect different trajectories where substantial changes have been implemented in governance systems when it comes to centralization of decision making, to standardization of procedures, to re-configuration of actors and their room to maneuver. While professorial self-governance in personnel matters remains significant, new boundary conditions constrain substantially choice options in accordance with national, institutional, and disciplinary features. Uncertainty, identity, and flexibility emerge as major dimensions in human resources management, pointing to tensions but also to opportunities for strategic change.
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The specific nature of universities as organizations has been stressed in scholarly debate: following Cohen and March work on academia (1974), university distinctive characteristics would allow organizational change only to a limited extent (Whitley 2008, Musselin 2006). Hence, education and research cannot be coordinated and controlled because of their inherent unclearness and ambiguity (Cohen & March 1974, p. 3). On the one hand, core operations of teaching and research are unclear processes which cannot be copied, prescribed or reproduced. On the other hand, they are ambiguous, as precise goals cannot be defined or scheduled. Multiple uncertainties influence knowledge production and dissemination (Musselin, 2006; Gläser, 2007) and hamper the possibility to build a strategy based on distinctive organizational capabilities (Whitley, 2008; Bonaccorsi & Daraio, 2007).

Besides, the scientific community has its own distinctive rules characterizing its uniqueness and the conditions of its existence (Merton, 1973). In the professional bureaucracy described by Mintzberg (1979, p. 348) the academic oligarchy coordinates university functioning by establishing standards of quality and by determining entry requirements for new members, based on distinctive skills and training. More specifically in university personnel policies professors apply their own (collegial) system in order to recruit and promote their peers. This is based on scientific and disciplinary criteria that traditionally shape the overall assessment of candidates. More recently, the increasing role of the university board, of the rectorate and of the central administration as well as the formalization and standardization of procedures of recruitment, have put under pressure these practices historically carried out by professors (Fumasoli, 2011, 2013; Fumasoli & Goastellec, 2014).

At the same time, in the last decades public authorities have granted, at different degrees and paces, institutional autonomy to higher education institutions (Brunsson & Sahlin-Andersson 2000; Paradeise et al., 2009; Huisman, 2009; Kehm & Lanzendorf, 2006) with the explicit intent to increase their strategic behavior (Verhoest et al., 2004). Nowadays goals are set for the whole organization; financially, block grants are provided according to contracts of performance. In a governance perspective, university leadership seems to profit from increasing power, while external systems of evaluation have been introduced to standardize education and research (for research see Whitley & Gläser, 2007).

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