Text of Policy, the Universities and (the loss of) Creativity Maria Nedeva, MIoIR, MBS, the University of...
Policy, the Universities and (the loss of) Creativity Maria Nedeva, MIoIR, MBS, the University of Manchester UNIKE Workshop 4 University of Roehampton, London 8-10 September
I am going to: Outline the policy space in the UK Universities as strategic actors Limitations to creativity through reduction of variety and flexibility So what?
Discourses around the benefits of competition have underpinned the changing organisation, structure and funding practices of science during the last several decades.
Increased competition for research funding Two modalities of funding (block grants and project based) Block grants are competitive by being highly selective Increased relative proportion of project based funding
While competition for research funding is increasing its positive effects on science are far from certain!
Project based Funding Selective Block Grants Individuals Universities Knowledge networks Knowledge Funding unpredictability Wastefulness Reduction of variety Substitution of goals Game playing Localisation Conservatism bias Fragmentation
Competition paradox There is accumulating evidence that maintaining high and all pervading levels of competition in research spaces has adverse effects for scientific organisations, researchers, knowledge networks and for knowledge.
One specific adverse effects is that Radical intellectual innovation and initiating research lines that depart from the mainstream has become problematic.
The REF in the UK UK governments game: further concentration of research funding in the guise of quality and accountability (impact agenda) Universities game: play the system to maximise your gain.
REF: the overall rules Universities and their sub-units submit research output for assessment; A number of specialist panels consisting of research elites peer review the outputs; Panels assign ratings from 1 to 4 stars; Funding is distributed using a secret (?) formula
Universities prepare for the REF by: Using shortcuts for quality Using peer review at organisational level Assessing discrete outputs
Using shortcuts Ranked lists of journals Example: the ABS list in the UK Business Schools Effect 1: reduces organisational variety Effect 2: reduces knowledge variety and dilutes peer review of top journals Effect 3: damages academics and their careers
What is the ABS list A list of ranked journals in Business and Management An attempt at standardisation A guide to excellence A selection for excellence
Our study Senior academics in six UK business schools Electronic interviews Balance of research fields
Our findings Extensive use within the just below the top organisations Used for preparation for the REF (excellence) Permeates promotion and recruitment practices Academic compliance Resistance is sabotage
Compliance [I] feel I have to try and get things in higher ranked journals even when I dont think theyre the best ones for the topics (Lecturer, female, post-92 university) So when I'm looking both at research projects and research outputs, potential for publication in ABS ranked journals is an important consideration - I'd like to say it isn't but... (Senior Lecturer, female, post- 1992 university) Some grumpiness: I know perfectly well how to publish my work. I don't need a stupid list to inform me. (Professor, male, pre-1992 university)
Resistance [By] playing a difficult and exhausting double game, publishing in outlets that are relevant to my personal research community irrespective of the list, but also trying to publish in highly rated journals notwithstanding that certain contortions in content/approach may be necessary. (Reader, female, pre-1992 university)
Our conclusions Use of the ABS list could have effects on: Universities Academics and their behaviour Knowledge Reduction of variety and flexibility
Using peer review at organisational level Effect 1: Conservative bias Effect 2: Power of elites and established research trajectories Effect 3: Bias against smaller, un-usual and emerging research groups The problem of epistemic distance!
Assessing discrete outputs What is assessed is articles; their importance is impossible to judge outside long-term research lines. (Impact cases?)
Most of all: Such evaluation exercise shifts the organisational focus from pushing at the frontiers of knowledge to winning a losers game. Are universities in the UK becoming classical bureaucracies?
So what? Intellectual issues Policy concerns The link between the two