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Neoliberalising HE – Part II

Part II

In Part I of this short series, I briefly outlined the features of neoliberalism as it appears as a general ideology and it’s associations with managerialism. That post detailed how the growing conception that all organisations can operate under the same processes and be managed by the same techniques has been a creeping feature of public sector services management in a range of sectors including education. This instalment will pick up where the last post ended, in exploring the connections between that broader context and the direct experiences of staff and students working within contemporary HE institutions. This will directly identify links between ideologically driven marketisation and specific mechanisms of management control.

2.1 Marketisation

An important feature of neoliberalism (in the economic definition) relies on the expectation that market exchange of equal commodities leads to a more efficient distribution of resources (‘goods’) in society. However, as organisations are often dissuaded from operating under fair and equitable exchange some state intervention is necessary in order to facilitate marketisation. In other words, state intervention should not be in order to produce certain outcomes, but rather to encourage individuals and organisations to act more like an ideal marketplace. This represents a notable shift in the location of responsibility for outcomes; from the collective actions of the state (or organisation) towards the individual citizen-worker-consumer. Thus, any failure in the equitable distribution of goods is characterised either as a market failure (the operations do not sufficiently resemble free market exchange) or individual failure (the individual has not correctly identified the utility or value of the product).

If HE was to be modelled as a market, it would not be a single market but a combination of markets for students, for research funds, for workers, for donations and so on. While the most obvious state intervention to remodel HE on a market premise has been the introduction of student fees, the introduction of external evaluation mechanisms such as the National Student Survey (NSS)-linked Teaching Evaluation Framework (TEF) serves to de-differentiate between programs of study and at the same time introduce information which will encourage consumer-students to differentiate between university learning ‘products’ on the basis of price. Similar rankings and propositions, such as the ranking of university undergraduate programmes by graduate salaries, are further examples of attempts to ‘marketise’ HE through encouraging student-consumers to select their preferred product in relation to it’s likely performance as an investment in their future career.

2.2 Surveillance and Responsibilisation

This surveillance of past graduates and accompanying idea that the student-consumer is responsible through their ‘free’ choice of university program for their future success is an extension of the neoliberal ideology through an increased responsibilisation of the individual. Such a point of view is not only a particular way of viewing our actions in the world, but it seems may also be a damaging one as indicated by the increasing incidence of mental health struggles experienced by students at university and in an increasingly pressured examination-driven education environment at younger ages. The supposed meritocratic neutrality of these measuring mechanisms only adds to the weight of responsibility felt by the individual in determining their own future success. These student experiences are matched by those of would-be academic workers in the HE labour market who are subject to extensive mechanisms of surveillance concentrated on individual performance, despite many outcomes being linked to factors dictated by choices on institutional or project resource allocation (such as class sizes, length of research projects et cetera). Gonzales, Martinez & Ordu (2014) explore this in relation to the concept of ‘academic capitalism’ in a US university to show how this manifests in everyday work pressure whereby individual academics are ‘engulfed’ by work time infiltrating all aspects of life and a competitive drive for ‘hyperprofessionalism’. That one of their participants is quoted these work conditions and expectations as ‘inhumane’ perhaps highlights why the similar stress and sickness epidemic is prevalent in contemporary UK HE institutions (We are Higher Education 2018)

Uncertain yet perpetual surveillance is a preferred neoliberal technique of control in organisation precisely because it emphasises responsibilisation. While management in the form of supervision of work indicates responsibility for outcomes rests with the organisation and its techniques or strategies, management by surveillance instead encourages the individual to bear responsibility for outcomes. The use of short-term or insecure work contracts further communicates this uncertainty and individual responsibility, as rather than managing performance, the organisation can instead aim to substitute any individual considered insufficient with an alternative worker. Responsibility thus becomes one-sided with the employee bearing the obligation and responsibility for outputs and the organisation concentrated on monitoring rather than active management.  

2.3 Individualization and the human resource

While many aspects of work performance are undoubtedly linked to individual strengths and attributes, the strength of collective effort is often more than the sum of its parts. By coming together in organisations rather than working as individuals, the difficulties faced in periods of being less able to work through sickness or other challenges are a burden shared in the knowledge that such events are a risk faced by all individuals. However, a focus on the human ‘resource’ as an individual measured unit, encouraged by neoliberal thinking, obscures the benefits of collective endeavour.  

Individualization is a concept tied to neoliberalisation in that it describes the increasing responsibilisation of individuals as the authors of their own life narrative (see Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 2002). In sum, the individual is held to be responsible for their outcomes in life over other factors such as luck or prevalence/lack of opportunities afforded through regional development, wealth, economic and social change, social support networks and so on. This process is highly evident in the assumptions behind the majority of evaluative frameworks applied in HE, and while there are plenty of examples among the surveillance of  academic workers, this is also evident in the uncertain contractual circumstances often faced by workers in support services (where workers are often held to be individually responsible for re-aligning their skills with new roles, to undertake training in their own time and so on).

In the contracting out of services and the reduction of facilities for staff (for example, the closure of common rooms previously available to cleaning and maintenance staff where they could store personal possessions when on shift and socialise during breaks), workers in HE have been increasingly modelled as functionaries towards whom the university has no responsibility beyond their working hours, and this same perspective is the one which acts as the foundation for the current dispute over pensions.  

2.3 Organizational mimesis

Given that there has been substantial media coverage of Vice-Chancellor’s salaries and expenses and other ways in which top managerial staff in organisations affiliated with HE have been seen to profit substantially as individuals within this (public) sector I have curtailed the lengthy segment which I had originally intended to write here (see resources below and in Part I for further reading). Suffice to say that the pursuit of efficiency in HE through techniques appropriated from managerialism in the private sector including responsibilisation, technologies of surveillance, outsourcing, zero-hours or short-term contracts have served to justify the expansion of administrative and managerial roles.

The case of pensions relates specifically to comparison with the private sector, given that in the majority of private sector occupations the availability of defined benefit pension funds has been dramatically reduced as the risk of investment performance for savings has been increasingly shifted to individuals. Due to the increased tendency in recent years for individuals to shift occupations fairly frequently, the move towards an individual focus on pension provision on the surface makes sense (for reasons of transferability). However, this shift results clearly in higher risk not only for individuals but also for the state, in a climate where increased living costs (primarily in housing, but also in loan repayments) is building a generation of workers with few capital assets on which to rely in retirement. The pensions issue itself is detailed and complex (see Grady & X for further details), and the governance of UUK fund management has also come under scrutiny in the course of the dispute.

Pursuit of financial efficiency and a market-driven consumer focus has encouraged universities to more closely mimic commercial institutions (and each other) in a way which is now being questioned by universities themselves following the UCU 2018 Pensions dispute (Toop 2018). Proposals regarding the ways in which these management methods, priorities and structures are undermining the democratic functions of universities and their accountability to the public as sources of public good rather than as providers of degree-products are being tabled and discussed and in this regard there is a drive towards revisiting the obligations and responsibilities a university has to it’s community including it’s students and employees. It remains to be seen whether this will result in a shift away from CEO-style vice-chancellors and a race to the bottom in the casualisation of employment.   

 

In the final installment in this series, I will outline some of the proposals and actions that have been raised in the course of the 2018 UCU Pension dispute, with the aim of resisting the production of students and employees as neoliberalised subjects.

 

Resources

Academic Articles

Joel D Aberbach and Tom Christensen (2007) Citizens and Consumers, Public Management Review, 7:2, 225-246, DOI: 10.1080/14719030500091319

Louise Archer (2008) “The new neoliberal subjects? Young/er academics’ constructions of professional identity”, Journal of Education Policy, 23:3, 265-285, DOI: 10.1080/02680930701754047

Stephen J. Ball (2009) Privatising education, privatising education policy, privatising educational research: network governance and the ‘competition state’, Journal of Education Policy, 24:1, 83-99,DOI: 10.1080/02680930802419474

Stephen J. Ball (2012) The reluctant state and the beginning of the end of state education, Journal of Educational Administration and History, 44:2, 89-103, DOI: 10.1080/00220620.2012.658764

Taylor C. Boas and Jordan Gans-Morse. (2009). Neoliberalism: From new liberal philosophy to anti-liberal slogan. Studies in Comparative International Development, 44(2), 137–161.

Roger Burrows. (2012). Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary Academy. The Sociological Review, 6(2), 355–372.

Bronwyn Davies and Peter Bansel (2010). Governmentality and Academic Work:Shaping the hearts and minds of academic workers. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 26(3) pp5-20

Rosemary Deem, Sam Hillyard and Mike Reed (2007) Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism: The Changing Management of UK Universities Oxford University Press https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=45cXWj4M0acC&printsec=frontcover

Willard F Enteman (2007) “Managerialism and the Transformation of the Academy” Philosophy of Management 6(1):5-16 https://link.springer.com/article/10.5840/pom2007612

Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor (2016) Neoliberalization, Universities and the Public Intellectual Palgrave Macmillan London

Henry Giroux (2002) Neoliberalism, Corporate Culture, and the Promise of Higher Education: The University as a Democratic Public Sphere. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 425-464. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.72.4.0515nr62324n71p1

Leslie D. Gonzales, E.Martinez and C. Ordu (2014). Exploring faculty experiences in a striving university through the lens of academic capitalism. Studies in Higher Education, 39(7), 1097–1115.

Leslie D. Gonzales and Anne-Marie Núñez. (2014). The Ranking Regime and the Production of Knowledge: Implications for Academia. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(31). http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22n31.2014

Thomas Klikauer (2013) “What is Managerialism?” Critical Sociology 41 (7-8) pp1103-1119 https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920513501351

Chris Lorenz, “If You’re So Smart, Why Are You under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism, and New Public Management,” Critical Inquiry 38, no. 3 (Spring 2012): 599-629.

https://doi.org/10.1086/664553

Kathleen Lynch (2006) “Neo-liberalisation and marketisation: The implications for Higher Education” European Educational Research Journal 5 (1): 1-17 https://doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2006.5.1.1

Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters (2007) Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: from the free market to knowledge capitalism, Journal of Education Policy, 20:3, 313-345, DOI: 10.1080/02680930500108718


Hugo Radice (2013) “How We Got Here: UK Higher Education under Neoliberalism” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 12(2) http://142.207.145.31/index.php/acme/article/view/969  [NB A radical publication and not all work is blind-reviewed]

Jeff Rose and Dan Dustin (2009). The neoliberal assault on the public university: The case of recreation, park, and leisure research. Leisure Sciences, 31(4), 397–402.

Cris Shore (2010). Beyond the multiversity: Neoliberalism and the rise of the schizophrenic university. Social Anthropology, 18(1), 15–29

Sandra Smeltzer and Alison Hearn (2014) Student Rights in an Age of Austerity? ‘Security’, Freedom of Expression and the Neoliberal University, Social Movement Studies, 14:3, 352-358, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2014.945077

Philip A. Woods, Glenys J. Woods & Helen Gunter (2007) Academy schools and entrepreneurialism in education, Journal of Education Policy, 22:2, 237-259, DOI: 10.1080/02680930601158984

News, Magazine articles and social media publications

Jana Bacevic (March 14th 2018) Life or Business as Usual? The lessons of the USS strike (personal blog) Available online at: https://janabacevic.net/2018/03/14/life-or-business-as-usual-lessons-of-the-uss-strike/

Simon Baker (March 12 2018) “Admin and management staff costs rising the fastest, suggest data” Times Higher Education  https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/admin-and-management-staff-costs-rising-fastest-suggest-data

Jennie Bristow (Mar 5th 2018) “This strike reminds us what universities are for” Spiked! http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/this-strike-reminds-us-what-universities-are-for/21184?utm_content=buffer3b3c4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#.WqFABijFJaR

Martin Henegan, Jo Grady & Liam Foster “Women to be hardest hit by proposed university pension scheme changes” UCU Sheffield blog http://ucu.group.shef.ac.uk/women-to-be-hardest-hit-by-proposed-university-pension-scheme-changes/

The Guardian (12 March 2018) “Accountability and UK University Governance” Letters https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/12/accountability-and-uk-university-governance?CMP=share_btn_tw

Sophie Inge (March 6th 2018) “UK Universities rely on casual staff ‘fur up to half of teaching’ Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/uk-universities-rely-casual-staff-half-teaching

Katy Sian (March 14th 2018) “We’re drawing the line’: Our fight against university marketization is about more than pensions” Ceasefire Magazine https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/were-drawing-line-fight-university-marketization-pensions/ 

Ned Simons (Feb 28th 2018) “Vice-Chancellors Accused Of Pocketing An ‘Eye-Watering’ 227% Increase In Financial Benefits Since 2010” Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/vice-chancellors-have-pocketed-an-eye-watering-227-increase-in-financial-benefits-since-2010_uk_5a96befce4b0e6a523039e82?ncid=tweetlnkukhpmg00000001

Aisha Thomas-Smith (Mar 13th 2018) “Why are University Lecturers on Strike?” Weekly Economics Podcast https://soundcloud.com/weeklyeconomicspodcast/why-are-university-lecturers-on-strike (see 12:45 onwards for discussion of marketisation).

Stephen Toope (16th March 2018) “The future of UK Universities”  Vice-Chancellor’s Blog, University of Cambridge website Available at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/news/the-future-of-uk-universities-vice-chancellors-blog 

UCU (Mar 6th 2018) Edinburgh University under fire over plans to try and break pensions strike with out of date recorded lectures https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9386/Edinburgh-University-under-fire-over-plans-to-try-and-break-pensions-strike-with-out-of-date-recorded-lectures#.Wp5-DX9TSNw.twitter

We are Higher Education (Feb 17th 2018 ) The staff stress and sickness epidemic occurring in Universities across the UK https://wearehighereducation.org/2018/02/17/is-the-higher-education-sector-in-crisis-the-staff-stress-and-sickness-epidemic-occurring-in-universities-across-the-uk/

 

0 comments on “Neoliberalising HE: The USS Strike Part I”

Neoliberalising HE: The USS Strike Part I

This post is part one in a multi-part series explaining how the 2018 USS Pension strike is closely entwined with and an example of neoliberalisation. It is a long post, but assumes no prior knowledge of any of the concepts or context. If you want to look up the fabulous commentaries of colleagues who are much more familiar with this material and have been following this issue for a considerable amount of time, there are references and links at the bottom of the post.

In this post I will briefly cover neoliberalism, managerialism and some examples of this in the UK public sector. I will then go on to outline some of the ways in which colleagues have raised concerns that this is now ongoing in HE and how it affects this dispute.

1.1 What is neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is a contested term which emerged from debates over economic reform and is often reproduced by its contemporary detractors as a shorthand reference to any political ideology promoting increased marketisation (ie introducing the characteristics of market exchange) of previously non-marketised sectors. Boas & Gans-Morse (2009), writing in the field of development studies, outline that debates in academic literature often refer to different types of neoliberalism; i) economic reform, ii) a politico-economic model for rapid development, iii) ideology and iv) academic paradigm.

Neoliberal economic reform refers to the elimination of price controls, deregulation of capital markets and reduction of trade barriers as well as a broader tendency towards reducing the role of the state and facilitating privatization of state-owned enterprise. In principle this also endorses the reduction or removal of state subsidies, though in practice these are often converted into incentives (at least in the short term) to encourage private industry to take on seemingly unprofitable state functions. In the case of development, the objective of this ‘liberalisation’ of activity is to make a broader range of opportunities for investment available, therefore encouraging an influx of capital to the economy. A further objective lies in the consequent lower financial risks held by the state, making it easier for governments to borrow funds for other projects. Moving from a state-centred development model towards a neoliberal model often requires substantial restructuring of relations between state and other actors, such as labour unions, private enterprise etc. The development model also therefore involves substantial policy changes.

Neoliberal ideology, while often found in conjunction with neoliberal economics or social policy, refers to the emphasis on individual freedoms rather than collective responsibilities as inhabiting the core of social value. Consequently, proponents of this ideology advocate understanding of social and economic issues primarily as they apply to the abstract individual. This ideology is much more frequently found in individualistic cultures, and is popular in countries such as the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

The neoliberal academic paradigm refers to assumptions about human nature and free will as they inform classical economics, primarily that individuals are rational and efficient maximisers of utility and profit. This particular simplification is sometimes described as a branch of positivist philosophy, as it represents the search for universal laws of human behaviour in markets based on an epistemology which accepts objective observation only. Individual academics hold a wide variety of different positions even within this paradigm, particularly on the importance of the rights of the abstract individual (which may require collective legislation to protect) versus the liberties of specific individuals to do what they please in society. However, the paradigm is widely critiqued as an oversimplification of human decision-making, ignoring the possibility of human development, and as a model which unrealistically prioritises masculinist and anomic assumptions about individuals’ existence outside of their relationships to others.

The popularity of neoliberalism (in all of the above meanings of the term) in public discourse can be seen to mark a particular historical turning point. As Boas and Gans-Morse (ibid) identify, the original proposals of the Freiburg school in Germany during the 1930s in fact were a moderate position as they advocated more regulatory intervention by the State than under laissez-faire liberalism in order to facilitate fair competition in the marketplace and enhance social welfare. However, following the successful economic period of the 1960s, substantial inflation linked to price hikes in oil combined with the growth of economies long challenged by post-war underdevelopment began to challenge dominant Western economies and undermine faith in Keynesian economic policies which foregrounded the role of the state. The resulting widespread advocacy of market fundamentalism in America (Reaganism) and the United Kingdom (Thatcherism) in the 1980s, labeled for critique by opponents as ‘neoliberal’ proposed less state intervention or control of national resources, industry and services. 

1.2 What is New Public Management/New Managerialism?

In the United Kingdom as well as in a number of other countries in the world, we have been going through an historic shift in which legal regulation on individuals has increased, state responsibilities have been decreased and the delegation of state protected industries to private enterprise has been accelerated. In the UK this has coincided with substantial divestment from manufacturing and heavy industry, patchwork divestment from agricultural industry (mainly in relation to treaty agreements with EU and neighbouring producers over commodities such as milk and fish) and a shift towards an economy based on financial services, research and development, legal services and other knowledge work. It is no surprise that these changes coincide with increased competition in manufacturing (increasingly advanced) products overseas and an increase in global trade. Where industry remained with minimal or no state support, substantial arguments over how such activities ought to be run and managed were informed by the growing proponents of managerialism.

Enteman (1993) describes managerialism as a prevailing ideology which is characterised by the belief that the nature of an activity is immaterial to how it ought to be organised, which can be distilled to a set of universal techniques and expert processes. In this interdisciplinarity, managerialism is in alignment with the premises of neoliberalism, as the universal characteristics of management facilitate the justification of divesting state-operated activities to a market of private enterprise or to individuals. This legitimation, along with the frequent challenge that industries had to be ‘competitive’ in order to survive, fuelled the advocacy of managerial practices as politically neutral and reductionist arguments that omit the recognition of the social and political value of certain activities as well as economic value.

More recent scholarship on managerialism has highlighted specific principles which are clearly in common with neoliberalism described above; competition, deregulation, the pursuit of efficiency and the advocation of privatized industries. It is further argued that it is important to recognise the role of business and management schools in advocating and perpetuating this ideology, both among students and through influential publications such as the Harvard Business Review (Klikauer 2015). Individual corporate managers are also identified as beneficiaries of this thinking, as the financial and social value of such work is substantially inflated by this thinking. It is perhaps on this basis that managerialism is also said to describe the colonisation of organisation by layers of highly-paid ‘professional managers’. These communities label the principles of managerialism differently, yet whether ‘modernisation’, ‘market reform’, ‘shareholder value’ or another term is applied, all advocate the prioritisation of the same underlying principles.

Further to the long process of privatisation of a range of state-run or state-owned industries in the UK (from fuel extraction, power generation, sanitation and water supply, rail, airline, telephone and postal networks), very few statutory corporations in state ownership remain, of which the National Health Service (formed following the Beveridge report 1942) is one. In contradiction to neoliberal and managerialist principles, the full nationalisation of British Rail was reversed with respect to the track and signalling infrastructure after the Hatfield Rail Crash in 2000 which exposed flouting of health and safety procedures by the privatised Railtrack and their contractors. This was further evidence that the notion of universal managerial principles in which a certain level of risk was acceptable were not suitable in the management of public infrastructure following the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999 where preventative safety measures had been ruled out in cost-benefit analysis.

Despite contradictory examples challenging the authority of managerialism, political pressures to reduce the cost of state-run services have resulted in the introduction of ‘professional management’ and it’s techniques in areas such as healthcare under the label ‘New Public Management’ (NPM). Under NPM, different public services are encouraged to behave as competitors in a market for public funds, where the introduction of private organisations may also challenge for similar objectives. Decision making is, in addition, decentralised and sub-units of the organisation (such as local clinics) have more scope to decide how to allocate their resources. The use of contractors is encouraged along with a focus on cost-minimisation and target-based performance monitoring. These features of NPM are advocated as providing particular benefits, such as cost reduction, service differentiation (ie services provided are more specific and relevant to the needs of the locality) and choice. The use of NPM in the National Health Service, along with several restructurings and attempts to apply technology to ‘modernise’ and improve efficiency in the service have been widely criticised as unproductive, counter to the demands of public health provision, and short-sighted. A more moderate evaluation of the techniques on their own terms highlights that the proposed benefits do not always align with public demands for equitable and universal access to services (Simonet 2015).

Unlike the National Health Service, provision of education in the UK does not rest within a State-owned corporation but rather in a complex relationship between multiple institutions in receipt of state funding. A range of religious institutions, charitable and fee-paying schools provided education services in the UK until the end of the 19th century until the Education act of 1918 sponsored compulsory provision of primary and secondary education. Nonetheless, in line with managerialist ideology, a number of the same processes applied following privatisation in areas such as rail and mail or in NPM in the NHS can be seen in recent transformations in UK education.  

While the UK school system is complex to those unfamiliar with it, a simplified picture begins with the identification of the majority of institutions historically as either locally-run and publicly owned schools subject to national governance regarding curriculum and regulation by Ofstead, or a minority of independent fee-paying establishments who are mainly exempt. However, reforms beginning in the late 1990s introduced  a range of different school operating models in which capital assets might be owned or operated by private organisations or charitable trusts, staff may be employed by the local government authority, school governing board or a private organisation such as a multi-academy trust.

An important feature of these new developments is the way in which they characterise school buildings as financial assets in which private corporations may invest (privitisation), in the segregation of school governance from local authority oversight in favour of individual negotiation directly with the government Department for Education (deregulation) and in the promotion of differentiation in educational provision measured through Ofstead rankings, KPIs and other published outcomes (competition). Despite these changes, there is no evidence as yet that the new structure (academies) produce overall better educational outcomes (Gorard 2009). However, the differentiation in school provision does lead to substantial disadvantage for those unable to access ‘better’ educational services and impedes the ability for those services to improve without accepting a move to private investment and control. Although the introduction of privatisation has been widespread, these organisations maintain a not-for-profit orientation. Nonetheless, they impose a profit-driven, managerialist and competitive logic in which the state takes a less direct role (Ball 2009; 2012) and in which corporate entrepreneurialism is normalised (Woods et al 2007).

Examples such as rail, health and education show that considerable evidence to challenge the premises of universally appropriate methods and techniques of management, the idea that privately-run services in competition produce better outcomes, that attempts to model public services as commodity markets are effective or that the public can identify with a consumer choice model for such services.

1.3 What does this have to do with the 2018 UCU Pension strike?

In Higher education, as with other areas of education, debates have increasingly focused on the responsibility of universities as trainers of the next generation of value-producing individuals. This has coincided, since the introduction of university tuition fees in 1998 (and in 1999 loans in place of maintenance grants), with language which encourages students to view themselves as consumers making an ‘investment’ in their future career potential. The introduction of tuition fees, while originally advocated in order to address a government financial deficit in HE and to promote increased participation in education at university level, have been a key stage in the promotion of privatization in HE. Although loans for fees and maintenance are issued based on the government-backed Student Loan company, a portion of debts accrued between 1990-1998 have been sold on to private debt collection agencies. Student accommodation firms are also frequently the beneficiaries of the readily available maintenance loans, with multiple universities investing in construction of new accommodation alone or in private partnerships (see Hale 2018 for more on this).

While university funding for home students’ tuition used to be routinely capped at a fixed number of places, the introduction of student fees and later removal of the cap on places (in 2015) encouraged universities to think of themselves as competing ‘providers’ of an educational service to home students in much the same way as they marketed themselves abroad. By removing the regulation on numbers and attaching funding to students, the recruitment of students became a competition for resources and by increasing the annual intake universities benefited from economies of scale, particularly in courses with low costs (such as the humanities). To address the need for additional teaching and administrative capacity, facing uncertain recruitment figures, managers of university departments looked to act as they previously did to cover staff on research leave – employ more staff on short-term contracts, such as hourly paid lecturers and termtime-only administrators. Although these staff were eligible for some of the benefits of other staff, such as the pension scheme or reduced cost childcare, most were paid only a fraction of those on full-time contracts and as such could not afford to pay for such benefits. The introduction of performance ranking measures such as TEF also indicated a likelihood that student numbers would regularly fluctuate in future based on modelling students as consumers of a preferred service.

It is in this context that the administrative organisation representing universities contributing to the USS Pension scheme (Universities UK) began discussions regarding reducing the financial risk of the scheme bourne by university employers. It is important to note that there are two significant pension schemes which cover most UK universities; the USS scheme (which applies to pre-1992 institutions) and the TPS scheme (which applies to post-1992 universities and other schools and colleges). The USS pension was recently subject to substantial changes following disputes over TPS, and in which the negotiated outcome for TPS was broadly matched by USS. The introduction of divergence between the two schemes can (and has) been identified as a basis of competition between the two communities of universities. Beyond the politics of collective negotiation, a wealth of information has also emerged in the early stages of this dispute to indicate that the valuation of the total assets of USS  against its potential liabilities is empirically unsound (see Otsuka’s many 2018 commentaries for a blow-by-blow account of the valuation), and the risk is not as substantial as it appeared.

It is unclear why UUK would continue to attempt to push for the changes to the scheme rather than take time to review their valuation method. However, collections of reports, presentations and other relevant documents by Felicity Callard (2018 twitter) has indicated a narrative focused on entrepreneurialism and choice, and further reports on the financial benefits received by those administering UUK (Havergal 2016) and top positions in Universities (Simons 2018) has lent credence to the idea that the proposed changes are driven by managerialist ideology.  

More on this to come in Part II…..!

Recommended Reading/ Resources

Academic Articles

Joel D Aberbach and Tom Christensen (2007) Citizens and Consumers, Public Management Review, 7:2, 225-246, DOI: 10.1080/14719030500091319

Louise Archer (2008) “The new neoliberal subjects? Young/er academics’ constructions of professional identity”, Journal of Education Policy, 23:3, 265-285, DOI: 10.1080/02680930701754047

Stephen J. Ball (2009) Privatising education, privatising education policy, privatising educational research: network governance and the ‘competition state’, Journal of Education Policy, 24:1, 83-99,DOI: 10.1080/02680930802419474

Stephen J. Ball (2012) The reluctant state and the beginning of the end of state education, Journal of Educational Administration and History, 44:2, 89-103, DOI: 10.1080/00220620.2012.658764

Taylor C. Boas and Jordan Gans-Morse. (2009). Neoliberalism: From new liberal philosophy to anti-liberal slogan. Studies in Comparative International Development, 44(2), 137–161.

Roger Burrows. (2012). Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary Academy. The Sociological Review, 6(2), 355–372.

Raewyn Connell, Barbara Fawcett and Gabrielle Meagher (2009) “Neoliberalism, New Public Management and the human service professions: Introduction to the Special Issue” Journal of Sociology Vol 45, Issue 4, pp. 331 – 338 https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783309346472  

Bronwyn Davies and Peter Bansel (2010). Governmentality and Academic Work:Shaping the hearts and minds of academic workers. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 26(3) pp5-20

Rosemary Deem, Sam Hillyard and Mike Reed (2007) Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism: The Changing Management of UK Universities Oxford University Press https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=45cXWj4M0acC&printsec=frontcover

Willard F Enteman (2007) “Managerialism and the Transformation of the Academy” Philosophy of Management 6(1):5-16 https://link.springer.com/article/10.5840/pom2007612

Heather Fraser and Nik Taylor (2016) Neoliberalization, Universities and the Public Intellectual Palgrave Macmillan London

Henry Giroux (2002) Neoliberalism, Corporate Culture, and the Promise of Higher Education: The University as a Democratic Public Sphere. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 425-464. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.72.4.0515nr62324n71p1

Leslie D. Gonzales, E.Martinez and C. Ordu (2014). Exploring faculty experiences in a striving university through the lens of academic capitalism. Studies in Higher Education, 39(7), 1097–1115.

Leslie D. Gonzales and Anne-Marie Núñez. (2014). The Ranking Regime and the Production of Knowledge: Implications for Academia. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(31). http://dx.doi.org/10.14507/epaa.v22n31.2014

Stephen Gorard (2009) What are Academies the answer to?, Journal of Education Policy, 24:1, 101-113, DOI: 10.1080/02680930802660903

Thomas Klikauer (2013) “What is Managerialism?” Critical Sociology 41 (7-8) pp1103-1119 https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920513501351

Chris Lorenz, “If You’re So Smart, Why Are You under Surveillance? Universities, Neoliberalism, and New Public Management,” Critical Inquiry 38, no. 3 (Spring 2012): 599-629. https://doi.org/10.1086/664553

Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters (2007) Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: from the free market to knowledge capitalism, Journal of Education Policy, 20:3, 313-345, DOI: 10.1080/02680930500108718

Hugo Radice (2013) “How We Got Here: UK Higher Education under Neoliberalism” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 12(2) http://142.207.145.31/index.php/acme/article/view/969  [NB A radical publication and not all work is blind-reviewed]

Jeff Rose and Dan Dustin (2009). The neoliberal assault on the public university: The case of recreation, park, and leisure research. Leisure Sciences, 31(4), 397–402.

Daniel Simonet (2015) “The New Public Management Theory in the British Health Care System: A Critical Review” Administration & Society 47(7) 802-826 https://doi.org/10.1177/0095399713485001

Cris Shore (2010). Beyond the multiversity: Neoliberalism and the rise of the schizophrenic university. Social Anthropology, 18(1), 15–29

Sandra Smeltzer and Alison Hearn (2014) Student Rights in an Age of Austerity? ‘Security’, Freedom of Expression and the Neoliberal University, Social Movement Studies, 14:3, 352-358, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2014.945077

Philip A. Woods, Glenys J. Woods & Helen Gunter (2007) Academy schools and entrepreneurialism in education, Journal of Education Policy, 22:2, 237-259, DOI: 10.1080/02680930601158984

News, Magazine articles and social media publications

Anonymous (Feb 19th 2018) “Why I don’t want to go on strike”, Medium, Available Online: https://medium.com/@ukacademic/why-i-dont-want-to-go-on-strike-e4a18bed6438

Jana Bacevic (March 14th 2018) Life or Business as Usual? The lessons of the USS strike (personal blog) Available online at: https://janabacevic.net/2018/03/14/life-or-business-as-usual-lessons-of-the-uss-strike/

Jennie Bristow (Mar 5th 2018) “This strike reminds us what universities are for” Spiked! http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/this-strike-reminds-us-what-universities-are-for/21184?utm_content=buffer3b3c4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#.WqFABijFJaR

Gurminder Bhambra (Feb 23rd 2018) In Defence of the Public University: The USS Strike in Context Discover Society https://discoversociety.org/2018/02/23/in-defence-of-the-public-university-the-uss-strike-in-context/

Felicity Callard (No title: collection of relevant documents and summary analysis) Twitter. Available at: https://twitter.com/felicitycallard/status/973136190319792129 and  https://twitter.com/felicitycallard/status/973157185088868353

Thomas Hale (March 6th 2018) “Universities and the allure of capital markets” Financial Times Alphaville https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/03/06/2199103/universities-and-the-allure-of-capital-markets/

Thomas Hale (January 26th 2018) “The many problems with a market for Higher Education” Financial Times Alphaville https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/01/26/2198133/the-many-problems-with-a-market-for-higher-education/ [note the ‘problems’ identified here are not about ideology but about the practicalities of HE operating as a market and defining students as consumers]

Thomas Hale (Feb 7th 2018) “The financing of Student Accomodation” Financial Times Alphaville https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/02/05/1517828056000000/The-financing-of-student-accommodation/

William G Pooley (March 6th 2018) Who are UUK anyway? Personal Blog https://williamgpooley.wordpress.com/2018/03/06/who-are-uuk-anyway/

Michael Otsuka (Feb 12th 2018) “Oxford’s and Cambridge’s role in the demise of USS” Medium https://medium.com/@mikeotsuka/oxfords-and-cambridge-s-role-in-the-demise-of-uss-a3034b62c033

Michael Otsuka (Jan 7th 2018) “No alternative methodology was proposed” Medium

https://medium.com/@mikeotsuka/no-alternative-methodology-was-proposed-f96eee1740b7

Ned Simons (Feb 28th 2018) “Vice-Chancellors Accused Of Pocketing An ‘Eye-Watering’ 227% Increase In Financial Benefits Since 2010” Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/vice-chancellors-have-pocketed-an-eye-watering-227-increase-in-financial-benefits-since-2010_uk_5a96befce4b0e6a523039e82?ncid=tweetlnkukhpmg00000001

Alexander Styre (2014) Neoliberalism, the Free Market, and the Decline of Managerial Capitalism http://www.europeanfinancialreview.com/?p=82

UCU (Mar 6th 2018) Edinburgh University under fire over plans to try and break pensions strike with out of date recorded lectures https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9386/Edinburgh-University-under-fire-over-plans-to-try-and-break-pensions-strike-with-out-of-date-recorded-lectures#.Wp5-DX9TSNw.twitter

Sophie Inge (March 6th 2018) “UK Universities rely on casual staff ‘for up to half of teaching'” Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/uk-universities-rely-casual-staff-half-teaching

Chris Havergal (July 28th 2016) “Bonuses up at USS as pension fund deficit grows by £1.8 billion” Times Higher Education https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/bonuses-uss-pension-fund-deficit-grows-ps18-billion

Alice Evans (15th Feb 2018) It’s scary and unfair: why I’m striking over university pensions The Guardian Higher Education Network https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2018/feb/15/its-scary-and-unfair-why-im-striking-over-university-pensions

 

0 comments on “What makes an organization alternative?”

What makes an organization alternative?

The type of organizations we usually discuss in business management are conventional large corporations, often multinationals or occasionally SMEs, startups and family businesses. However, there is a bit of an embedded assumption which is perpetuated by doing so, that this type of organization and its embedded values is the only legitimate means of acting on the world. A recent response to this type of thinking is the focus on ‘alternative’ organization, where research has tried to highlight the importance of voluntary and co-operative organizations as different ways of addressing a social or market ‘need’, but using structures which embed a different set of priorities or ethics. These organizations are often left out of discussions when students learn about ‘organizational behaviour’, so in a recent lecture on Contemporary Issues in Management, we made a point of ensuring this was featured; not only to stress the importance of different organizational structures, but also to highlight how easily we come to accept the ‘normal’ or most frequently used way of thinking about a problem as the ‘truth’. One example of organization I will discuss below also indicates how easily we can be seduced by the promise of new technology, but that when we look more closely it’s often possible to see that this novelty conceals repetition of existing structures and approaches.

Dr Mangan’s lecture for Keele students provided a few different definitions and examples of ‘alternative’ forms of organization, including the different purposes an organization may have, specifically purposes which are not directly linked to the pursuit of profit. However, many small or entrepreneurial businesses will not always talk about the pursuit of profit as their main aim, but will rather stress their product or service and how important they feel that is to their identified market. Equally, many defenders of the ‘mainstream’ approach to business argue that it is ‘common sense’ that profit is not the main ambition of most businesses, but is nonetheless an important motivator for companies to improve their product or service.

The way we talk about companies and businesses tends to include a lot of fundamental assumptions about their structures and strategies, functions and purposes which we then hold in our minds as a basic model of what ‘an organization’ is like. The assumption that profit is an important ‘reward’ or motivating factor is one of these assumptions, as is the focus on a link between ownership, responsibility and reward. Underlying these debates is a fundamental question about what we (that is, society as a whole) value. Organizations that are ‘alternative’, make a point of valuing more than economic success and trying to explore different ways of organizing themselves in order to promote those values. In order to do so, they often disrupt ‘common sense’ approaches to reward or ownership. Sports organizations, for example, often stress rewards for the work which are not financial, but rather promote status in a community and self-respect through personal achievement. A system of values which is increasingly popular is the democratic system of peer-to-peer service provision, yet not all organizations promoting this are necessarily ‘alternative’.

We can look at publications such as the Harvard Business Review as examples of where certain ‘common sense’ knowledge about business is often presented as ‘truth’. In HBR, there is often talk about ‘value creation’, but usually only in the context of ‘shareholder value’, i.e the pursuit of profit. There is also regular concern over economic growth and productivity. Again, this is not to say these things are unimportant, but they are discussed very differently in less well known and more critical outlets. Compare this article on concerns about the study of economic growth in HBR, with this one, in Aeon. Yet HBR is much more widely read, and has greater impact on the business community, as well as it’s aspirants such as business management students.

So, to return to the question of identifying alternative organizations. Here’s my challenge; is Uber an ‘alternative organization’? I put forward this example because, like many similar companies such as AirBnB, this is considered part of a growing peer-to-peer or ‘sharing economy’ which has emerged in a response to a search for low-cost or sustainable alternatives to traditional business models. Uber is certainly a different sort of company and service which promotes value for customers and has had significant worldwide impact, very quickly. It has been widely reported as a disruptive element in the transportation industry. Uber disrupts conventional models of employment and control, as drivers are self-employed and are not ‘signed up’ to a specific shift pattern, instead working whenever they choose. Yet this is not so different to working for a taxi firm. The rate charged is still set by Uber (using demand algorithms), they take a commission from each driver’s earnings and exert indirect control through the driver rating system. The company relies upon high levels of technology among the population of its users and Uber’s focus is primarily upon the technology as a liberating mechanism for drivers and customers. Yet the benefits seem to accrue primarily to customers, with few advantages for the self-employed driver.

Uber has been discussed in HBR specifically in terms of it’s ‘value creation’ but the concept of value creation focuses on benefits for investors or shareholders, as well as ‘value’ for consumers in the sense of a competitive product, but not necessarily ‘value’ as it is determined by all stakeholders. Uber is a notable case as it’s rapid success challenged not only the market dominance of other providers (notably US yellow cabs and London black cabs), but also their traditional role in and contribution to local tourism. In response, these organizations have released their own competitive phone applications to address consumer value. Debates on the long-term success of any of these organizations continue to focus on how long they can maintain ‘value’ (in the sense of being financially solvent), and whether they can maintain a high speed of innovation. But such debates continue to perpetuate the idea of value as no more than a financial measure of success in the marketplace. It is perhaps more interesting to look at the ways in which transportation services are being provided through alternative forms of organization by groups who genuinely want to reconsider the market model of competition, ownership and reward. In some cases these groups are integrating services such as Uber into worker ownership structures, whereas other services rely on wholly different models such as community car clubs.

In summary then, I would argue that Uber does not ‘fit’ the model of an alternative organization, but that the ways in which some cooperative groups are banding together indicate it is not intrinsic to the technology; rather it is that the values of Uber are too closely in line with ‘business as usual’.

[EDIT – you can find some more excellent thoughts on contemporary issues around corporate approaches to value here and on alternative organization here]

0 comments on “Work, dirt and stigma”

Work, dirt and stigma

Dirty work is not only that work which is grubby or unpleasant, but also that which carries a stigma. We, as human beings have many rituals of order, from marking different periods of life as spaces apart from each other (such as the transition from child to adult), to keeping the vegetables and meat on separate shelves in the fridge. Certain topics and substances have been identified as having a sort of universal stigma or taboo, in that societies and cultures from many different times and places seem to manage them carefully; notably substances such as blood have this significance. Yet the strange part is that even when people who work with blood and encounter it everyday have been cleaned, sanitised and removed from their place of occupation, they often encounter behaviour based on the persistence of that ‘taint’. This concept is the basis of Goffman’s (1963) theory of stigma, which relies upon the idea that we often hold an idea of a person in our heads which is different from the qualities of the person in front of us. For Goffman, this is ‘virtual’ versus ‘actual’ identity and the gap between these two sets of characteristics is stigma.

When we think about work, then, it’s pretty clear that some types of work carry a polluted ‘virtual’ social identity, an identity tainted by association with the substance or status of work. Dr Hamilton has conducted a number of studies on work undertaken with animals, much of which involves contact with ‘dirt’. In her recent study with Professor McCabe, she looks at contemporary meat production, as compared with our expectations set out by the classic studies such as Ackroyd and Crowdy’s study of slaughterhouse workers. She pointed out that even within these industries, there are clear hierarchies, and some work might still be considered ‘dirty’, while other work is carefully distinguished as ‘above’ such pollutants. It is also the case that some workers might be simultaneously repelled and drawn to, dirty work.

This suddenly reminded me of a job I worked in prior to my career as an academic. As a customer account manager for a national company, I worked in a very clean and tidy office complex on an industrial estate. I spent hours on the telephone managing the relationship of the organization with our key customers, trying to ensure that we always met our contractual obligations and kept their business. However, this company was a waste disposal firm which had diversified from office cleaning and sanitary waste, to all kinds of specialist waste regulated by special environmental legislation as well as pest control (a function they had acquired through a corporate takeover). Our employees would visit client’s premises regularly to collect their waste and transport it to our disposal centres, which were distributed at key locations across the country.

This was a particular problem for some of our remote customers based in the rural countryside. For some sites, a waste collection van would have to drive for five hours to make the round-trip to collect the waste. If the building was locked or access by van prevented due to roadworks, the client would often complain to me by phone that the waste had not been removed, and my role was to liaise with the manager of our disposal centre to arrange a staff member to visit the site again. These repeat visits would often involve convincing staff to work unpaid overtime, to travel to sites where the waste might very well be overflowing the containers so visiting these sites could involve a long trip in a pungent van.

This work may well have been stigmatised by it’s contact with pollutants, from bins full of nappies or sanitary towels, through to used needles collected from tattoo parlours, hospitals or rehabilitation centres. But the contact with the ‘dirt’ of the job didn’t change in essence when workers were asked to work overtime – the difference lay in the fact that extra hours often didn’t result in extra pay.

This work was often rejected by employees. The managers of the disposal centres also often rejected the request for secondary visits, so my work largely involved persuasion and cajoling of these workers on the one hand, while also convincing our customers to keep their accounts with us. This work did not involve contact with pollutants, and as such bore little obvious stigma. Yet this work, having contact with the aggressive emotions of customers and the defensive attitudes of managers carries its own ‘taint’ – such emotion work is usually the undervalued preserve of women (see previous post).
This anecdote highlights the sort of hierarchies and distinctions in an organization that focuses on an industry classically ‘tainted’ as dirty work. Can the hierarchy ameliorate the stigma? Do you think that my work as a customer account manager was stigmatised by the industry we worked within? Plenty of food for thought here.

0 comments on “Why is gender a contemporary issue?”

Why is gender a contemporary issue?

[This post accompanies a taught programme for undergraduate students at Keele University]
Some of you may well have noticed the media reports back in November that despite the legislation to equalise pay between men and women which has been part of law in many countries for over 50 years, progress in gender equality as indicated by the pay gap is still limited, not only in the UK, but worldwide. Such media reports focus attention on the persistence of structural inequality, but there are also persistently wide discrepancies in occupation, and in the gender expectations of certain types of work and how it is performed.
Our lecture on MAN 30047 from Dr Deborah Kerfoot emphasised the significance of how we think about difference as something that is performed in our everyday actions. The associated reading also draws on the idea of ‘habitus’, from Bourdieu; the idea that these repeatedly performed attitudes and behaviours become closely inscribed in our identities and in our bodies. Although a contemporary issue, you might be surprised to find out that the notion of the performance of difference (in studies of gender, at least), was widely popularised in an article by West and Zimmerman (1987) entitled Doing Gender‘. If you follow this link and scroll down you will see the large number of articles this publication influenced, which include a large variety of topics on business and organization as well as sociology in general.

This approach is important when you think about how frequently most research is interested only in the business case for diversity in organizations. The ‘business case’ approach often assumes that our identities are fixed by our own decisions, a result of choices freely made throughout our lifetime. What the performative approach emphasises is that many of these decisions might have slipped by unnoticed in our everyday practices of getting by in the workplace and fitting in. As such, small things such as an organizational dress code, or recruitment policies looking for the ‘proper look’ for an organization, neglect to realise that these practices are learned and performed through association with certain communities. It also attempts to rationalise people’s complex lives and connections to each other as the choices of individual ’employment applicants’, thereby justifying ongoing practices of exclusion or even harassment.

These expectations are not only something that affect workers, they are often part of our social experience in education and become a part of how we learn what is appropriate to our identity as we grow and age. An excellent article in The Conversation identifies how we might even experience these expectations as very young children. As such, it wouldn’t be surprising to identify such clear discrepancies between the genders when we get older as ‘natural’; after all, very few people have clear memories of their developing opinions and expectations as a very young child.
This in-built bias is often addressed by attempts to counter it in state-sponsored interventions, such as attempts to increase female participation in education in the STEM subjects. But it is not only women who are disadvantaged. Men are also excluded or discriminated against in particular occupations, even where they can make a genuine claim to merit and, as individuals, work hard to ensure they present themselves ‘in the right way’ (i.e a feminine way). This article on a blog featuring work by members of the American Sociological Association highlights how in some occupations, male workers are simply not tolerated by public expectations around gender performance and ‘natural’ behaviour.

As a student thinking about your own expectations, you might want to consider the sorts of things you might list as measures of ‘appropriate behaviour’ among your own group of friends or acquaintances, and how those expectations might change for people who were work colleagues. Consider what you might consider a challenge to your identity practices. You might find this discussion of ‘policing’ of appropriate behaviour in an American high school informative. Such behaviour in school might influence what sort of further education or training you might be likely to consider a good prospect. Take some time to reflect on this and consider what it might mean in your experience for the tendency for workers to become segregated in different occupations according to gender.

0 comments on “So many outlets, so little time!”

So many outlets, so little time!

…or, why this blog isn’t more regularly updated

Followers of this blog may have been wondering for some time where it’s author has got herself to. In general this is a consequence of writing for other platforms, including academic journals and books, and blogging internally for my students. In order to be more equitable, I have decided to begin simultaneously posting material from my student focussed blog here, for general readers. If you would prefer to see this content on the original site, however, it can be found at http://man30047.blogspot.com

So what is this other blog about?

The MAN 30047 blog is a companion for students studying the module “Contemporary Issues in Management” at Keele University. This module seeks to strengthen student knowledge of management and organisations by emphasising a critical approach to contemporary events. In order to direct everyone’s attention to what happens outside, as well as inside the classroom, the blog serves to encourage students’ active participation with reflections on guest lecture content, links to other source materials and questions for personal reflection. Students have to draw on and reflect upon their experiences of organisations including work and education and share them with the rest of the class. As such, these posts may also be of interest to the general reader.

The taught module relies upon the key text Contemporary Issues in Management, edited by Hamilton, Mitchell and Mangan, published by Edward Elgar. It can be purchased directly from the publisher, or through other booksellers and is available in paperback, hardback and e-book.