Pääpuhujat – Plenary speakers

Pääpuhujina symposiumissa ovat tutkimusjohtaja Rebecca Boden Tampereen yliopiston New Social Research -ohjelmasta, apulaisprofessori Pedro Teixeira Porton yliopiston korkeakoulupolitikan tutkimuskeskus CIPESistä, postdoc-tutkija Jelena Brankovic Bielefeldin yliopistosta sekä postdoc-tutkija Melina Aarnikoivu Jyväskylän yliopistosta.

The plenarists of the symposium will be Research Director Rebecca Boden from the New Social Research Programme at the Tampere University, associate professor Pedro Teixeira from the Centre for Research on Higher Education Policy (CIPES), University of Porto, postdoctoral researcher Jelena Brankovic from the University of Bielefeld, and postdoctoral researcher Melina Aarnikoivu from the University of Jyväskylä.

Plenaristien abstraktit ja biot / Plenary abstracts and bios

Competition for funding or funding for competition? Reflecting about the dissemination of performance-based funding in European higher education and its institutional effect (Pedro Teixeira)

Higher education institutions have been facing tight competition for funding, alongside pressures to become more efficient in their use of public funds. One major development in public funding has been the introduction of performance-based funding, with funding becoming an instrument to promote institutional competition. Nonetheless, whereas in the past competition was mainly a consequence of scarcity of funding, nowadays funding became an instrument for fostering a multidimensional and multilevel competitive environment in public HE.

In this session, we analyse the dissemination of performance-based funding in European HE and discuss its main institutional effects in teaching, research, and in the internal dynamics of institutions. We will start by discussing the rationales for the introduction of these financial incentives regarding the behaviour of HEIs and their organizational response to externally-led stimuli. Then, we present the dissemination of PBF across European higher education. In the main part of the presentation we reflect about the main institutional effects of the dissemination of PBF. We will look at potential impacts in education, in research, and in organizational behaviour at large.

Pedro N. Teixeira is the Director of CIPES – the Center for Research in Higher Education Policies and Associate Professor of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Porto. He has served as an adviser on Higher Education and Science to the President of Portugal since April 2016. He was Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at the University of Porto (2014-2018) and was also a member of Portugal’s National Council of Education (2014-2018). He has also served on the evaluation panels for EUA and ENQA. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the journals: Higher Education, the European Journal of Higher Education, Higher Education Policy, and Journal of Research in Higher Education. He is also a member of the Board of Governors and Secretary General of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers (CHER). Pedro Teixeira has published widely on higher education policy and he is also the Editor-in-Chief of The International Encyclopaedia of Higher Education, 4 vols. (Springer, 2020).

The finance tail is wagging the university dog: Financialisation in UK higher education (Rebecca Boden)

Ubiquitous attributes of neoliberalism and late capitalism include the opening up of the social economy, such as higher education, for profit-taking. In the UK, most universities remain not-for-profit charitable bodies, but have fallen prey to private profit-taking through processes of financialisaton, under which finance and the financial sector actors become driving forces. Under financialization, assets with income potential are defined and then securitised to provide collateral for lending. The whole is risk-assessed to determine the value of the income streams.

Successive UK governments have progressively withheld public funding whilst facilitating the operation of the private sector within universities through policy change and regulatory reform. University leaderships have embraced the new competitive culture of growth, and have treated student numbers as assets that will yield future income streams from their fees. Students-as-assets are securitised as collateral for private funding in the form of bank loans, bonds and leaseback arrangements. The capital raised is used to embark on dramatic building projects designed to entice the fee-paying students to enrol, and to engage in so-called collaborative partnerships with for-profit education providers.

The financiers aim to achieve returns disproportionate to the economic value that they contribute to universities. They risk assess universities’ future income streams from students. Student demand, satisfaction and rankings all factor in these risk assessments.

This need to score well in such risk assessments to gain access to finance has, I will argue, had at least three profoundly adverse effects, recently acutely exposed by the global coronavirus pandemic. First, students have been reconceptualised as consumers buying a pre-determined and heavily marketed ‘student experience’. Second, academic staff are increasingly tangential menial service providers, micro-managed and directed towards corporate objectives with regards to league tables, rankings as student-customer satisfaction. Third, universities are losing their public service ethos and orientation as they seek to meet the demands of private capital. This could have far-reaching catastrophic consequences for science and society.

Rebecca Boden is a professor in and research director of Tampere University’s New Social Research programme. Originally from the UK, she has PhD in public administration and is a former inspector of taxes. Now, she is a critical accountant and, for the last twenty years, much of her work has concerned how regimes of financial and management control shape and affect higher education and knowledge production processes more generally. Her most recent co-authored work (in press) is a governance analysis of why vice chancellors’ (rectors’) salaries are so high in Australian and UK universities. Her ongoing work is on the financialisation of higher education and also on the use and effect of workload allocation schemes on academic staff.

What does it mean to be an early career higher education researcher? And why we should all care (Jelena Brankovic & Melina Aarnikoivu)

If you are reading these lines, there is a good chance you are thinking of yourself as a higher education researcher. You may have started your academic career as an undergraduate student in education, sociology, political science, chemistry even, or astrophysics. Maybe you were active in a student union, or a member of some other kind of student or youth initiative. You may have once landed a job in a government agency or worked for an international organization with an interest in higher education. Regardless of the path and the turns you took, chances are, your PhD dissertation was on higher education. Or is, in case you are not done with it yet.

Higher education researchers, sometimes isolated, sometimes in groups, are usually found in education faculties, sociology departments, policy analysis institutes, own units specializing in higher education alone, or—as it is often the case—in more than one “place” simultaneously. We don’t even have to be part of universities—many of us find ourselves in ministries, foundations, civil society organizations, and consultancy firms offering services to universities, students, and policy makers.

And yet, being a higher education researcher is not quite the same as belonging to a community of higher education researchers, for the simple reason that the latter presupposes the existence of a community of some sort. This community may belong to a single department or university, to a country, language, or region. We could—as we often do—think of it as an international community, thus spanning regions, languages, countries, universities, and departments. As an international community we become particularly visible in dedicated academic journals, societies, and conferences. Forever torn between disciplines, policy, and practice, we share the struggles and joys of many subject-driven areas of scholarly interest.

If you are still busy with that PhD, you may be wondering how any of this is relevant for you, because you do not know what you will be doing once you have defended your dissertation. You may even see higher education research as a “phase” in your career, which you would eventually want to take elsewhere. If you are among those who see themselves as diehard higher education scholars, you are probably aware that landing a permanent academic job which would allow you to dedicate yourself fully to higher education research is, all things considered, rather difficult, although more so in some countries than in others. And given the current state of academic labour market, anywhere, you are probably considering alternatives to academic work altogether.

These are some of the struggles many of our early-career, but also mid-career, colleagues face. One of the more essential purposes of the Early Career Higher Education Researchers, or ECHER, is to draw attention to these realities, as well as to be a space for a conversation about how to go about living them and addressing them. Because they are of such a fundamental, almost existential character, they have a profound effect on other struggles, but also on the joys of being a scholar of higher education. They affect our choices, our habits, and in particular our relationship with the work we do. It is, therefore, of critical importance to act on the understanding that a community of scholars such as ours—across career stages—does not remain blind to the struggles of the most precarious among us, for that would make it blind before its own future and the future of its own field.

Dr. Jelena Brankovic is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University (Germany). Her current research focuses on the role rankings and other forms of comparison in the institutional dynamics within and across sectors, with a particular attention to the higher education sector. Her interests also extend to the practice of theorizing, academic writing, peer learning, and cats (even though she has none, unfortunately). Jelena is also Books Editor at Higher Education and a Joint Lead Editor of the ECHER Blog.

Dr. Melina Aarnikoivu is a postdoctoral researcher at the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä (Finland). Her research interests include doctoral education, academic writing, and ethnographic research methodologies. Melina is also a Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced Studies, University of Tyumen (Russia), where she teaches academic writing and public speaking. Her other responsibilities include being an Assistant Editor at the Journal of Praxis in Higher Education and Joint Lead Editor of the ECHER blog.

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