If you read any of the Scandinavian languages, you ought to read Jørgen Grønnegaard Christensen’s essay about university reforms in Denmark which is published in Tuesday’s edition of Politiken.
Grønnegaard who is a professor in Public Administration at Århus University is very sceptical with regard to the avalanche of administrative and organisational reforms that have hit higher education and public research during the last five years.
To sum up Grønnegaard’s argument: Hierarchy and bureaucracy are replacing cooperation and flexibility, all in the name of – well, what?
The typical political arguments have been that universities and research should perform at the highest international level – see also the idea that merging Copenhagen Business School and the Technical University will create a “Danish MIT” – and that “the elite” should be strengthened. Aalborg University has already started to implement the latter strategy on certain programmes: If you’re not an “elite student”, you will not be allowed near any of the professors.
The question is of cause if mergers and bureaucratisation will lead to the desired goals. There are several reasons to assume that this will not be the case:
- First, the bossism which is an integral part of the reforms means that administration will get a higher status than research (teaching is something which will be left to people who have shown themselves to be incompetent researches).
- Second, giant mergers go against the inter-organisational micro-level nature of most research network. If you work in a big research organisation, you won’t be more creative; you will be a smaller cog in a bigger machine.
- Finally, the bureaucratisation of the system of research grants and opportunities means that the start-up costs of new research will be huge. Instead of writing a paper to develop your ideas, you will have to write an application for a research grant where you explain how you have developed your ideas (yes, I have noted the change in time here), and if you really want the money, your only chance is to gang up with at least twenty other people in advance. Alternatively, you may choose to get a life, have children, enjoy your garden, go to the opera and so on.
There is one aspect of the reforms, however, that Grønnegaard does not address and that is its intellectual heritage. As I see it, the plans for turning universities into giant hierarchical organisations with an emphasis on management rather than research haven’t been dreamt up by Helge Sander, the Danish Minister for Research, the are the product of the combined talent of the bureaucrats at the Ministry for Research and come straight out of the New Public Management school.
As political scientists we should ask ourselves: Who educated these people?
Answer: We did.