After the autonomy reform in 2011, much of the legal basis for collegial influence has been removed and it is now up to each university to balance their own forms of governance. New Public Management has exerted a great impact on Swedish universities and introduced efficiency zeal in the form of control of research grants, educational content and evaluations. As a consequence the professionals have lost power and control over their own areas of expertise, research and teaching. This policy has created stronger university managements and the line management control of scientific activities that is counterproductive to the creation of solid research of the highest quality. At SULF we are seriously concerned that not only historical, but also future, policy decisions will erode the profession’s influence. Most universities are not governed collegially, they are top-down managed. Universities are not companies and should not be run as such.
Developed Management of Universities and University Colleges (SOU 2015:92)
Your reg. U2015/03779/UH
The Swedish Association of University Teachers (SULF), through its consultation status was, on 20 Nov 2015, given the opportunity to comment on the above report.
The previous government commissioned Kåre Bremer to map and analyse leadership and management structures at universities and to make proposals for development measures. The study was to consider action at university level and at national level.
SULF general comments
Professional influence is one of the SULF priority areas. The operational focus adopted at the SULF Congress in 2015 states the following:
“A prerequisite for high quality levels in higher education university activities is that teachers and researchers are able to exert real influence. Prime Minister Löfven stated in his Statement of Government Policy in 2014 that professionals should be allowed to be professional. The power of teachers and researchers as concerns control and contents of their activities has declined significantly in recent decades, and the balance of power has shifted towards centralised administration and finances, contrary to teachers’ and researchers’ needs for professional, close to home support. New Public Management (NPM) has exerted a great impact on Swedish universities and produced efficiency zeal in the form of control of research grants, educational content and evaluations which has meant that professionals have lost power and control over their areas of expertise. In such a climate academic freedom for the individual teacher and researcher becomes an important issue because academic freedom requires that teachers and scholars are free to express what they think without impairing their status in the organisation. Teachers and researchers are best placed to make judgments on both daily work and on the development of operations so the profession should have control over quality and content, should fill leading positions at universities and determine the recruitment bases for teaching positions and doctoral studies.”
SULF’s views on Commission proposals
The report puts forward a number of proposals directed at the universities and at government. SULF see two areas that are of fundamental importance and will therefore concentrate its statement to them. The first is recommendations to universities that, in effect, reduce collegial influence and strengthen the line management organization, and the other is addressed to the government and involves the increase in confidentiality of Vice-Chancellor/President appointments.
SULF rejects the proposals concerning preparation and decision-making powers, as well as those relating to Vice-Chancellor/President appointments. The reasons are the following:
Collegiality and management line control
The Management Commission proposes that decisions must usually be made in the line organization, and important decisions should be taken only after preparation in the collegial body. This means that the collegial bodies will be advisory and that decisions will be made in the line management organisation. At many universities, this is already a reality. If the boards of the universities that still have collegial decision-making bodies listen to the Commission’s proposal, this will apply to all universities.
The report also proposes that the universities that have decision-making university boards go over to the Head of Department governance and academic leaders will be appointed by their senior manager, possibly after consultative hearing with the collegiate. SULF considers that if the head of department is to be the full manager as defined by the Work Environment Act, then a Decision of Appointment is necessary. But in order to give the head of department double legitimacy, this must be preceded by election by the collegiate.
Over the course of several years SULF has seen more and more power concentrated in the universities’ management at the expense of teachers and researchers, and the Commission’s proposals are another step in the same direction. After the Autonomy Reform in 2011, much of the legal basis for collegial influence has been removed and it is now up to each university to balance their own forms of governance.
New Public Management has exerted great impact on Swedish universities and introduced efficiency zeal in the form of control of research grants, educational content and evaluations which has meant that the professionals have lost power and control over their own areas of expertise, research and teaching. This policy has produced stronger university management and line management control of scientific activities that is counterproductive to the creation of solid research of the highest quality. At SULF we are seriously concerned that not only historical, but also future, policy decisions will erode the profession’s influence. Most universities are not governed collegially, they are run top-down.
Universities are not companies and should not be run as such. If more and more universities accept the Management Commission proposals that decisions will normally be made in the line management organization, and that the collegial body should only be advisory, we risk a future with even more completely top-down controlled universities. Such developments undermine collegial structures that ensure scrutiny and high levels of quality in both teaching and research. One current example is Karolinska University Hospital and the Macchiarini case where colleagues and outside peer reviewers sounded the alarm about suspicions of research misconduct at an early stage, but a strong management chose not to listen and instead made decisions “in the line” that allowed Macchiarini to continue these activities. The KI President has now resigned. If the collegial bodies there had enjoyed decision-making powers, this unfortunate business would have been stopped at a much earlier stage. Bremer’s study alleges that strong management line control at KI has meant a strong sense of responsibility and quick decisions, but this is demonstratively not the case. Instead, the university’s actions delayed reasonable measures when the collegial structure had sounded the alarm on suspected misconduct.
The basic SULF view is that the scientific values should guide decisions related to education and research, and all academic managers are to be appointed after election by all parties concerned. Collegiate composite bodies responsible for education and research should be in place at all universities. Their composition must include all categories of teachers, including lecturers, both as eligible to vote and to stand for election.
SULF urges the Government not to pursue this development further but instead, in line with the government declaration, strengthen professionals’ influence in order to create a university of the highest quality. If the responsibility for core research and education is moved to a line organization with its top managers appointed, university research and teaching risk deprofessionalisation.
Appointment of Vice Chancellors/Presidents
The Management Commission proposes that the Board will propose only one principal candidate for examination and that open voting and results would not occur. Confidentiality will apply to Vice Chancellor/President recruitment in the same way as for the recruitment of other heads of government agencies but will be lifted for the candidate/s called for interview. According to the study, an open vote makes it more difficult to obtain qualified candidates and therefore cannot justify interview of several candidates. Stronger confidentiality would, according to the report, increase opportunities for qualified external candidates who would not apply if their candidacy became public knowledge.
The foundation of academic freedom is that appointment to academic leadership is made on the basis of collegial principles. Openness and transparency are self-evident cornerstones of both collegiality and professionalism. Even though SULF can see that there are problems with the current procedure, the arguments for a more open process weigh heavier. This particularly applies to the rights of the collegiate and employees to influence who will be appointed Vice Chancellor/President and the stronger level of legitimacy enjoyed by a Vice Chancellor/President who has won an election over several other candidates.
SULF considers that Vice Chancellor/President appointments must be imbued with the traditional academic values of openness and transparency. It is our firm view that the appointment of the Vice Chancellor/President must be be carried out in accordance with basic academic principles. The candidate who is not willing to stand up and be examined in electoral competition is not the right person for the job.
SULF would also like to highlight some proposals in the report which which it is in agreement.
Increased basic government grants: SULF welcomes the Commission’s proposal that the government take action to improve the basic government grants’ share of government research funding. This is a particularly important precondition for overcoming the problem of the many fixed-term employment contracts in academia.
One third of the senior teaching and research staff, a higher proportion of women than men, are fixed-term contract employees. One reason for this precarious situation is that the share of direct state funding for research has gradually decreased over the last few decades from two thirds to less than half. At the larger universities there is a clear link between a high proportion of external funding and a high number of fixed-term contracts and many universities indicate this as reason not to employ in permanent positions.
In such a climate, academic freedom for individual researchers suffers because academic freedom requires that employees dare to say what they think without jeopardising their jobs. The working environment also suffers because employees with precarious employment situations experience more problems with poor work environment, stress and lack of confidence in management.
Mobility suffers because people are forced to stay near the contacts they already have in order to get teaching hours or be included in research applications. In the end this leads to reduced performance levels. Uncertain employment conditions in academia could lead to lower levels of quality in both education and research.
Increased basic government grants do not, of themselves, produce better employment conditions and more permanent positions, but must nevertheless be regarded as an important prerequisite, consequently SULF wholeheartedly supports this proposal.
Support for academic managers: SULF also welcomes the Commission’s recommendation to the universities to ensure that academic managers, especially heads of departments, are provided with proper administrative support, particularly in terms of their role as employer and for human resources administration. Being a manager in academia is particularly challenging because employees work under very different conditions as concerns, for example, employment status and funding. Operations are characterised by competition and for many researchers and teachers, a lot of their time spent applying for funding in competition with their peers. Those who manage such operations need knowledge of, for example, labour law and health and safety as well as administrative support. The confidence of employees and the backing of their own managers are basic requirements which, unfortunately, do not always meet up in the real world.
Clearly-stated conditions: that managers receive training and clearly-stated personal employment conditions should be self-evident so SULF, consequently, supports the Commission’s proposal here. Academic managers must earn both a reasonable salary for their services, and be allocated a reasonable amount of time to carry out their research properly. Meanwhile, as management tasks are underway, it may be difficult to find time to develop scientific operations. Consequently, longer continuous periods of time for research after the end of a management period may be how to make this type of job more attractive and also give academic managers the opportunity to resume their interrupted research. It is also a must that academic management positions be considered as a merit when making appointments.
Comments on Interim Report
The first part of the report came as an interim report which was circulated for comment in October 2015. The Interim Report included proposals concerning both the size and composition of the Board and also the nomination of the Chair and external members. The Report proposes that the number of board members, instead of being fixed at 14 members and Chair, will be possible to vary to between 7 and 15 members.
In October 2015, SULF submitted their consultative response on the Interim Report and had no objections to the proposals regarding the number of members of a university board. Below is an excerpt from the earlier submission.
“SULF has been part of the reference group for the study and participated in the formulation of the proposals. The union believes, as the does the Commissioner, that the boards of some universities are too large, which may mean that board work becomes cumbersome. It is therefore necessary to create a more flexible system. As regards the number of members in a Board, SULF considers that this should be determined by each university board of directors, within a government-defined framework. Neither can we see the necessity of a precise number of external members, or that they should necessarily be in the majority. SULF therefore supports the proposal that each university board will propose the composition and size of their board and the government will then make a decision.
The most important factor is that the board is based on the university’s needs and that teachers, researchers and students are guaranteed the influence necessary to maintain high quality in both research and education.
As regards the proposal on the nomination of the Chair and external members, SULF considers that the time has come to delete the provision on County Governor participation in the nominating group from the Higher Education Ordinance. We also have no objections to other proposals.”
Gender equality impact analysis
In Sweden, only a quarter of professors are women. While the increase in the proportion of women professors appears to have stalled, we can see that increasing numbers of women are assuming academic management positions. The fact that there are more women in management in academia is obviously positive, and may eventually lead to a more gender equal academic world. At the same time SULF does see a worrying development.
As more women become academic managers, the trend towards more top-down controlled universities has increased. In practice this means that universities will be more top-heavy and that management tasks will narrow to increasingly deal only with evaluations, budget and administration rather than the core areas of research and education. Those who are in the middle or lower parts of the line merely implement decisions from the top without enjoying the legitimacy granted to a collegial leader.
For simplicity’s sake we can make a comparison with developments in the school management profession. Today, almost 70% of headteachers are women. While women have flooded into school management, the profession has changed from enjoying great autonomy and focus on educational leadership to becoming more administrative with greater pressure and focus on evaluation and results. As has so often happened, feminisation has been accompanied by lower status and attractiveness. Whether this is the chicken or the egg is unclear.
Bremer’s study shows that, at the major universities, 65% of heads of departments are men, at other universities, the figure is 60% and 46% at university colleges. The more money a university possesses, and the more influence the head of department jobs have, the more men are heads of departments.
SULF does not want to see an increase in numerical equality among academic leaders at the expense of the core tasks’ complexity, attractiveness and status. There cannot be equality in gender equality objectives meaning “equal distribution of power and influence” if management jobs are pruned down to administrative tasks as the women enter the field.
Increased basic government grants could counteract this trend and instead give universities the opportunity to plan operations in the long term, applying a holistic perspective. But this is not enough. Universities also have to work consciously to integrate gender equality into their operations in line with Government gender equality policy objectives. This applies not least to how gender equality is integrated into university governance processes.
Mats Ericson, Chair
Karin Åmossa, Head of Research