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Between Funds and Norms: Performance-based Research Funding and the Shifting Logics of University Autonomy

CHEF Lunch Talk by Dr Peter Woelert, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia.

2019.02.08 | Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen

Date Fri 24 May
Time 12:00 13:00
Location DPU, Campus Emdrup, room B302. Video-link to CUDiM, building 1483, room 656

It is commonly assumed that well-established and highly research-intensive universities strive to manifest some form of autonomy from government by maintaining idiosyncratic approaches to the institutional governance of their research. Recent evidence from Australia suggests however that the leading research-intensive universities in this country align their internal governance processes particularly closely with national performance-based research funding mechanisms. Drawing on analyses of national and institutional policies as well as interview data, it is argued that such conformity to be observed in the Australian context cannot be explained by way of financial dependencies alone but reflects shifting institutional logics that have their roots in a blurring of institutional and financial forces. One of the striking manifestations of such shift within universities is an increasing ‘financialization’ of the legitimating idea for universities' institutional autonomy. Importantly, this financialization appears to extend across domains and forms of research of the university where financial imperatives are negligible or absent. One upshot of this development is a reactive and one-dimensional realization of university autonomy, as such autonomy is increasingly being framed, not in proactive terms of universities’ capacity to develop distinctive research profiles or practices, but the capacity to uniformly respond to governmental funding incentives.

About the speaker
Dr Peter Woelert is a Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, with research interests in higher education policy and governance, the sociology of organizations, and the philosophy of technology. His research focuses on exploring governance and organizational dynamics in the university sector. He has researched and published on issues such as universities’ internal responses to national research funding settings, the politics of research performance measurement, universities’ organizational autonomy, and the unintended effects of large-scale policy and governance reform on institutional diversity. More recently he has developed a growing research interest in novel forms and dynamics of bureaucratization within the university sector.