Moments of Vision: HRM and the Individualisation of Academic Workers
University of Wales
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In an increasingly global knowledge economy universities are recognised as strategically important institutions due to their knowledge creation potential. This has led to a period of significant change for higher education (HE) sectors across the world as national governments have sought to influence their strategic direction. In the UK the adoption of market principles and the creation of a mass system of HE delivery has caused universities to reform their long established operating practices and become more ‘business-like.’ In an effort to improve standards of people management in universities the government introduced the Rewarding and Developing Staff in Higher Education (RDS) initiative in 2001. RDS required universities to produce HR strategies identifying detailed HR objectives and systems for managing the individual performance of staff according to a model of Human Resource Management (HRM). This research, based on a study informed by ethnographic methods, provides a critical evaluation and analysis of RDS and considers the extent to which it reflects a specific neoliberal policy trajectory seeking to reconstitute the nature of academic work through a process of individualisation. My data points to the existence of such a strategy that has been only partially successful. Academics have gradually become enfolded into the discourse of managerialism, leading to an erosion of their status and authority and the collegiate traditions and practices from which it derived. There has been an evident transference of power to managers, a heightened presence and involvement of HR personnel and a growth in the size of HR departments. But the discourse remains contested, leading to a complex picture of resistance at different levels of the university. I conclude that RDS was an ultimately flawed strategy. The attempt to introduce a homogeneous model of HRM into an area of work that is characterised by complexity, not only misjudged the rather unique nature of academic work but also, as a consequence, risks damaging the core of the academy itself.
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