Guest blogger: Resistance towards the transplantations of management routines at the Mekelle University

Nigusse Weldemariam (Mekelle University, Ethiopia)

Hedda Master programme graduate Nigusse Weldemariam writes about the difficulties of introducing new management practices and the disparities between expectations and reality when putting new instruments to practice, not least due to the resistance shown by the academic staff. This post follows up on an earlier post on about the reform agenda that introduced of these processes.

Nigusse Weldemariam completed his master studies at University of Oslo in 2009. From before, he holds a bachelor degree in pedagogical sciences from Bahirdar university in Ethiopia. Currently, he is working as a lecturer at the Institute of Pedagogical Sciences in Mekelle University in Ethiopia. The institute provides pedagogical training to prospective high school teachers, university instructors and school principals.

Equating the universities with business corporate companies is becoming an emerging experience. That is, despite that universities are different from business corporate companies; there are experiences of transplanting the management principles of the business corporate companies to higher education institutions.

Mekelle University is amongst Ethiopian public universities that have reformed its management practices using the tools which were originally developed in the business corporate business companies. These tools include the BPR (Business Processes reengineering) and BSC (Balanced Score Card).

BPR is “a fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvement in critical contemporary measure of performance such as cost, quality, service and speed (Hammer & Champy, 1993, p. 32). The BSC is a management tool used to communicate, implement and describe organization’s strategy (Kaplan, 2010, p. 3). Both  tools have been developed in the business corporate companies in the 1980s. Therefore, the application of the tools in the university setting, which is different from the business corporate companies, scratches some theoretical and practical questions. Thus, one of the aims of the present post is to highlight these questions by reflecting on the experiences of the Mekelle University.

The BPR and the BSC: Some discourses observed at Mekelle University

Mekelle University has introduced the BPR and BSC in 2007/8 and 2012, respectively. However, the introductions of these tools have been confronted with considerable number of challenges, amongst else the resistance of the academic staff.

For example, when the BPR was introduced, there had been a debate between the academic staff and the university’s management body. Particularly, BPR was an ‘Angel of change’ to university’s management body, and a ‘Devil’ to the academic staff. Surprisingly, some 0f the academic staff were translating the BPR acronym as ‘Burning People Regularly’.

 The university’s management body was supportive of the implementations of the BPR most likely because; first, it has the mandates of implementing the government agenda, of which BPR, by then, was amongst the agenda of the Ethiopian government. Secondly, transforming the university using relevant mechanisms is among the responsibilities of the university’s management body. Thus, the introduction of BPR which was heavily perceived as appropriate by then was a tool without option.

Paradoxically, almost all of the academic staff saw the BPR as non-relevant and they have been defying the implementation. BPR is about radically restructuring the processes. This has therefore created a sense of fear of the academic staff of losing their position and responsibilities, as in the restructuring processes some positions might be lost and others might emerge.

Ultimately, despite that there had been plans to maintain the PBR, it has failed to reform the university. Particularly, as of the beginning of the 2011/12 academic year, some of the changes introduced by the BPR were found less compatible to the university. Consequently, slight re-amendments were undertaken.

Not different from the BPR, a similar resistance emerged against the introduction of BSC. One of the arguments in this resistance is about the alignment, cascading and integration of the perspectives of BSC. As indicated in the table below, the BSC has four perspectives: financial, stakeholder, learning and growth and internal processes (see also, Kaplan, 2010). According to the principles of the BSC and as also adapted to the Mekelle University, the four perspective need to be aligned, integrated and cascaded from the university’s strategic plan.

Following that principle, attempts have been realized to cascade the university’s strategic plan sequentially: from the university to the faculties or colleges, and from the colleges and faculties to the departments and then to academic staff. The question was therefore about the practicality of the alignment, cascading and integration processes.

At least theoretically, the cascading process seems important, because it attempts to bring every action, from the individual academic staff to the college levels, aligned with the university’s strategic plan. Not least, it seems also important because it supports enhanced communications between the university management body and the individual academic staff.  However, when it comes in to practice, the cascading process, as has also been reflected by the academic staff of Mekelle University, has many challenges.

Parts of the challenges are related with the differences of the academic disciplines. As indicated by Clark (1997) the academic disciplines, of which the university embedded by, are ‘small worlds’ and ‘different worlds’. The professor at the department of physics hardly knows the processes in chemistry, or vice versa. Therefore, aligning the actions of these different worlds with the counter disciplines and that of the university’s goals and missions is difficult.

The other debate was about the weights given to the activities. As indicated in the table above, each perspective has its own weighing. These are institutionally given and therefore the departments don’t have a chance to change them. This would mean that a chemistry department which has higher role in finance than a psychology department will be measured using equal weighing. But, in reality the departments are not equal in terms of financial opportunities and/or the contributions they make to the achievement of the university’s strategic plans.

Generally, as per the experiences of  Mekelle University the transplantation processes of the BPR and BSC have been confronted with substantial resistance. As the university’s management body supports the introductions of the management tools, the academic staff, on the other hand, have been reluctant.

Universities are bottom heavy institutions(Clark, 1983). At the bottom levels, the institutions contain large numbers of units and niches which are different in terms of epistemological and social foundations (see, Becher & Trowler, 2001). Thus, because institutional changes have possibilities of touching these foundations; a resistance to change is likely to exist. Equally important, the compatibility of the tools of reform with the university’s organizational culture could also explain this resistance.

Finally, keeping the observed situation in consideration, it seems important to further investigate the implications of these managerial transplantations to the university’s organizational culture and competitiveness in teaching, research and community services.

References

  • Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education / Open University Press.
  • Clark, B. R. (1983). The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-National Perspective. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
  • Clark, B. R. (1997). Small Worlds,Different Worlds:The Uniquenesses and Troubles of American Academic Profession. The American Academic Professfion, 126(4), 21-42.
  • Hammer, M., & Champy, J. (1993). Reengineering the Corporation. A manifesto for Business revolution. New York: USA: Harper business.
  • Kaplan, R. S. (2010). Conceptual Foundations of the Balanced Scorecard.

p