In this first post of the Hedda monthly literature tips series, we asked two doctoral fellows from University of Oslo – Rachel Sweetman and Jens Jungblut about their recent literature tips.
Here are their recommendations:
The book’s full title, ‘Does Education Matter? Myths About Education and Economic Growth’ sums up what this book is getting at, and why it’s asking such important questions for anyone interested in contemporary higher education. Wolf is an economist and policy analyst who turns her acute evidence-based gaze on the accepted orthodoxy that universities should be approached as drivers of economic growth.
This argument has underpinned many politicians enthusiasm for expanding and investing in mass higher education around the world. However, as Wolf argues through historical analysis, economic data and also more polemical discussions about the way the value and uses of universities have been presented over time, there is not really a very strong case to support this. There is little to suggest that more higher education leads to more growth or prosperity, although these sometimes accompany each other.
It’s a book that shows how important it is to check assumptions about higher education against evidence, and not to assume that the most influential voices, or accepted opinions are correct. It is also a book which does an unusually good job of combining careful and clear empirical evidence with argument and discussion. Wolf is not just interested in arguing that the case for universities as drivers of growth is weak, but seeks to convince her readers that by pursuing policies based on these assumptions, we may do harm; we risk failing to achieve aims related to growth while undermining more important and real functions and values which universities have served over time, such as the development of knowledge and new ideas. We also risk investing money in universities that might be better spent on other or earlier forms of education.
This book changed how I look at the contemporary debates and accepted background to higher education policy. It also encourages me to believe there is some useful work to be done in trying to ‘check’ policy ambitions and assumptions against evidence, through research. Finally, it is extremely well-written and accessible: it’s not written just for HE experts but for anyone interested in the issues, and it shows how university policy can be discussed in a more accessible and engaging way, without losing any academic bite.
Review by Rachel Sweetman, Stipendiat/PhD, University of Oslo
The paper by Stensaker et al aims to identify factors that in the perception of key actors in university governance are important for the realization of change processes in connection to institutional strategies. The article is based on survey data from key decision-makers in 26 European universities that was gathered in the framework of the Transforming Universities in Europe (TRUE) project. The main focus is on their views, which factors are helpful in bringing about strategic change in universities. Conceptually the paper uses an institutional theory approach and different organizational archetypes as well as their respective development to guide the analysis.
The main finding is that leadership, decision-making procedures, communication and evaluation were perceived by the actors to be of central importance to successful strategic change processes. Furthermore, differences between the higher education institutions in the sample that are in line with the archetypes indicate that organizational archetypes are a useful conceptual tool to capture differences in the strategic change processes.
Especially interesting is the finding that university boards and external stakeholders are perceived to play only a minor role in the strategic change processes, which to a certain extend contradicts the prominent role they play in several national reform processes. At the same time, the surveyed actors also assigned only a minor role to the government when it comes to strategic change in higher education. Finally, cooperation with academic staff and students is perceived to be less important for strategic change in research-intensive universities than in technical/specialist universities.
Overall, the paper provides an interesting insight into perceptions on strategic change processes and which factors are conducive for strategic change.
Find the article: Stensaker, B., Frølich, N., Huisman, J., Waagene, E., Scordato, L., & Pimentel Bótas, P. (2014). Factors affecting strategic change in higher education. Journal of Strategy and Management, 7(2), 193-207.
Review by Jens Jungblut, Stipendiat/PhD, University of Oslo
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