A growing managerialism and bureaucratisation has been a continued feature of the Irish university over the last number of years, tracing its roots, in part, to the Universities Act 1997.
The Act introduced a number of innovations that resulted in an ever-growing obsession with quality procedures and, more alarmingly, rankings which serve as a kind of external validation of the “quality” of the university. Such rankings have been treated as important indices of quality by both university management and would-be students. Considering their typically crude methodology, this is a baffling scenario.
With the credentials of the university being put under such a harsh spotlight however, it is perhaps no wonder that the bureaucratic machine has kicked into gear with an aim to enforce “efficiency” on the typically chaotic university structure.
Public attitudes towards academics no doubt play a part in allowing the university to push through a more streamlined agenda. The university is frequently portrayed as a gravy train, staffed by unworldly or otherworldly types who would be incapable of surviving outside their privileged environment. Academic research, especially within the Arts, is often viewed as either self-indulgent or non-existent, something which has led to calls for universities to justify their existence by assuming a larger teaching load while simultaneously reducing staff numbers.
In an aim to combat such opinions and to present the image of a more efficient institution, a growing bureaucratic monster has been allowed to creep into our university. This many-layered beast has wrapped itself, like a parasitic vine, around the administrative structures of the university, slowly chocking dissenting voices in an aim to justify and reify its own existence.
Accusations, from those outside the walls, claiming that the university fails to give “value for money” have resulted in pressure towards workload models and full economic costing of activities. Although at face value this may seem a positive step, it nevertheless opens the way for an even more detailed bureaucratic control of each academic’s activities. When academic freedom is affected so too is the learning experience of each and every student within the university.
Should the university continue on this managerialist bureaucrat-driven path she might well see her halls empty of any real, lively and substantial intellectual and scholarly debate. The obsession with the current business agenda may well be the downfall of the institution as academics and students alike flee from its suffocating grasp to more liberal institutions elsewhere. It is, after all, difficult to create “global minds” without world-class academics.
– James Grannell