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Academic Cultures and Developing Management in Higher Education

Loima, Jyrki

The Theoretical Frame and the 'Case' in Question

This working paper deals with academic cultures and the management of higher education. I concentrate upon cultural questions and the characteristics that could have an influence on the development and progress of management in higher education. My approach is a) to present briefly a theoretical framework, and b) to highlight the development of administrative solutions in the 'case' of the new Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, to be established on 1.1.2004 in Helsinki University. I observe this process from the theoretical window presented, in spite of its original concentration on the UK and the USA. However, as a representative in and an observer of these inaugural discussions, I consider this light comparison possible. Moreover, both academic internalization and globalization - with its European trends - have softened the possible particular and socio-cultural transfer effects in the 'case' of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences in Helsinki University.


Academic Tribes, Cultures and Change

Tony Becher has studied academic tribes and cultures (Becher 1989). He developed a theoretical frame for different disciplinary cultures, broken down as follows according to the nature of the knowledge and the disciplinary grouping:

Disciplinary grouping Nature of knowledge
Pure sciences ('hard-pure') Cumulative; atomistic, concerned with universals; impersonal; value-free; clear criteria for knowledge verification and obsolescence; consensus over significant questions (to address, now and then in the future)
Humanities and pure social sciences ('soft-pure') Reiterative; holistic; concerned with particulars; personal; value-laden; dispute over criteria for knowledge verification and obsolescence; lack of consensus over significant questions

Technologies ('hard-applied')
Purposive; pragmatic; concerned with mastery of physical environment; applies heuristic approaches; uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches; criteria for judgement are purposive
Applied social sciences ('soft-applied') Functional; utilitarian; concerned with enhancement of semi-professional practice; uses "case" studies and case law to a large extent

(Source: shortened from Becher 1994; ref. Towler & Becher 2001)

However, Paul Trowler and Tony Becher have recently re-evaluated Becher's previous contribution and traced links between academic disciplines "into which that knowledge had coalesced", referring again to academic cultures. They have constructed an updated frame, incorporating not only national and international higher-education systems but also their cumulative socio-economic contexts. In their opinion, the change has been structural, covering both rules and resources (Towler & Becher 2001).


Trowler and Becher dealt with the consequences that globalization has had for universities. They reflected the ideas of other scholars, and identified the following trends:

a) financial constraints imposed by the state on higher education, necessitated by "fierce international competition"

b) the growing focus in higher education on "technoscience associated with international markets"

c) tightening relationships between governments and multinationals related to product development and innovation

d) increased focus on global intellectual property strategies within multinationals and established industrial countries, representing a new environment for academic research

According to Trowler and Becher, globalization has affected and re-marked the national areas of science and higher education, including the autonomous position of universities. Apart from the context of higher education, curricula and questions to do with the financing of "academic cultures and tribes", this change also refers to the mental changes in national and international academic ideologies. It is worth analyzing this briefly, because of the above-mentioned socio-economic change (Trowler&Becher 2001).


In short, I refer to Eric Hobsbawm, who has studied nationalism. From his point of view, it seems that a kind of post-modern international (marketing) nationalism has re-entered national, but internationalizing, universities and higher education in general. In particular, this means that "supranational local transfer" has stepped from the realm of ideological and religious mythologies into the world of financing and economic contexts (Hobsbawm 1983, 1994, 2002; Trowler & Becher 2001).
Hobsbawm described two 'proto-nationalistic' factors or indicators. First, it is possible to transfer and "recode" any national myth or invention to another national environment ('supranational transfer'). Thus the national or ideological stereotypes could be structurally similar, but have opposite points of view on the same phenomenon. Second, the particular (and common) political bonds and vocabularies have their local or inner system of coded information. These "bonds and vocabularies" could be extended, popularized, or generalized. Since, according to Hobsbawm, they have more in common with "a modern state", there is an opportunity to enlarge institutional and organizational "confessions", tales and significance from the local to the national or international level. These extensions and generalizations could be made, for example, by higher-educational or any other trusted (inter)national organizations. Consequently, the change in academic culture has an external accelerator, which does not rely on a solid scientific basis but is explained and supposed to be credible. It is business, in the meaning of disciplinary survival.


Trowler and Becher also found disciplinary discourse, the (Hobsbawm) "vocabularies and codes", important. An analysis in this linguistic context could bring out characteristic cultural features of disciplines, as well as the aspects of the knowledge domains to which they relate. In general, the professional language of a disciplinary group plays a key role in establishing the academic cultural identity.
Trowler and Becher did not restrict themselves to economics and disciplinary languages with their cultural emphasis on the academic environment, they also suggested other ways in which an academic's professional life may affect and could be affected by the wider social environment in which he or she works. Occasionally, scientific research may have significant implications for the outside world. On the other hand, physicists "may share a particular sense of responsibility" for the creation of nuclear weapons, as well as chemistry in its field of weaponry. The 'pure and applied' sciences do not face these possible accusations alone, but geography, history and sociology carry their own burdens in terms of territorial and racial disagreements, negative stereotypes and "cleansing". The manners and characteristics of academic culture, including social and ethical responsibility, even have dramatic influences in these connections (Hobsbawm 2002; Paasi 2002;

Trowler & Becher 2001). The above-mentioned occasions and examples exaggerate the responsibilities that could have been carried through by developing a sensitive management for higher education and research, in relation to national purposes in the political and military sectors. It seems, again, that academic "tribes" do not carry out their global duties ethically, but rather economically and "purely".


Disciplines, disciplinary communities, networks and their territories are cognitive entities. They possess certain important attributes, which may have formed their internal codes, languages and imaginations. According to Towler and Becher, segments as well as subjects may be hard or soft, pure or applied. Both sets of these dual concepts allow for mixture; neither hardness nor softness, neither purity nor application, should thus be seen as absolutes, but as "end-points of continua". Moreover, networks and disciplinary communities may be characterized as "highly urban or pre-eminently rural" in their patterns of interaction - or something between those two: in no-man's land. What is more, disciplinary communities may be seen as convergent in varying degrees. They manifest a sense of collectivity and mutual identity, or one that is divergent: schismatic and ideologically fragmented. From my human "holistic and value-laden" point of view, the latter seems to cover more reliable and valid elements in terms of disciplinary progress, scientific credibility and value-free innovations. It should be noted, however, that possible further connections are not included here because of their endless nature.

Management and Academic Cultures

Towler and Becher discussed the roles of "gatekeepers". They are persons who determine who is "allowed into" a particular community and who "remains excluded". Gatekeepers have a significant role in terms of the development of knowledge and disciplinary practices. According to their references (e.g., Cole 1983), "the stars" of a particular discipline occupy the main gate-keeping roles. In fact, they determine what work is considered "good" and what is irrelevant or less important. The personal qualities that form "greatness" are as many and diverse as the disciplines in which it is achieved. Apart from this, there are some social and cognitive properties that seem to make a difference. One of these is the range of applicability, while another is the breadth of reference. The first refers to those whose discoveries prove something and offer a basis for further work, while the latter concerns the number of "invisible colleges" and the high number of professional ties outside researchers' own special and particular area(s) (Towler & Becher 2001, see also Heiskanen 1983; Alapuro 1997).


Dr Jouni Kekäle has studied the management of disciplinary cultures. He analyzed the practical and theoretical leadership in eight different departments of two universities, using Becher's division and ideas, and also other theories. Like Towler and Becher, Kekäle pointed out the change in higher education, brought about by the emergence of masses of highly educated individuals, and by economic inputs, expectations and outputs, including more real and increasing financial responsibilities. He also discovered tendencies towards this development in scientific research.


On the one hand, there is an intention to find reasonable management solutions in these academic circumstances. In dealing with this tendency, I would critically recall the old idea of post-modern market-oriented "proto-nationalistic" transfer: mental change in academic cultural ideologies. On the other hand, this economic tendency seems - and may not only "seem" - to be a threat to traditional academic freedom in western universities (Kekäle 2002; Hobsbawm 1991 and 2002). Because of its academic, theoretically innovative, appreciated and interdisciplinary basic values, the latter issue could be more fruitful for further interdisciplinary cooperation.


According to Kekäle, what constituted "good" manners and customs for academic management differed, depending on the department. This variety included democratic models and also hierarchic structures, in which a strong individual leader was accepted as representative of "a good" one. These differences were related to socio-dynamic structures and to the past. In addition to displaying the above-mentioned bonds, they were connected to disciplinary cultures, structures of knowledge and academic "territories". Kekäle constructed "the field of management possibilities", which included disciplinary but also socio-cultural co-factors. His conclusion was an academic "thermostat" - a leader who deals with different and persistent pressures, conducting, controlling and enlarging them in relation to his territory or department. Thermostatic action varies from the maintenance phase to the management of crisis.


Establishing a New Faculty - Encountering the Tribes?

The Faculty of Educational Sciences in Helsinki University was "buried" in December 2003, while the new Faculty of Behavioural Sciences emerged in January 2004. In addition to its previous departments and units, the new faculty also includes psychology, phonetics and logopedics. A core team of interdisciplinary scientific and management experts worked for more than a year in toto, building suitable and possible administration and management structures for the new faculty. In particular, the financing principles have been considered important, which also relates to the status of some top research units.


This group of core actors has discussed for dozens of hours, has reflected on several administrative alternatives and has solved innumerable problems. It has created and accepted a new vision for the faculty, stating and confirming the principles of highest research-based education and socio-cultural service - or duty. Physical structures have already moved from one place to another (Memorandums and Minutes of Heljä Linnansaari, PhD, and the working team, December 2002 - September 2003, Faculty of Education, Helsinki University).


The interdisciplinary group continuously faced various academic disciplinary cultures and structural models. While the Department of Teacher Education had six researchers and over 90 lecturers, the human and financial resources of the Department of Psychology were divided vice versa. The options for administrative structures were considered from several points of view, starting from the faculty with no departments at all. The other alternative was to leave everything untouched, maintaining several more-or-less flexible - and frequently discussed - alternatives between these two extremes. However, it would be an exaggeration to include the "global financing factor" or "fierce international competition" in these particular alternatives and reflections.


During these discussions, the academic cultures of the representatives were seen to be more flexible and complex than distinct. Roles were changing, losing absolute hardness or softness, purity or application, yet they did not include the disciplinary or personal "end-points of the continua", either. In comparison with Trowler's and Becher's analyses, the discussions mainly took place in the safety of no-man's land. In addition to this, interdisciplinary discussions were also convergent in varying degrees. They reflected a sense of disciplinary collectivity and mutual identity, but also internal (and interdisciplinary) schismatic and ideological oppositions, or fragments of such.


The results were compromising, flexible - in principle, temporary and acceptable to all those taking part. The Faculty of Behavioural Sciences will start on the basis of (existing) disciplinary academic cultures and structures, with some exceptions concerning the position of central administration and the libraries. Nothing revolutionary or innovative has been excluded, and not included either. However, there is still an important question to address. Who will be a culturally suitable "thermostatic" leader for the new Faculty in the beginning - and for a longer administrative run? Disciplinary and administrative gatekeepers will be easier to find.


Sources and Bibliography

The Minutes and Memorandums of the working team by Heljä Linnansaari, PhD, (2002-2003), The Faculty of Education, Helsinki University
Alapuro Risto: Suomen älymystö Venäjän varjossa. Hämeenlinna, 1997.
Becher Tony: Academic Tribes and Territories. Philadelphia, 1989.
Becher Tony & Trowler Paul: Academic Tribes and Territories. Suffolk, 2001.
Heiskanen Ilkka: Yhteiskuntatieteet, käytännön yhteiskuntateoria ja maamme älyllinen ilmasto in Valtio ja yhteiskunta. Tutkielmia suomalaisen valtiollisen ajattelun ja valtio-opin historiasta. Juva 1983
Hobsbawm Eric: Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Cambridge 1991,2002.
Hobsbawm Eric& Ranger Terrence: The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge 1989.
Kekäle Jouni: Johtaminen eri tieteenalakulttuureissa in Ahola& Välimaa (Ed.) Heimoja, hengenviljelyä ja hallintoa. Jyväskylä, 2002.
Paasi Anssi: Rajat ja identiteetti globalisoituvassa maailmassa in Syrjämaa & Tunturi (Ed.) Eletty ja muistettu tila. Helsinki 2002.

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