Universities: Home of the Bean Counter?

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Found this story interesting in Times Higher Education:

Allowing universities to be run by bean counters and bureaucrats is detrimental to academics’ ingenuity and productivity, argues Amanda Goodall

I am intrigued by the difference in the administrative burden that I deal with in my privately funded research organisation the IZA Institute for the Study of Labor, in Bonn, compared with what I was used to in a university. OK, it is a small institute, with 40 in-house researchers and 20 administrators (and 1,000 research fellows). But nevertheless, the systems and processes are concise and unbureaucratic.

Its director, Klaus Zimmermann, who is a labour economist, offered me three reasons why the institute is efficiently run: first, he tries to employ the best he can find from the private or public sectors; second, he never allows the number of administrators to exceed or come close to the number of researchers; and finally, “the most important thing”, he says, “is that both sides understand each other and share the same spirit”.

You think this is obvious, right? Yet complaints in the UK and the US (see, for example, Benjamin Ginsberg’s recent book, The Fall of the Faculty, the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters) point to the increasing struggle between managers on the one hand and faculty on the other. At its simplest, the disagreements are about processes. Management, which in the US and UK is very influenced by accounting practices, would like to run organisations in a way that is seen as counter-productive and counter-cultural by faculty.

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