With the rise of the neo-liberalism as a system of values[i], there is an increasing attempt to off-load the cost of education, and public services generally, on to the individual. Allied to this, there is a growing movement to privatise those areas of public services that could be run for profit, including higher education.
New managerialism represents the organisational arm of neoliberalism. It is the mode of governance designed to realize the neoliberal project through the institutionalising of market principles in the governance of organizations. In the public sector, it involves the prioritization of private (for-profit) sector values of efficiency and productivity in the regulation of public bodies, on the assumption that the former is superior to the latter. (Lynch, Grummell and Devine, 2012 New Managerialism in Education)
While it would be a mistake to view new managerialism as a unitary whole, implemented consistently across differing cultural and economic contexts, nevertheless in the redesign of public service provision, key features of managerialism include: an emphasis on outputs over inputs; the close monitoring of employee performance and the encouragement of self-monitoring through the widespread use of performance indicators, rankings, league tables and performance management. The decentralization of budgetary and personal authority to line managers, combined with the retention of power and control at central level, and the introduction of new and more casualised contractual employment arrangements, are also key features that serve to reduce costs and exercise control. New managerialism is further characterized by significant changes in nomenclature. There is a declining use of language that frames public services in terms of citizens’ rights, public welfare and solidarity and a growing emphasis on language that defines the citizen’s relationship to the State in terms of market values, be it that of customers, service users and competitors. There is a deliberate attempt to elide the differences between public and private interests. New configurations of public-private relationships are designated as ‘partnerships’ erasing the differences between public and private interest values, between providing a service at cost and only providing a service if it is profitable.
The New Managerialism is not a neutral management strategy therefore; it is a political project, borne out of a radical change in the organisation of capitalism. As such, it is embedded in a complex series of social, political and economic organizational changes that are tied to neoliberalism in particular. It rests on the assumption that the market is the primary producer of cultural logic and value and that universities and higher education (and public services) generally are best run through the deployment of market logic and market mechanisms. It reduces first order social and moral values to second-order principles: trust, integrity, care and solidarity with others are subordinated to regulation, control and competition. In this regard it provides a unique type of moral guidance for businesses and organizations modelled on businesses, including universities.
When managerialist practices achieve hegemonic control within public service organizations like universities, they parasitize and weaken those very values on which the organization depends. While few would question the value of efficiency, in terms of maximizing the use of available resources, the difficulty with managerialism is that it does not just prioritize efficiency, it suppresses other organizational values so that they become incidental to the running of the universities. The net effect of the devaluation of moral purposes is that public services, such as higher education, are increasingly defined as commodities to be delivered on the market to customers who can afford to buy them. They are no longer defined as capacity-building public goods. Rights to education are delegitimised within this framework and what were once human rights are transformed into commodities bought at market value. Within this frame, it is inevitable that only those who can purchase higher education (or other basic services such as health care or quality elder care) will have access to it over time.
As new managerialism reduces economic, educational and social problems, and moral dilemmas, to issues of governance and regulation, ethical considerations are construed as management issues that new managerial regimes can resolve. The political and social purposes of education are treated as secondary considerations. Commercial values are institutionalized in educational systems and processes, by default if not by design: colleges and schools change from being centres of learning to service-delivery operations with productivity targets.
The inevitable, if unintended, correlate of this is that new managerialism undermines the core principle of care in education, as process is subordinated to output. While the nurturing of learners has an outcome dimension, the care-related gains from education are generally not measurable in a narrowly specifiable time frame. Moreover, the direct caring dimensions of education are not open to measurement within a metric measurement system. Even if the caring dimensions of education could be monitored and measured through matrices, the very doing of this would force people into the calculation of other-centeredness that would undermine the very principle of relatedness and mutuality that is at the heart of teaching and learning.
Given its alignment with neoliberal values, managerialism also implicitly endorses a concept of the educated person that is market-led. All forms of education, but especially higher education, are defined in terms of human capital acquisition. The purpose of education is increasingly limited to developing the neo-liberal citizen, the competitive economic actor and cosmopolitan worker built around a calculating, entrepreneurial and detached self. A narcissistic actuarialism is encouraged and new educational subjectivities are created. Education itself becomes a way of managing market risks in a highly de-regulated world. The concept of working in or for the public service (or the community and voluntary sectors) is diminished.
[i] Neo-liberalism is… a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the State is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate for such practices….State intervention in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum….’ (Harvey, D. A Short History of Neoliberalism: 2005: 2)