Kathleen Lynch

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)


3 thoughts on “Managerialism

  1. Is there anyone else out there who thinks there is something very odd about a situation in the 21st Century where the majority of university students are women, but roughly four fifths of those both in the professoriate and in senior management are men? Is this an appropriate profile for universities in a fast changing world where women are the high academic achievers? If we assume that intelligence is normally distributed, by missing out on the majority of the 51 per cent who are female, how far down the bell curve are we actually having to go to find our academic leaders and managers?

    I have as few illusions about women as I have about collegiality, but if we simply use gender as an indicator of diversity, the picture is not impressive. Does the invisibility of this seem very odd to anyone else?

    Professor Pat O’Connor

  2. Neo-liberal and neo-conservatives are both currently agreed on one thing – they will only get economic competitiveness if the people working in the public service, teachers, nurses, lecturers etc. do what they are told. They remind the public sector often who is in charge and who is paying the bills. For example, since the night of the bank bailout a new public discourse has been used with all teachers and school principals in Ireland (Mooney Simmie, G. (2012). The Pied Piper of Neo Liberalism Calls the Tune in the Republic of Ireland: An Analysis of Education Policy Text from 2000-2012. The Journal For Critical Education Policy Studies, Volume 10, Number 2, 485-514) .
    Teachers and school principals have been consistently told they are lucky to be getting paid. They have been told to grow up and get used to the fact that the Department inspectors will now inspect them by creeping into schools ‘unannounced’. At the same time teachers are being told that they are ‘professionals’. There is a top-down discourse of control and a relay of power being played out this is quite worrying. There is a distinct lack of a healthy and open space for contestation. Bernstein (2000, p.34) argued that when there is no healthy level of contestation between the official field and the field of pedagogy then the autonomy of the teacher and the field of education is compromised. Research fidnings from the UK and USA shows that bureaucratic accountability and performativity only succeeds in making teachers and school leaders fearful and anxious and does not lead to the kind of experiemental teaching needed for creative and critical thinking (Perryman, 2007). To become creative and critical thinkers young people need lots of chances to ‘learn to fail’, this requires a deeply supportive environment. Innovation is being demanded by policy makers in education while all the supports are being reframed by an ideology of ‘competitive individualism’. Poverty, umployment, discrimination on grounds of gender, race, ethnicity, religion are all becoming ‘re-framed’ across the globe as peoples’ own personal problems. Nothing to do with us. In this regard policy leaders are colluding in a giant abdication of responsibility. They are equally abusing their charge of the public purse as they use ‘monies’ intended for good education and health system to bail out the private sector and give them a soft landing when they have squandered obscene amounts of money in gambling bids that have failed- bankers, bondholders and big business. What is the result of this global policy imaginary so far? All the statistics from 27 OECD countries show that the GINI coefficient is increasing across all nations – the gap between the rich and poor is increasing exponentially as the ‘concept of the good society’ is rapidly replaced with the ‘concept of a global economy’ (OECD 2011).
    There is a strong global movement, which Ireland has fully bought into, to describe the activity of educational settings as comparable with running a small and rather miserable shop along the lines of Taylorism and behaviourism: exploiting profits, exploiting employees, measuring outcomes and checking that ‘customers’ are pleased. We need to be able to explain what is different between educational settings and marketplace settings. We need to develop a new and powerful language to explain this difference to the public. While funding for education is being cut dramatically more money is being spent on a public relations machinery – getting the optics right and seeking to keep the people convinced that this is being done for the good of society, rather than to ‘keep the rich happy’ (Chomsky, 2013).
    Every good teacher knows that they are preparing young people to develop as persons, to become constributing members of a democratic society, to pass on heritage and culture as well as developing the young person to be their intellectual best. There are no pan scales invented yet that can measure all of these. Those who try to measure one of these at the expense of the others are negligent and irresponsible. Our schools are currently being re-framed as little more than PISA test centres for ‘economic knowledge’. It is heartening to know that there is some level of contestation to this petty and miserable concept.
    Sadly there have been many times in the history of education where the field of education has been pushed to the side. Comenius in the seventeenth century described that period as one where a ‘pettiness of mind’ meant that the bigger philosophical questions that every society needs to address were being pushed aside in favour of ‘methods of mass instruction’. I fear that we are again living through one of these ignorant and anti-intellectual eras. It is heatening to know that people in higher education in Ireland are gaining the critical consciousness to begin to describe this. Awareness of the beginning of emancipation.

  3. This petition and initiative are so important as we see a shift globally to the commercialization of research and the commoditisation of education. From Henry Giroux in the US and Canada to Terry Eagleton in the UK, we need academics to speak out and ultimately take a stance against the erosion of our profession and the casualisation of the workforce. In protecting a critical and free-thinking third-level sector we will retain an important institution for social commentary and reflection. As education becomes more determined by market forces, academics are pressured into graduating trained workers rather than educated citizens. The economic function cannabalises the social function. Dissension against this new neoliberal managerial paradigm is costly and fear is evidenced by the anonymity in many of the stories we hear. It is time to bring this into the light and actually fight it. I fully support this initiative.

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