April 22, 2007

Managing People in Universities: Successful Human Resources Management

In people-intensive organisations like universities, human resources management commands a key role in the context of overall institutional development. Even though people are the most valuable asset of educational institutions – also in fi nancial terms – many universities have established procedures for the administration of personnel, however not for ‘managing’ their human resources.

...In order for HR-management to make a lasting contribution toward quality improvement and institutional selfrefl ection of educational organisations, a shared understanding of all stakeholders that optimisation, through joint action, is possible and desirable, is necessary. This calls for an organisational culture which not only accepts responsibility for maintaining and improving the quality of work through putting in extra time, effort and personal commitment but which also provides the necessary institutional framework and mechanisms.

...Due to this highly individualised form of work, certain individuals have lots of elbow room in decisionmaking, even when it comes to the issue of who is going to be promoted and who is not – this type of autonomy produces highly individual results. In terms of individual career paths it is much less a particular organisation, or single university, that determines where someone is headed, but rather the so-called ‘invisible college’ of faculty peers acting across institutional borders. This look at organisational culture adequately explains the status quo of human resources management at universities.

The neglect of staff related issues is attributable also to the fact that the set of skills and competences every new member of the organisation brings along is considered as sufficient in itself. Individuals are held accountable for themselves; continuing education basically means acquiring new competences in one’s own area of expertise. The paradigm of individual performance is one of the reasons why experts are used to acting autonomously. They usually invest plenty of time, money and energy in developing their expertise and are used to focussing on a particular field of knowledge, leaving other areas to other experts.

Generally speaking, many educational organisations are characterised by a matrix organisation with a twofold ‘logic’: one being the logic of the organisation/institution, uniting different experts and disciplines under one roof, the other being the logic of the discipline, uniting experts of the same discipline across institutional borders.

Professional identity, as such, is closely linked to the discipline while the discipline is anchored more strongly in the monitoring of academic achievements. Accordingly, some of the classical tasks of HR development in the academic realm are performed via socialisation in a particular discipline, as e.g. the convention of historians. In contrast, the idea of ‘human resources development’ is more orientated towards the ‘organisation’, to which there is little attachment.

Likewise, the orientation, at universities, towards the international scientific community is characterised more strongly by attachment to a specific discipline beyond the confines of individual organisations. Stepping up the career ladder in one’s own institution is considered less of a success than mobility across borders, both in geographical and organisational terms.

If suitable concepts for human resources development at universities are to be deployed, the status of the university as an international organisation must not be overlooked. There are no common standards, as yet, for such key procedures as staff selection and performance review, and so the quality of these procedures varies with the ‘inborn talent’ of those in charge. Most procedures are ‘tailor-made’ and performance reviews tend to follow the logic of the discipline while other aspects of being a university teacher, such as management, teaching and continuing education, tend to shift out of focus

By: Ada Pellert, Vice-Rector Academic Affairs, Head of the Department of Continuing Education Research and Educational Management, Danube-University, Krems, Austria (2007)

From: Managing the university community good practice, EUA CASE STUDIES 2007

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