Ethnography of university life in the era of evaluation

Convernors: Marco Pitzalis (University of Cagliari) & Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari)

Universities throughout  the world are today having to deal with three  contradictory goals and processes:

  1. Increasing the number of graduates. This is pursued by adopting a common framework regarding qualifications in the three cycles of higher education. The first cycle leading to a bachelor’s degree was intended to increase the number of people completing a university degree.
  2. The pursuit of “excellence” is achieved by  concentrating resources in a smaller number of institutions.
  3. The globalization of Higher education markets by the utilisation of various “dispositifs”, such as classification in international rankings.

In recent years, the relationship between the State and universities has gradually changed because of the “managerial” paradigm has led to a change in the hegemonic balance by increasing the power of the University Chancellor and introducing a Board comprising academics and stakeholders.  Moreover, assessment has become the essential device of a new form of governmentality. We are observing a kind of transformation of the Centralist State into an “Evaluative State”.  “Legal Homogeneity” and “Evaluative State” can be considered as opposing paradigms that characterize two different periods in the history of higher education systems.

The main educational policy objective is the creation of a competitive higher education market. Indicators and rankings are the main instrument that has brought about marked diversification among universities and has helped create a new paradigm that has led to a redefinition of key resources required to ‘play the game’ within national higher education systems.

In many countries this change has been played out in a framework of historical, structural inequalities among regions and territories.

A further element to consider is the change in the administration and management of universities which has resulted in a radical change in the balance of power between university boards, administration staff and the collegiate power. This has meant that faculty autonomy is affected and professors are caught up in a process of mobilization (Pitzalis, 2016). The shift of focus towards evaluation has created a climate of competition that is changing the modes of working and living at a micro-level, accentuating the effects of struggle and divergence. In the mean time, social actors have readapted their strategies and way of life to fit in with the new framework.

This panel intends to explore everyday current university transformations from the point o view of teachers, students and staff. This panel wishes to collect papers based on qualitative approaches, dealing with the micro-politics of change. Research focused on institutional, organizational and cultural change will be welcomed.

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