More than One Way to be Rational: An Alternative Reading of Academic Middle Management Practice

International Journal of Applied Management Education and Development (ISSN: 1742-2639) Volume 1 Issue 3

Sabine Hotho

Dundee Business School
University of Abertay , Dundee , Scotland

Keywords: Academic Manager; university management; management development; rationalities; management practice; change.


Since the early 1980s, universities throughout the Western world have seen substantial and irreversible change. While the speed of sector transformation may vary from country to country, the drivers and directions of these changes and associated impacts seem remarkably similar, being primarily economic reasons and the notion of increased competition (for funding, students and staff), these two factors being key drivers. At international level, increased competition is seen as a function of globalisation and its associated knowledge imperatives. At national level, competition is linked to funding methods, with pressures for change being most noticeable where public funding remains substantial. Managerial methods, imported from the private sector, are widely recommended as means to achieve sector transformation and to project universities into the 21 st century.

These changes have been accompanied by an academic debate concerned with both transformation issues at the strategic level and the impact of change. The present paper suggests that the time has come to consider, within this debate, the extent to which preoccupation with change and the prevalence of the managerial paradigm have resulted in a one-sided, possibly uni-dimensional, understanding and evaluation of the sector's managerial competence. This consideration is particularly relevant since the pressure to develop managerial competence at all levels will continue (Brown, 2004), and as the recognition of the central role played by academic middle managers in change processes grows. Uni-dimensionality, it seems, can no longer be afforded.

This article reviews the prevailing Higher Education (HE) management discourse and its conceptual limitations. Using a multiple rationalities framework, a reading of academic middle management is presented which indicates conceptual transitions and the potential for a more holistic concept of academic middle management practice. The central argument is based on a case study undertaken in the UK HE context. While this positions and explains the debate in a specific context, the main thrust of the argument can be applied in countries where universities have come under equal pressures, such as Germany , France or Italy.

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