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A metric culture in academia

The influence of performance measurement on the academic culture of Swedish universities

Time: Fri 2020-09-25 13.00

Location:, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Technology and Learning

Doctoral student: Johan Söderlind , Lärande

Opponent: Professor Peter Dahler-Larsen, University of Copenhagen

Supervisor: Professor Lars Geschwind, Lärande; Mats Benner, Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö, Lunds universitet


This thesis studies how the proliferation of performance measurement within Swedish universities has affected the way university actors perceive academic work. The wide diffusion of performance measures in academia is conceptualised as a reflection of changes in the wider societal culture that may be attributed to comprehensive public sector reforms, the globalisation of the higher education sector and novel perspectives and expectations on universities. The result has been an increasing focus on productivity, accountability and competition within universities. To study how this is received by actors within Swedish universities is important because it is likely to have significant consequences for the way academic work is organised and conducted. Therefore, the research question asked in this thesis is how performance measurement influences the understanding of academic work among academics and managers in Swedish universities. This question has been approached through the application of organisational culture theory, which enables an analysis of how university actors collectively perceive the increasing measurement of academic performance. The empirical contribution of the thesis consists of four papers that in different ways explore the role of performance measurement within Swedish universities. The papers discuss academic managers as mediators of meaning, how funding arrangements influence local perceptions of research, subcultural differences in attitudes towards performance measurement and why department heads make use of performance measurement systems. The conclusions of the thesis are that the influence of performance measurement on the understanding of academic work among academics and managers in Swedish universities has affected academic culture in various ways. Some aspects of academic culture have been strengthened and others weakened. The prevalence of performance measures has caused academic work to be increasingly seen through the lens of these measures, which emphasise the importance of displaying a good performance as indicated by the metrics. For most, this is often a matter of minor adaptation, but for some it may imply severe challenges. Although academic performance measures are important tools, used for a variety of purposes, they also pose a challenge to academic culture as the organising principle for academic work.