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The Performance Management in Higher Education

This is an excerpt from my latest academic article, entitled; “Using the balanced scorecard as a performance management tool in higher education” that will be published in Sage’s “Management in Education” (Journal).


The higher education institutions (HEIs) are competing in a global marketplace, particularly those which are operating in the contexts of neoliberal policymaking (Fadeeva and Mochizuki, 2010; Deem et al., 2008; Olssen and Peters, 2005; Bleiklie, 2001). Several universities are characterized by their de-centralized leadership as they operate with budget constraints (Smeenk, Teelken, Eisinga and Doorewaard, 2008; Bleiklie, 2001). Notwithstanding, their stakeholders expect their increased accountability and quality assurance, in terms of their efficiency, economy and effectiveness (Witte and López-Torres, 2017; Smeek et al., 2008). Hence, HEIs set norms, standards, benchmarks, and quality controls to measure their performance; as they are increasingly market-led and customer-driven (Jauhiainen, Jauhiainen, Laiho and Lehto, 2015; Billing, 2004; Etzkowitz, et al., 2000). Specifically, the universities’ performance is having a positive effect on the economic development of societies; through the provision of inclusive, democratized access to quality education and high impact research (Arnesen & Lundahl, 2006). Moreover, the educational institutions are also expected to forge strong relationships with marketplace stakeholders, including business and industry (Waring, 2013).

As a result, many universities have adapted, or are trying to adapt to the changing environment as they re-structure their organization and put more emphasis on improving their organizational performance. These developments have inevitably led to the emergence of bureaucratic procedures and processes (Jauhiainen et al., 2015).  HEIs have even started using the corporate language as they formulate plans, set objectives, and use performance management criteria to control their resources (Smeenk et al., 2008; Ball, 2003). For instance, the Finnish universities have introduced new steering mechanisms, including the performance systems in budgeting, organizational reforms, management methods and salary systems (Camilleri, 2018; Jauhiainen et al., 2015). Previously, Welch (2007) noted that HEIs were adopting new modes of governance, organizational forms, management styles, and values that were prevalent in the private business sector. The logic behind these new managerial reforms was to improve the HEIs’ value for money principles (Waring, 2013; Deem, 1998). Therefore, the financing of HEIs is a crucial element in an imperfectly competitive, quasi-market model (Marginson, 2013; Olssen and Peters, 2005; Enders, 2004; Dill, 1997).

Academic commentators frequently suggest that the managerial strategies, structures, and values that belong to the ‘private sector’ are leading to significant improvements in the HEIs’ performance (Waring, 2013; Teelken, 2012; Deem and Brehony, 2005; Deem, 1998). On the other hand, critics argue that the ‘managerial’ universities are focusing on human resource management (HRM) practices that affect the quality of their employees’ job performance (Smeenk et al., 2008). Very often, HEIs are employing bureaucratic procedures involving time-consuming activities that could otherwise have been invested in research activities and / or to enhance teaching programs. The HEIs’ management agenda is actually imposed on the academics’ norms of conduct and on their professional behaviors. Therefore, the universities’ leadership can affect the employees’ autonomies as they are expected to comply with their employers’ requirements (Deem and Brehony, 2005). Smeenk et al. (2008) posited that this contentious issue may lead to perennial conflicts between the employees’ values and their university leaders’ managerial values; resulting in lower organizational commitment and reduced productivities.

The HEIs’ managerial model has led to a shift in the balance of power from the academics to their leaders as the universities have developed quality assurance systems to monitor and control their academic employees’ performance (Camilleri, 2018; Cardoso, Tavares and Sin, 2015). This trend towards managerialism can be perceived as a lack of trust in the academic community. However, the rationale behind managerialism is to foster a performative culture among members of staff, as universities need to respond to increased competitive pressures for resources, competences and capabilities (Decramer et al., 2013; Marginson, 2006; 2001; Enders, 2004). These issues have changed the HEIs’ academic cultures and norms in an unprecedented way (Chou and Chan, 2016; Marginson, 2013).

HEIs have resorted to the utilization of measures and key performance indicators to improve their global visibility. Their intention is to raise their institutions’ profile by using metrics that measure productivity. Many universities have developed their own performance measures or followed frameworks that monitor the productivity of academic members of staff (Taylor and Baines, 2012). Very often, their objective is to audit their academic employees’ work. However, their work cannot always be quantified and measured in objective performance evaluations. For instance, Waring (2013) argued that academic employees are expected to comply with their employers’ performance appraisals (PAs) and their form-filling exercises. The rationale behind the use of PAs is to measure the employees’ productivity in the form of quantifiable performance criteria. Hence, the PA is deemed as a vital element for the evaluation of the employees’ performance (Kivistö et al., 2017; Dilts et al., 1994). The PA can be used as part of a holistic performance management approach that measures the academics’ teaching, research and outreach. This performance management tool can possibly determine the employees’ retention, promotion, tenure as well as salary increments (Subbaye, 2018; Ramsden, 1991).

Therefore, PAs ought to be clear and fair. Their administration should involve consistent, rational procedures that make use of appropriate standards. The management’s evaluation of the employees’ performance should be based on tangible evidence. In a similar vein, the employees need to be informed of what is expected from them (Dilts et al., 1994). They should also be knowledgeable about due processes for appeal arising from adverse evaluations, as well as on grievance procedures, if any (Author, 2018). In recent years; the value of the annual performance appraisals (PAs) has increasingly been challenged in favor of more regular ‘performance conversations’ (Aguinis, 2013; Herdlein, Kukemelk and Türk, 2008). Therefore, regular performance feedback or the frequent appraisal of employees still remain a crucial aspect of the performance management cycle. Pace (2015) reported that the PA was used to develop the employees’ skills, rather than for administrative decisions. In a similar vein, the University of Texas (2019) HR page suggests that the appraisers’ role is “to set expectations, gather data, and provide ongoing feedback to employees, to assist them in utilizing their skills, expertise and ideas in a way that produces results”. However, a thorough literature review suggests that there are diverging views among academia and practitioners on the role of the annual PA, the form it should take, and on its effectiveness in the realms of higher education (Herdlein et al., 2008; DeNisi and Pritchard, 2006).

The Performance Management Frameworks

The HEIs’ evaluative systems may include an analysis of the respective universities’ stated intentions, peer opinions, government norms and comparisons, primary procedures from ‘self-evaluation’ through external peer review. These metrics can be drawn from published indicators and ratings, among other frameworks (Billing, 2004).  Their performance evaluations can be either internally or externally driven (Cappiello and Pedrini, 2017). The internally driven appraisal systems put more emphasis on self-evaluation and self-regulatory activities (Baxter, 2017; Bednall, Sanders and Runhaar, 2014; Dilts et al., 1994). Alternatively, the externally driven evaluative frameworks may involve appraisal interviews that assess the quality of the employees’ performance in relation to pre-established criteria (DeNisi and Pritchard, 2006; Cederblom, 1982).

Many countries, including the European Union (EU) states have passed relevant legislation, regulatory standards and guidelines for the HEIs’ quality assurance (Baxter, 2017), and for the performance evaluations of their members of staff (Kohoutek et al., 2018; Cardoso et al., 2015; Bleiklie, 2001). Of course, the academic employees’ performance is usually evaluated against their employers’ priorities, commitments, and aims; by using relevant international benchmarks and targets (Lo, 2009). The academics are usually appraised on their research impact, teaching activities and outreach (QS Ranking, 2019; THE, 2019). Their academic services, including their teaching resources, administrative support, and research output all serve as performance indicators that can contribute to the reputation and standing of the HEI that employs them (Geuna and Martin, 2003).

Notwithstanding, several universities have restructured their faculties and departments to enhance their research capabilities. Their intention is to improve their institutional performance in global rankings (Lo, 2014). Therefore, HEIs recruit academics who are prolific authors that publish high-impact research with numerous citations in peer reviewed journals (Wood and Salt, 2018; Author, 2018). They may prefer researchers with scientific or quantitative backgrounds, regardless of their teaching experience (Chou and Chan, 2016). These universities are prioritizing research and promoting their academics’ publications to the detriment of university teaching. Thus, the academics’ contributions in key international journals is the predominant criterion that is used to judge the quality of academia (Billing, 2004). For this reason, the vast majority of scholars are using the English language as a vehicle to publish their research in reputable, high impact journals (Chou and Chan, 2016). Hence, the quantity and quality of their research ought to be evaluated through a number of criteria (Lo, 2014; 2011; Dill and Soo, 2005).

University ranking sites, including (THE) and the QS Rankings, among others, use performance indicators to classify and measure the quality and status of HEIs. This would involve the gathering and analysis of survey data from academic stakeholders. THE and QS, among others clearly define the measures, their relative weight, and the processes by which the quantitative data is collected (Dill and Soo, 2005). The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) relies on publication-focused indicators as 60 percent of its weighting is assigned to the respective university’s research output. Therefore, these university ranking exercises are surely affecting the policies, cultures and behaviors of HEIs and of their academics (Wood and Salt, 2018; De Cramer et al., 2013; Lo, 2013).  For instance, the performance indicators directly encourage the recruitment of international faculty and students. Other examples of quantitative metrics include the students’ enrolment ratios, graduate rates, student drop-out rates, the students’ continuation of studies at the next academic level, and the employability index of graduates, among others. Moreover, qualitative indicators can also provide insightful data on the students’ opinions and perceptions about their learning environment. The HEIs could evaluate the students’ satisfaction with teaching; satisfaction with research opportunities and training; perceptions of international and public engagement opportunities; ease of taking courses across boundaries, and may also determine whether there are administrative / bureaucratic barriers for them (Kivistö et al., 2017; Jauhiainen et al., 2015; Ramsden, 1991). Hence, HEIs ought to continuously re-examine their strategic priorities and initiatives. It is in their interest to regularly analyze their performance management frameworks through financial and non-financial indicators, in order to assess the productivity of their human resources. Therefore, they should regularly review educational programs and course curricula (Kohoutek et al., 2018; Brewer and Brewer, 2010). On a faculty level, the university leaders ought to keep a track record of changes in the size of departments; age and distribution of academic employees; diversity of students and staff, in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, et cetera. In addition, faculties could examine discipline-specific rankings; and determine the expenditures per academic member of staff, among other options (Author, 2018).

The balanced scorecard

The balanced scorecard (BSC) was first introduced by Kaplan and Norton (1992) in their highly cited article, entitled “The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive Performance”. BSC is an integrated results-oriented, performance management tool, consisting of financial and non-financial measures that link the organizations’ mission, core values, and vision for the future with strategies, targets, and initiatives that are designed to bring continuous improvements (Taylor and Baines, 2012; Wu, Lin and Chang, 2011; Beard, 2009; Umashankar and Dutta, 2007; Cullen, Joyce, Hassall and Broadbent, 2003; Kaplan and Norton, 1992). Its four performance indicators play an important role in translating strategy into action; and can be utilized to evaluate the performance of HEIs. BSC provides a balanced performance management system as it comprises a set of performance indices that can assess different organizational perspectives (Taylor and Baines, 2012). For BSC, the financial perspective is a core performance measure. However, the other three perspectives namely: customer (or stakeholder), organizational capacity and internal process ought to be considered in the performance evaluations of HEIs, as reported in the following table:

BSC Higher Education

The balanced scorecard approach in higher education

Cullen et al. (2003) suggested that the UK’s Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SHEFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), as well as the Department for Employment and Learning (DELNI) have incorporated the BSC’s targets in their Research Excellence Framework. Furthermore, other HEI targets, including: the students’ completion rates, the research impact of universities, collaborative partnerships with business and industry, among others, are key metrics that are increasingly being used in international benchmarking exercises, like the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), among others. Moreover, BSC can be used to measure the academic employees’ commitment towards their employer (Umashankar and Dutta, 2007; McKenzie, and Schweitzer, 2001). Notwithstanding, Wu, Lin and Chang (2011) contended that the BSC’s ‘‘organizational capacity’’ is related to the employee development, innovation and learning. Hence the measurement of the HEIs’ intangible assets, including their intellectual capital is affected by other perspectives, including the financial one (Taylor and Baines, 2012). This table summarizes some of the strengths and weaknesses of the balanced scorecard.

BSC

BSC is widely used to appraise the financial and non-financial performance of businesses and public service organizations including HEIs. Many HEI leaders are increasingly following business-like approaches as they are expected to operate in a quasi-market environment (Marginson, 2013). They need to scan their macro environment to be knowledgeable about the opportunities and threats from the political, economic, social and technological factors. Moreover, they have to regularly analyze their microenvironment by evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.  Hence, several HEIs are increasingly appraising their employees as they assess their performance on a regular basis. They may even decide to take remedial actions when necessary.  Therefore, BSC can also be employed by HEIs to improve their academic employees’ productivity levels (Marginson, 2013; 2000).


A pre-publication version of the full article is available through ResearchGate and Academia.edu.

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