International Responses to the Academic Manifesto: Reports from 14 Countries, Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

SERRC —  July 13, 2017 — 4 Comments

Author Information: Willem Halffman, Radboud University, and Hans Radder, VU University Amsterdam,

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder, editors. “International Responses to the Academic Manifesto: Reports from 14 Countries.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, Special Report (2017): 1-76.

The PDF of the report gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:

Image credit: Simon Ingram, via flickr

Table of Contents

Report Introduction
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

1. The Wolf and the Sheep in Québec
Michel Lacroix
2. Beyond Privatization in U.S. Higher Education
Mark B. Brown
3. On the Ills of Management: The Brazilian Experience
Renato Dagnino and Marcos Barbosa de Oliveira
4. The Crisis of Japanese Academia: A Brief Report on Recent Developments
Makoto Katsumori
5. Australia: Reclaiming the Public University?
Simon Batterbury and Jason Byrne
6. On Wolves, Sheep and Shepherds: A Bosnian Comedy of Errors
Mario Hibert and Andrea Lešić-Thomas
7. Beside the Wolf There Is also a Ravenous Giant Octopus Eating Away Academic Freedom in Hungary
Anna Wessely
8. Striving for Academic Authenticity: A Slovak Position in the Context of the Academic Manifesto
Jozef Hvorecký, Emil Višňovský and Matúš Porubjak
9. Anxieties and Tensions in the Nordic Model—Finland and Scandinavia
Anita Välikangas
10. Activism over Acrimony: Not Getting Better but Getting Beyond the UK’s Research Excellence Framework
Richard Watermeyer
11. The Academic Manifesto: The Situation in Flanders
Koen Bogaert, Valerie De Craene, Anton Froeyman, Karen Stroobants and Sigrid Vertommen
12. Complutense University of Madrid and the Academic Manifesto: Common Traits of a Global Crisis in Higher Education
Eva Aladro Vico
13. Problems of the French Universities
Christophe Charle
14. The Struggle for the Public University in the Netherlands
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

The Productivist University Goes Global (and So Does Its Resistance)
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

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Report Introduction
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

In April 2015, we published our Academic Manifesto, the slightly updated English version of an earlier Dutch article (Halffman and Radder 2013, 2015a). It described how universities are occupied by management, a regime obsessed with ‘accountability’ through measurement, increased competition, efficiency, ‘excellence’, and misconceived economic salvation. Given the occupation’s absurd side-effects, we examined how this colonization of the university came about and why it still persists. Furthermore, we sketched an alternative vision of a public university, more akin to a socially engaged knowledge commons than to a corporation. We also listed twenty concrete measures to achieve this public university. From the fact that management seemed impervious to cogent arguments, we concluded that significant change could only happen if academics take action. Hence, we explored eleven different strategies for a renewed university politics.

The article seems to have raised quite a stir over the last years. We have received supportive reactions by academics from many countries. There is now a Hungarian, a Spanish, a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and a Portuguese translation, while a French translation will be published shortly (Halffman and Radder 2015b, 2015c, 2016, 2017, forthcoming). All translations have been made in the context of academic protests in their respective countries as a call to action. Finally, at the moment, the Minerva website mentions 19K downloads of the Manifesto—which is quite exceptional for this type of journal.

On our part, these facts suggested the need for a follow-up. Apparently, the problems of academia we analyzed from a Dutch perspective were not limited to the Netherlands. Therefore, it seemed important to have a more detailed view of the current predicament of higher education in a range of different countries. For this purpose, we invited several colleagues who had earlier sent us a reaction to write a brief response to the Manifesto. These responses were to address the analyses, the evaluations and the proposed solutions of the Manifesto from the national perspectives of the respondents.

The aim was threefold. First, this overview would show the international dimension of the situation and could counter attempts to dismiss our criticism by claiming that the problems are merely local and incidental. Second, it would constitute an act of international solidarity and thus serve to motivate and support further forms of resistance. Third, it could help to devise effective strategies for political action by learning from each other.

As a result, we have received the reports that can be found below. Some are relatively short, others somewhat more extended. They originate from a large number of countries: Australia, Belgium (Flanders), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada (Québec), Finland (and Scandinavia), Hungary, Japan, Spain, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States. We have added to this inventory a concise piece on what has happened in the Netherlands since we published the first version of the Manifesto in 2013. Since the reports cannot be grouped in clearly different thematic clusters, we have ordered them according to the geographical regions of the authors’ countries. We conclude this collection with a sketch of our perspective on what we call the ‘productivist university’, both on the global features and on the equally global forms of resistance that we see emerging from the fourteen country reports.


Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2013. “Het Academisch Manifest: Van een Bezette Naar een Publieke Universiteit.” Krisis: Tijdschrift Voor Actuele Filosofie (3): 2-18.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2015a. “The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University.” Minerva 53 (2): 165-187.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2015b. “A Megszállt Egyetemből Legyen Újra Közintézmény!” [In Hungarian.] Translated by Anna Wessely. Budapest Review of Books, 6 (July): 114-120.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2015c. “Akademski Manifest: Od Okupiranog dso Javnog Univerziteta.” [In Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.] Translated by Mario Hibert and Andrea Lešić. Pregled: 173-203.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2016. “Manifiesto Académico: De la Universidad Ocupada a la Universidad Pública.” [In Spanish.] Translated by Eva Aladro Vico. (To be re-published in CIC Cuadernos de Información y Comunicación, 2017).

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2017. “Manifesto Acadêmico: De uma Universidade Ocupada a uma Universidade Pública.” [In Portuguese.] Translated by Amires Cianci von Atzingen, Carlos Machado and Marcos Barbosa de Oliveira. Revista ADUSP. (60): 6- 25.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. Forthcoming. “Le Manifeste Académique.” [In French.] Translated by Michel Lacroix.

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1. Report from Québec and Canada

The Wolf and the Sheep in Québec
Michel Lacroix[1]

The Wolf is Everywhere

For a Québec university professor, reading the Academic Manifesto produces a very strong ‘worryingly familiar’ feeling. Indeed, the many-headed Wolf of management has occupied us too. One can recognize in Québec’s university system most of the symptoms of this occupation. The new regime of ‘indicator fetishism’ dominates the practices and discourses of university administrations, research grant institutions, as well as government and private funding organisations. All across the board, the pressure is on to produce ‘more’: more students in each classroom, in each education programme; more international students in every university; more publications and more research grants per scholar. The student/teacher ratio has gone up 40%, between 1995 and 2015, but the number of faculty burnouts has also been multiplied (by a factor of 6, in Laval University; see Leclerc, Bourassa and Macé 2016).

The intensity and intellectual emptiness of the competition between students, professors and institutions has reached very high levels and has created a circuit of systematic ratification of the precedent choices: most of the PhD grants go to students who received grants for their master thesis, and thus forward with the postdoctoral grants, the university jobs, all the way to the ‘Canada research chairs’, given to the previously most-funded scholars, who will then regularly receive yet more funding, for themselves and for their students. The concentration of grants in a few hands has thus engendered a very unequal academic oligopoly: 10% of the so-called elite of scholars receive as much as 80% of the grants’ money (Larivière 2013). All of this constantly devaluates teaching: the ‘true’ stars do not give more than one graduate seminar per year, the professors who have the ‘regular’ teaching load of four undergraduate courses are regarded as ‘poor fellows’, and about 50% of undergraduate courses is given by precarious lecturers. This also undermines the value of community service functions and thus the spirit of collegiality, to the point where undergraduate programme chairs, department chairs and, even more so, union officers, are considered obstacles or dead-ends for an ‘elite’ career. The Mathew Effect diagnosed by the Academic Manifesto affects Québec universities as much as the Dutch and European ones.

Here too, the deviation from the goal of preserving, transmitting and forging new knowledge, of developing critical analysis of ideas and practices, in order to compete more effectively, is based on an absurd ideology of excellence suggesting that every institution, every scholar, can and must be ‘in the top 1%’ of his domain, even as it actively aggravates structural inequalities, ‘naturalising’ them in tier systems. In the ever-increasing competition for new students, universities are building new campuses in each other’s backyards and are looking to open antennas in foreign countries. The same market-oriented logic pushes them to multiply teams for communications and international relations at every level. At the same time, the continuous governmental demands for more accountability, internalized by university administrations in their ‘new public management’ doctrine, has not diminished in the least their bureaucratic trends: more and more time and money are devoted to the production of reports (each university must send around 200 annual reports to the government). Between 1997 and 2008, the total payroll of the administrative staff has increased by 154%, three times as fast as the increase of the payroll for professors (FQPPU 2013).

The Wolf, as it has manifested itself in our universities, has two characteristics that were not described in the Manifesto. The first is the tendency of governments to put research funding at their own service, via thematic funds, which receive an ever-increasing portion of the money. While this breaches the autonomy of the academic field to choose and evaluate the relative interest of research domains, it has been much less intensely scrutinized and criticized than the funding coming from the private sector (the study by Lajoie [2009] has been severely criticized; see Gingras 2010). The second characteristic concerns the question of the ‘governance’ of the universities, or to use another language, the distribution of power inside the universities. There have been repeated efforts, from the government and the university administrations, to give more leeway to the principals and their teams, at the expense of collegiality. A projected bill, in 2009, would have given at least 60% of university boards to administrators from outside the universities. A unified opposition defeated this bill, but the struggle is still going on. In fact, in the last months, at the Université de Montréal and the Université du Québec à Montréal, two different proposals sketch new decision-making procedures with less power given to governance bodies where professors, lecturers and students are in the majority. Another aspect of administrative reforms inspired by the Wolf is the ‘budget devolution’, adopted by some universities, from the central administration towards the faculties and services. In their effects (if not in their objective), these reforms think of students as ‘revenues’ and of professors and courses as expenses, colouring most of the decisions with a strictly economic point of view.

I should also add that the student body, as organized through students unions, is in Quebec a very important force of opposition to the elitist and managerial transformation of the universities. Its strength flows and ebbs, but it can lead to massive mobilizations, as was shown in the ‘student spring’ of 2012, when a general strike against a 75% tuition fee increase lasted several months and rallied up to 300,000 students.

Despite these differences, the importance and magnitude of the similarities between the situation in Québec, the Netherlands, Europe and, I would say, North America, show that, regardless of the political, cultural or economic contexts, there is indeed a truly transnational movement towards a managerial university, based on a shared ideology, developed and made dominant by major institutions, with the benevolent help of governments. This is much more than a ‘crisis in the humanities’ (even if the humanities are the first to be targeted) or the consequence of years of government ‘austerity’. Twenty years ago, Bill Readings analysed the emergence and domination of the idea of excellence as a symptom of a globalisation movement transforming the university in a transnational commercial mall. The Academic Manifesto demonstrates that this movement has not only changed the conception of the university, but its whole fabric, from the day-to-day interactions between colleagues up to the university structures. What was still mostly a discourse in Readings’ book, has now materialized in procedures, forms, spreadsheets and burnouts.

From what a university professor from Québec can deduce from the Manifesto, it even seems that the situation has gotten worse in some European ‘national’ systems than it is here. Except for the deans, even the most stellar professors still have to teach at least one course every year; the sabbatical year is offered to every tenured teacher; the tenure is usually obtained by the vast majority, after four or five years; the universities still publish annual reports (even if their strategic plans are newspeak administrative prose devoid of any intellectual value); we have not seen any real pressure towards mergers; and the introduction of matching to finance research, while troubling, has been limited and open to ‘creative’ solutions.

The Sheep Strike Back?

There is a very important step, between the Manifesto and The University in Ruins (or the many important critiques of the managerial university, of which there were quite a few, around the time of the 2012 student strike [for instance, Baillargeon 2013; Martin and Ouellet 2011; Seymour 2013]), and this is the active research of concrete counter-attack moves. It also makes a very clear call for a transnational movement, in its conclusion: ‘Workers of all universities, unite!’ Some scholars will surely scoff at such a call to arms, even with its ‘tongue in cheek’ utopian consciousness. But this seems precisely one of the avenues that university professors, lecturers and students should examine, in order to shake off the feeling of a desperate rear guard (the village d’Astérix mentality). The study and critique of the university ‘world-system’, in its bureaucratic, elitist and mercantile guise, must not become another specialised field of study, but should engender, through networks of discussion and mobilization, an heterogeneous but combative republic of rebellious scholars. The logic of the present system (conferences, journals, seminars) could even be used against itself, to help foster an academic yet militant reflection and action.

As for the different strategies outlined in the Manifesto, some could offer important ways to achieve specific gains and build up solidarity locally. Collective refusal and collective opposition towards some administrative forms, documentation systems, or propositions, can be very useful. In my own university, they introduced a new evaluation policy, which demanded an annual, a triennial and a decennial evaluation for every program, all of them with pre-formed questions. After two years of experimentation with the annual report, in which they systematically wrote ‘nothing to declare’ to those questions, the programme directors of one department decided to stop compiling them, and stated why in the forms themselves, with copies to their colleagues in the same faculty. A few months after, the university abandoned the annual report.

The trade unions’ actions can also be very effective, depending on the local history and the legal context. At the Université du Québec à Montréal and the other branches of the Université du Québec, a collective agreement specifies the very structure of the university. This means that the administration cannot change the structure through a new collective agreement without reaching a deal with a majority of professors. Consequently, the union has a structural role in university affairs, from the process of hiring new professors to the process of creating new programs, and even concerning the overall teacher/student ratio.

Other university unions do not have this feature (some, as McGill, do not have unions, but only associations), but the possibility of a strike and the structures of collegiality still give them a say. However, even if many of the problems confronting professors in their work come from the same managerial, that is, the same ‘excellence’ ideology, most conflicts take place locally, with few echoes elsewhere. We have a provincial federation of professors (FQPPU), with a very combative spirit, which publishes well-documented studies on the state of Québec universities. One of the propositions put forward, which could hold back or even reverse the concentration of funds and prestige in fewer hands, is the provision of an annual research grant of CA$10,000 for every university professor (FQPPU 2016). However, there is no real ‘consciousness’, on the part of university professors, of what is really going on, concretely, in their colleagues’ universities. This seriously limits the possibility of a collective counter strike. The legal impossibility of a ‘social strike’ is another important constraint. Still, strikes could play an important role, in nurturing solidarity and in a structured, organized movement in favour of ‘contra-indicators’, an avenue where the expertise of many fields (labour relations, scientometrics, sociology of science, etc.) could come together. This would be even more necessary, in my view, at the international level (and could give purpose to the Education International [2017], or better still, create a Higher-Education International, since the former seems very distant and mostly focused on primary and secondary levels).


Baillargeon, Normand. 2013. Je ne Suis Pas Une PME. Montréal: Poètes de Brousse.

Education International/Internationale De L’éducation. 2017. “Education International—Latest News on Education.” Accessed March 24 2017.

FQPPU—Fédération Québécoise Des Professeurs et Professeures D’université. 2016. “Pour Une Subvention De Recherche Annuelle De Base.”

FQPPU—Fédération Québécoise Des Professeurs et Professeures D’université. 2013. “Ouvrir Ensemble Une Voie Pour L’université Québécoise.”

Gingras, Yves. 2010. “Qu’est-ce Que la Recherche Libre? Review of Vive la Recherche Libre! by Andrée Lajoie.” Recherches Sociographiques 51(1-2): 160-173.

Gingras, Yves. 2016. Bibliometrics and Research Evaluation: Uses and Abuses. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Giroux, Aline. 2006. Le Pacte faustien de L’université. Montréal: Liber.

Lajoie, Andrée. 2009. Vive la Recherche Libre! Montréal: Liber.

Larivière, Vincent. 2013. “La Concentration des Fonds de Recherche et ses Effets.” Découvrir (9).

Larivière, Vincent, Benoit Macaluso, Éric Archambault, and Yves Gingras. 2010. “Which Scientific Elites? On the Concentration of Research Funds, Publications and Citations.” Research Evaluation 19 (1): 49-53.

Leclerc, Chantal, Bruno Bourassa, and Christian Macé. 2016. “Dérives de la recherche et détresse psychologique: Une recherche qualitative.” Découvrir, no 6. Retrieved from

Martin, Éric, and Maxime Ouellet. 2011. Université Inc. Montréal: Lux.

Readings, Bill. 1997. The University in Ruins. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Seymour, Michel. 2013. Une Idée de L’université. Propositions d’un Professeur Militant. Montréal: Boréal.

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2. Report from the United States

Beyond Privatization in U.S. Higher Education
Mark B. Brown[2]

In The Academic Manifesto Willem Halffman and Hans Radder (2015) deftly summarize many of the trends that are undermining the public university in the Netherlands and beyond. They see the ‘public’ in public university not primarily as a funding source but as a guiding philosophy and purpose. Even a privately funded university, such as many of the most prestigious universities in the United States, can be ‘public’ in this sense in various ways: it educates and informs the public; it provides not only private benefits but also public goods that have social and non-market benefits; and it strives to become a self-governing community that is publicly accountable to its members and to the various broader publics that have a stake in its activities.

As a faculty member at a regional public university in California, much of Halffman and Radder’s discussion sounds very familiar. Of course, the US higher education landscape is highly differentiated and complex, and I cannot offer a comprehensive comparison to the Netherlands. Here I only want to sketch a few points that speak to the situation portrayed by Halffman and Radder.

Privatization and Managerialism

Halffman and Radder paint a dismal yet, from a U.S. perspective, largely familiar picture of the current state of higher education:

A culture of competition increasingly undermines everyday collegiality and scholarly cooperation. Faculty compete for academic positions and recognition, while universities compete for public funding, private donors, students, and star faculty.

Commercially marketable research takes priority over both undergraduate teaching and basic research.

Contingent faculty comprise the majority of the faculty and teach most of the courses. They work on short-term contracts with very low pay, low job security, few opportunities for academic research or professional development, little or no say in university governance, and an everyday lack of respect and recognition.

Students tend to see themselves as consumers who care more about campus athletic and recreation opportunities than academic quality. Facing the prospect of high debt and a precarious labour market, they see the purpose of university education not primarily in intellectual inquiry or self-understanding, but as a means for acquiring the academic credentials and professional connections for a well-paying job.

Administrators increasingly rely on citation counts and other managerial accountability mechanisms to monitor faculty performance. Such mechanisms fail to capture the social value of research and teaching, create needless busywork, and foster a culture of distrust. Administrators claim such measures decrease costs and increase efficiency, but they generally do the opposite.

Each of these problems is easy to find at colleges and universities in the United States. Since about 1980, U.S. universities have increasingly come to define higher education less as a public good than as a private business enterprise. In his recent book, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them, Christopher Newfield (2016) shows that privatization, which has become the most common response to the problems facing higher education, is actually the fundamental cause of these problems.

Privatization takes many forms in the United States: increases in student tuition and fees that effectively shift the cost of higher education from tax-payers to students and their families; outsourcing of support activities like educational technology, financial analysis, student health care, and food service to for-profit companies; increased reliance on private donors and foundations who often exert subtle (or not so subtle) influence on research and teaching; a neglect in both rhetoric and policy of the social and non-market benefits of higher education (e.g., increased public health, happiness, and problem-solving capacities); and a redefinition of students and faculty as human capital, focused on continuous self-investment for the purpose of economic security (see also Brown 2015).

Most importantly, Newfield argues, both conservatives and liberals in the U.S. tend to misunderstand the basic dynamics of university privatization. Conservatives see universities as susceptible to wasting public funds, and so they call for more managerial oversight, fiscal discipline, and an orientation toward corporate modes of governance. Liberals tend to see privatization as a necessary if regrettable response to cuts in public funding. Both mistakenly assume that there simply isn’t enough money to fund higher education as a genuine public good. And both see privatization as a way to save money, when actually it does the opposite.

Tuition increases, for example, did not begin as a response to cuts in public funding, as commonly assumed, but instead preceded such cuts. As Newfield (2016, 42) explains, ‘Public colleges and universities raised tuition about 50 per cent during the 1980s in constant dollars, and another 38 per cent in the 1990s, when real state funding actually increased slightly.’ When state legislatures learned that universities could bring in more student tuition, they were emboldened to cut public funding. Between 1990 and 2012, tuition of all colleges and universities taken together increased 297 per cent, twice the rate of health care costs. According to one recent assessment (Newfield et al. 2017), in 2016 California spent 39 per cent less per university student than fifteen years before, while student tuition and fees have more than doubled at both the University of California and California State University, and tripled at the state’s two-year community colleges.

One of the most striking and consequential changes has been an enormous shift in the makeup of the academic labour force. According to a 2014 report (AAUP 2014, Figure 1), between 1976 and 2011 there was a 369 per cent increase in full-time non-faculty professional positions (‘buyers and purchasing agents; human resources, training, and labor relations specialists; management analysts; loan counselors; lawyers; and other nonacademic workers’). Full-time non-tenure-track faculty increased 259 per cent, while tenured and tenure-track faculty grew by only 23 per cent, despite massive increases in enrolment. According to a 2016 report (AAUP 2016, 13), ‘[t]he majority (70 percent) of academic positions today are not only off the tenure track but also part time, with part-time instructional staff positions making up nearly 41 percent of the academic labor force and graduate teaching assistants making up almost another 13 percent’. The report also finds that spending on instruction at U.S. colleges and universities now makes up less than one-third of the overall higher education budget.

Under these circumstances, scepticism toward public funding for colleges and universities starts to seem entirely reasonable. Taxpayers rightly ask why they are paying for research that ends up subsidizing for-profit technology ventures with unclear public benefits. Parents rightly wonder why their children’s instructors are too overworked to provide adequate feedback on assignments, and why the most prominent professors devote so little time and effort to quality teaching (Brown 2015, 197).

Of course, public scepticism toward American universities also has other causes, including a long-standing tradition of anti-intellectualism. Many conservatives in the U.S. still see universities as bastions of sexual immorality and Marxist ideology, filled with left-wing professors intent on indoctrinating their children. In a recent speech, President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos (2017), echoed a familiar conservative theme when she said, ‘The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think’.

Finally, it is important to note a more insidious cause of public scepticism toward higher education in the U.S. From the 1950s until the 1970s, public universities were widely seen as a force for reducing inequalities of race, class, and gender. Despite serious shortcomings, the United States extended the promise of higher education to a broader cross-section of society than anywhere or any time in history. Over the past fifty years, the curriculum, the students, and (to some extent) the faculty have become far more representative of America’s demographic makeup (Newfield 2008). But the commitment to public higher education as a tool for reducing social inequality and rectifying historical injustices has gradually fallen by the wayside. In its place we have a vague liberal commitment to tolerance, pluralism, and multiculturalism, driven by an appeal to ‘inclusion’. To be sure, increased inclusion of historically marginalized groups is a major achievement, but it does not undo the accumulated effects of past injustices or eliminate racist and sexist attitudes. Indeed, while the story is complex, it is probably no accident that the white majority’s willingness to fund public universities has decreased just as the percentage of non-white students has increased.

What to Do?

Halffman and Radder (2015, 166) note that faculty critics of these developments have produced an ‘endless stream of opinion articles, lamentations, pressing letters and appeals’—and here is one more!—all with little discernible impact. And they place significant blame on themselves and their (our) fellow faculty: ‘[t]he ‘radical’ professor lectures on the French post-modernists, while using the citation panopticon to discipline the temporary staff. Critical philosophers publish sharp papers against ‘open office’ policies, but meekly conform to its introduction at their own institution. Today we publish a manifesto, tomorrow we pull the rug from under a colleague in the hope of gaining funds for a research assistant. Divide and conquer works because we all join in’ (173).

A similar message appeared in a recent piece by Kevin Birmingham (2017), the first contingent faculty member to receive a prestigious award for literary criticism at the University of Iowa.  ‘If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates’, Birmingham wrote, ‘you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation’.

Halffman and Radder go on to list a series of potential resistance strategies, ranging from foot dragging and clerical sabotage to protests, strikes, and political advocacy. In many respects, the U.S. is ground zero of neoliberal privatization, and recent developments offer little cause for optimism in this regard. But there are also many promising examples of effective advocacy for the values and institutions of public higher education.

Perhaps the biggest change in recent years has been increased public awareness about contingent faculty. There have been numerous high-profile media reports about the dismal working conditions of contingent faculty (e.g. Fredrickson 2015). Contingent faculty have promoted their interests through research and advocacy groups like the New Faculty Majority (2017), the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (2017), the Delphi Project (2017), the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour (2017), and the AAUP (2016). And on many campuses, contingent faculty have won small but significant gains in pay, benefits, job security, and participation rights in academic self-governance.

Many faculty labour unions in the U.S. have been highly engaged and effective advocates for the values of public higher education in general, and for contingent faculty in particular. Halffman and Radder write that trade unions at Dutch universities tend to only represent established professors, not contingent faculty. At the University of California, the reverse is the case, and the labour union for contingent faculty (UCAFT) has won pay raises and benefits, rights for due process in hiring, and a minimal amount of job security for faculty who have taught six years or more. At California State University, where I teach, the faculty union (CFA) represents both tenure-line and contingent faculty. Across the country, many contingent faculty have become unionized in recent years through the efforts of the Service Employees International Union’s Faculty Forward campaign. According to a recent report (Herbert 2016), since 2012 there has been a 25.9 per cent increase in faculty unions at private universities, and a 2.1 per cent increase at public universities. And faculty unionization has clear benefits: contingent faculty with union representation have an average of 25% higher pay (Flaherty 2013).

Finally, student activism seems to be on the rise, and it has the potential to transform the debate on higher education. Of course, some commentators have ridiculed today’s students as the anxious and fragile children of anxious and overly protective parents (Lukianoff and Haidt 2015). Today’s students, they say, demand coddling from college faculty and administrators in the form of speech codes, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and systems for reporting micro-aggression and other forms of disrespect toward women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable identities. But such assessments exaggerate selected high profile cases, and they neglect considerable counter-evidence.

Surveys show that high percentages of today’s students are deeply involved in political causes of all kinds. For example, a 2015 survey (Eagan et al. 2015) at UCLA found that about 9 per cent of first-year students (and 16 per cent of first-year black students) said there is a ‘very good chance’ they will participate in a campus protest while in college. About 22 per cent said that influencing the political structure is ‘very important’ or ‘essential’. And over 40 per cent said it is ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ to promote racial understanding, influence social values, and become informed about political affairs.

During the past decade, thousands of American students have become involved in political campaigns of all kinds, including the student anti-sweatshop movement, campaigns against sexual assault, the campaign to push universities to divest from fossil fuels, and protests against racism and sexism on campus. At my own university, the Students for Quality Education have been fighting for truly public higher education since 2007.

It’s time more of us joined the struggle.


AAUP—American Association of University Professors. 2014. “Losing Focus: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. 2013-14.”

AAUP—American Association of University Professors. 2016. “Higher Education at a Crossroads: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2015-16.”

Birmingham, K. 2017. “The Great Shame of Our Profession: How the Humanities Survive on Exploitation.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12.

Brown, W. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.

Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour. 2017. “About COCAL.”

Coalition on the Academic Workforce. 2017. “Coalition on the Academic Workforce.”

Delphi Project. 2017. “The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success.”

DeVos, B. 2017. “U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Prepared Remarks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference, February 23, U.S. Department of Education.”

Eagan, K., E. B. Stolzenberg, A. K. Bates, M. C. Aragon, M. R. Suchard, and C. Rios-Aguilar. 2015. The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2015. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.

Flaherty, C. 2013. “Union Raises for Adjuncts.” Inside Higher Ed, July 26.

Fredrickson, C. 2015. “There is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts.” The Atlantic, September 15.

Halffman, W., and H. Radder. 2015. “The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University.” Minerva 53 (3), 165–187.

Herbert, W. A. 2016. “The Winds of Changes Shift: An Analysis of Recent Growth in Bargaining Units and Representation Efforts in Higher Education.” Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy 8 (December).

Lukianoff, G., and J. Haidt. 2015. “The Coddling of the American Mind.” The Atlantic (September).

New Faculty Majority. 2017. “Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.”

Newfield, C. 2008. Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Newfield, C. 2016. The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and how We Can Fix Them. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Newfield, C., C. Hansen, J. Polansky, E. Hays, A. Hines-Shaikh, and S. A. Glantz. 2017. “The $48 fix: Reclaiming California’s Master Plan for higher education.” Berkeley, CA: Reclaim California Higher Education. 48dollars.

Newfield, C., C. Hansen, J. Polansky, E. Hays, A. Hines-Shaikh, and S. A. Glantz. 2017. “The $48 fix: Reclaiming California’s Master Plan for higher education.” Berkeley, CA: Reclaim California Higher Education. 48dollars.

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3. Report from Brazil

On the Ills of Management: The Brazilian Experience
Renato Dagnino and Marcos Barbosa de Oliveira[3]

To put things in a proper perspective, it must be said at the start that higher education in Brazil is provided by a private as well as a public sector. The private sector is by far the largest, catering for about 75% of the students. With a few honourable exceptions, which are always mentioned, in private universities practically no research is done. They are not universities in the proper sense of the term, which applies only to institutions that have research as one of their prime functions. Strictly speaking, they do not belong in academia, and hence, will be considered here only in one respect, to wit in connection with the dissimilarities between the situations in the Netherlands and in Brazil; all other considerations will refer only to the public sector. But first the similarities.

The main similarity is that in Brazil, as in the Netherlands, the spirit of management prevails, with most of its features: the predominance of ideologically biased quantitative over qualitative evaluations, the intense productivist pressure, the exacerbated competition, the overvaluation of published papers to the detriment of books, and other forms of production, especially teaching activities, the greater value placed on publications in English, in relation to those published in other languages (including, obviously, Portuguese), the fetishism of indicators, particularly the impact factor and the h-index, the assumption that raising global university rankings is the prime aim of academic administration, the stress on innovation as the purpose of scientific research, etc.

The deleterious side-effects of management methods, which make the administration so dysfunctional, are also the same: damage to academics’ quality of life, health problems due to stress caused by competitive pressures, occasionally leading to burnout cases, overproduction of papers, with the accompanying fall in quality, increase in the frequency of cases of misconduct (falsification and fabrication of data, plagiarism, duplicate publication, etc.), erosion of the concept of authorship, lack of time and energy for academics to reflect on their work, and to practice the social responsibility of science and scholarship, etc.

The final item of the list in the last but one paragraph deserves a special mention. Around the year 2000, a vigorous drive was initiated in Brazil to promote innovationism, meaning the establishment of the production of innovations as the prime objective of scientific research, an innovation being defined as an invention that can be adopted by a firm, thereby increasing its profits. The drive involves a large number of measures, like the favouring, by funding agencies, of projects with a potential to generate profitable applications, the incentivizing of joint projects between universities and firms, the realization of campaigns to foster the ‘culture of innovation’, the increase in the value attributed to the obtaining of patents in the evaluation of researchers, etc. The inescapable conclusion, based on official statistics, is that this whole mobilization has been a complete failure. This is not the place to expand on the causes of the failure. What can be said briefly is that it results from the uncritical adoption of policies of the metropolis, without taking into account the differences in the structure of the economy, between the countries of the metropolis and Brazil. The negative side effect in this case is the waste of resources, and the lack of consideration of other possible functions for scientific research, not necessarily dependent on the market.

Now the dissimilarities. The central figure in the Manifesto is the many-headed Wolf of management, which has occupied academia ‘with a mercenary army of professional administrators’. In Brazil (as well as in other Latin American countries), the agents are not professional administrators, but former or practising academics themselves; not a mercenary army but, one may say, a fifth column, drawn from the higher strata of the hierarchy, mostly in the domain of hard sciences. Not only that, but in a considerable proportion of cases, in the Ministry responsible for science and technology, in analogous organs (secretarias) in each state, and in the research financing agencies the top posts are also occupied by academics—at that level, mostly former academics. Their adoption of the spirit of management is not due to pressures from the government, or the private sector, or from society at large; it is basically the result of an uncritical imitation, often a caricature, of the practices in the metropolis. The first move that may be interpreted as a step in the direction of putting professional managers in charge of the administration is a contract signed by University of São Paulo (our largest and most important public university) and McKinsey & Company, the well-known management consulting firm. The contract entrusted McKinsey with a project aiming at ‘the creation of a fund-raising model, and the improvement of the administration and financial management’ of the university, and ‘the strengthening of the relation of the university with society and the productive sector [meaning, private firms]’.

The second dissimilarity has to do with the competition for students among universities. In Brazil, the higher education provided by the private sector has to be paid by the students; in the public sector, by a constitutional provision education at all levels (with a few exceptions, in the form of master’s degree courses) is free. Another crucial difference is that at the higher level, the education provided by public universities is of much better quality (whatever the criteria used) than that of the private ‘universities’. The result is that in the public sector the demand is always bigger than the supply on offer, and the entrance examinations are very selective. Competition for students, and all the marketing strategies that go with it, are restricted to the private sector.

The reaction to the advances of management by members of the academic community not involved in administration has been feeble. Among old-timers, the dissatisfaction with the new methods, especially the productivist, quantitative forms of evaluation, is quite strong, but manifests itself only in private conversations. The newcomers, on the other hand, start their careers already fully adapted to the spirit of management, which they conceive in a completely naturalized way, as a fact of academic life. Moreover, the ‘publish or perish’ pressure leaves everybody with little time and energy to reflect on the meaning of their work and about the system. It thus acts as an addictive drug, which is not only harmful, but affects the cognitive faculties, preventing the users to recognize its ills. The only concerted action against management is that of lecturers’ trade unions. In that connection, it is worth mentioning that the periodical published by Adusp (the lecturers’ association of University of São Paulo, affiliated to the national trade union) has a thematic number concerning productivism, which contains a Portuguese translation of the Academic Manifesto (number 60 of Revista da Adusp).

As regards the possibilities of changing things for the better, it must be recognized that the situation recently has got worse, due to the severe economic crisis Brazil is going through. The austerity programme adopted by the right-wing government that took power after the parliamentary coup that removed President Dilma Rousseff from office, involves drastic cuts in the financing of scientific research and the universities. For instance, compared to the peak year of 2013, the funds provided to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications suffered a reduction of 40%. There are some dramatic cases, like that of the State University of Rio de Janeiro which, due to absolute lack of resources, has not so far managed to conclude the second academic semester of last year, as it was then interrupted by a strike. In this situation, the academic community concentrates its energies on fighting the cuts (by means of manifestoes and pronouncements by the leadership of the academic societies—so far with little effect) and on adapting to the imposed penury. While the crisis persists, little energy is left to deal with the occupation by management.

The last paragraph was written in February 2017. On March the 30th, the government decreed a further slash of 44% to the federal science budget. The scientific community is getting desperate. In the words of Luiz Davidovich, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the new budget is ‘an atomic bomb strike on Brazilian science’ (Nature, 3/3/2017).

All things considered, we hold this follow-up to the Academic Manifesto to be an important move in the struggle against the advances of management, and in favour of truly public universities. Moreover, given that, as we have indicated, the spirit of management arrived in Brazil by a process of imitation, we believe that the internationalization of the struggle is actually more important to us than to the Netherlands and the other developed countries.


Barbosa de Oliveira, M. 2013. “On the Commodification of Science: The Programmatic Dimension.” Science & Education 22 (10): 2463-2483.

Barbosa de Oliveira, M. 2014. “Technology and Basic Science: The Linear Model of Innovation.” Scientiae Studia 12 (Special Issue): 129-146.

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4. Report from Japan

The Crisis of Japanese Academia: A Brief Report on Recent Developments
Makoto Katsumori [4]

The current problems of academia, as critically analysed by Willem Halffman and Hans Radder in their Academic Manifesto, seem to be mostly common to the situation in Japan as well. A series of structural changes introduced to Japanese universities during the last couple of decades may be seen as part of the worldwide neoliberal restructuring of academic systems. At the same time, however, there also seem to be some features specific to the Japanese situation. It is noteworthy, in particular, that the national government, specifically the education ministry (officially ‘the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’), plays a central role in imposing reforms on universities—reforms that, under the guise of promoting the autonomy of universities, are in fact designed further to strengthen the government’s control of them. In this brief review, I will largely limit myself to an ‘almost journalistic description’ of such recent developments that seriously affect academic life in Japan.

A major turning point came in 2004, when all Japanese national universities were ‘incorporated’, that is, given the status of ‘national university corporations’. This incorporation, which was ostensibly to enhance the ‘independence and autonomy’ of each university (MEXT 2003), has actually functioned in a contrary manner. With this incorporation, the ‘operational grant’ from the education ministry, which constituted the largest source of revenue for national universities (about 48% of their total revenue in fiscal year 2004), began to be cut back by 1% annually (see Oba 2006). This reduction of the operational grant was coupled with the introduction and expansion of various kinds of funds that are selectively allocated on a competitive basis. Moreover, in due course, the operational grant itself assumed a competitive character, that is, became allocated according to the universities’ performance as regularly subjected to ‘third-party evaluation’. This set of mechanisms has worked as an enormous pressure on the universities to reorganize themselves in full compliance with the government’s intent. In this way, as pointed out by a number of critics, the incorporation of national universities has helped intensify their state control, which serves to reorient academic activity increasingly toward the managerial logic of efficiency and measurability combined with perpetual competition.

The incorporation of national universities has also involved measures to reinforce the hierarchical power structure within the university. Particularly, under the new system, the university president is no longer elected by vote of academic staff members, but selected by a committee consisting of a handful of internal representatives and external experts (even though the votes by staff members may be ‘taken into consideration’); and the university’s decision-making is no longer based on a collegial system, but on a regime centred on the president and the board of directors (see Oba 2006). In this way, while the government officially speaks of the enhanced autonomy of the university under the president’s strong leadership, the new governance system of national universities has in fact effectively helped the government to control the universities through the presidents’ power to override internal dissent.

In this new institutional setting, there have recently been some further developments concerning Japanese academia. In 2014, driven by the right-wing Abe administration, two education laws relevant to university governance were revised. Specifically, the revision of the School Education Law, which concerns not only national, but all universities, has considerably restricted the academic staff members’ right to deliberate on matters concerning the university. Faculty senates, consisting of all or a large part of full-time teachers, until then had the right to discuss major matters regarding the university, including those related to management and administration, although, as noted above, final decision-making at national universities had already been centralized in the hands of the president. The revised School Education Law stipulates, however, that faculty senates discuss matters concerning ‘teaching and research’, and that they ‘express opinions’ on these matters provided that the president considers it necessary (MEXT 2014).

One of the ‘pioneering’ steps to realize this new mode of governance was taken by my own Akita University, a national university located in northeast Japan. Earlier in 2014—shortly before the revision of the School Education Law—Akita University, strongly backed by the government, opened a new college named the Faculty of International Resource Sciences. In this Faculty, most academic staff members were to be systematically excluded from the discussion of basic university issues, which was almost entirely left to newly established ‘councils’ consisting of a few executive members as well as members from other universities and private business. This new system of governance, completely devoid of faculty autonomy and academic freedom, was on the surface voluntarily designed and proposed by the university itself, but with the aim of obtaining an additional subsidy from the government. As expected, the system was highly praised by government and business circles as a model to be followed by other universities. Shortly after the revision of the School Education Law, Akita University again took the lead in extending the new governance system to the whole university, though not to a full degree in the face of resistance from part of the academic staff and the labour union.

In 2015, the education ministry issued a notice to national universities which called on them to restructure their humanities and social science faculties as well as their teacher-training faculties: national universities should ‘take active steps to abolish these organizations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs’. This move sparked a wave of protest among academia and mass media, and was reported critically by overseas media as well. Specifically, the presidents of some national universities expressed their intention not to comply with the above request, and the Science Council of Japan criticized the education ministry’s disregard for the humanities and social sciences and its narrow view of ‘society’s needs’ (The Science Council of Japan 2015). Faced with these adverse reactions, the education ministry verbally moderated their stance, saying that they by no means neglected the humanities or social sciences and did not intend to force the universities to scrap these areas. As pointed out by some critics, the public reaction to the ministry’s notice was partly occasioned by sensational media coverage, which gave rise to the impression that the government had suddenly moved to abolish faculties considered socially useless (Yoshimi 2016). Actually, much the same request was already made earlier by the ministry, and, more essentially, the same logic was already built into the government’s overall university policy since the 2004 incorporation of national universities. That is, the institutional setting of incorporated national universities—particularly the uneven resource distribution based on the evaluation of achievements—has systematically worked to the detriment of social science and especially the humanities, which are generally far less suited than natural-scientific fields to produce short-term measurable or quantifiable outcomes. Under these circumstances, a number of national universities have already taken steps to scale back the humanities or social science faculties and/or to close down some humanities-related departments in the teacher-training faculties. In this way, Japanese academia today, especially areas considered less useful and profitable, find themselves in an unprecedented serious crisis (see Muroi 2015).

To be sure, as may be seen from the description so far, recent developments concerning Japanese universities are not entirely without internal dissent or public criticism. Unfortunately, however, there has been no major resistance powerful enough to help reorient the overall situation, and we can hardly have prospects for such resistance in the near future. This seems to be partly due to people’s obedience and conformism ingrained in Japanese society, including academia, and also because the logic of efficiency and managerial control has become partly internalized by not a few academics themselves. I personally refuse as far as possible to cooperate with systems of control introduced one after another (such as the evaluation and self-evaluation of individual academic staff members), and, on certain occasions, join hands with some colleagues to raise a protest, but always find it difficult to appeal to the ‘silent majority’ to question or challenge the imposed norms. Under these circumstances, international exchange and dialogue occasioned and stimulated by the Academic Manifesto are all the more valuable, as they provide us with a broader perspective needed for our continued critical engagement with the situation.


MEXT [the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology]. 2003. “FY2003: White Paper on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.”

MEXT [the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology]. 2003. “FY2003: White Paper on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.”

MEXT. 2014. “Gakkō Kyōiku hō Oyobi Kokuritsu Daigaku Hōjin hō no Ichibu wo Kaisei Suru Hōritsu.”

Muroi, Hisashi. 2015. Bunkei Gakubu Kaitai [The Disbandment of Humanities Faculties]. Tokyo: Kadokawa.

Oba, Jun. 2006. “Incorporation of National Universities in Japan and its Impact Upon Institutional Governance.”

The Science Council of Japan. 2015. “Korekara no Daigaku no Arikata ni Kansuru Giron ni Yosete.”

Yoshimi, Shun’ya. 2016. Bunkei Gakubu Haishi’ no Shōgeki [The Impact of ‘Scrapping Humanities Faculties’]. Tokyo: Shūeisha.

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5. Report from Australia

Australia: Reclaiming the Public University?
Simon Batterbury and Jason Byrne[5]

In their provocative article, Halffman and Radder discuss the Kafkaesque worlds that academics in the Netherlands now find themselves in, as an underfunded university sector predates upon itself and its workforce (2015, 165-166). Their Academic Manifesto observes that many universities in the Netherlands have been ‘taken over’ by an ‘army of professional administrators’, who use managerialist approaches to drive performance-based objectives. The country’s tertiary institutions, they write, have become obsessively focused on ‘accountability’ and pursue neoliberal-style imperatives of ‘efficiency and excellence’. They paint a portrait of academics under siege, untrusted, and constantly micro-managed. The pursuit of so-called efficiency has involved accountability systems that are themselves wasteful, driving seemingly endless institutional restructuring. Moreover, institutions, the authors claim, have become obsessed with star-performers in research, driven by competitive targets that undergird global rankings. Metrics—publication outputs, journal quality, citations, impact and grant revenue—produce a culture of competition and sometimes, mercenary behaviours, on the part of academics and managers.

Profound changes across the tertiary sector are seen in many other countries, as this collection identifies. Many of these can be traced to shifting patterns of university funding. In the OECD countries, over the last thirty years, public higher education has been reconceived as a commodity (Watts 2016). As a result, students are now the clients, academics are customer-service providers and income earners, and many public universities have become businesses in all but name (Connell 2013). Against this backdrop, Halffman and Radder (2015) point to six major changes that have reconfigured tertiary education:

    • (i) Processes of benchmarking, auditing, and ‘indicator fetishism’ (e.g. targets, quotas);


    • (ii) A new landscape of competition (e.g. competition for students, research and teaching funding, ‘star’ professors etc.);


    • (iii) The casualization of university workforces and more unpaid work;


    • (iv) Multiple layers of management and administration, with increasing overheads in grant administration, and public relations, marketing, student support etc.;


    • (v) A relentless pursuit of excellence—however defined, and


    (vi) Standardisation—in curricula, learning objectives, workload models, grant templates and personnel management.

These changes in the Netherlands have led to a system that is isolating, anonymous, bureaucratised and universalising, scaffolded by ambition, greed, incompetence and a constant quest for efficiencies and more status. While there may be beacons of light, they are heavily shielded in the article, which makes for depressing reading. Halffman and Radder’s provocation prompts two questions, to which we will try to respond: How does Australia compare? And what can Australian universities and their staff do?

Similarities and Differences

Tertiary institutions in Australia have experienced similar changes over thirty years. There have been funding cuts, a re-prioritization of higher education, and for academics, new performance-based research and teaching assessment metrics. As academics who have worked in Australia for over a decade, and with past experience in the United States and the United Kingdom, we have encountered the same issues. One of us was based at a ‘world top 40’ university, one of Australia’s oldest and best-resourced, and the other teaches at one of Australia’s leading universities in a tier of institutions that are less than 50 years old. Confronting different challenges, both institutions have experienced staff retrenchments, departmental reorganisation, bureaucratic systems of management, and externally-imposed targets.

Australia has several universities that are recognised globally, and a relatively highly educated population (ranking higher than average among OECD countries [OECD 2017]). It has been relatively untouched so far by recent international debacles beginning to affect higher education, such as immigration restrictions under the Trump Presidency in the USA, Brexit in the United Kingdom, major security threats, or financial meltdown in some European nations. Australia actually entered the 2007 Global Financial Crisis with a budget surplus. Its national governments tend to the right, viewed historically at federal level, and are voted in by a predominantly suburban population. International students are keen to study in Australia, and until strong immigration restrictions, also had a good possibility of staying in the country if they wished. Many of the problems we identify can be traced to the contemporary functioning of universities as market institutions, with diminished public funding. The national government is not keen on supporting the costs of a large university sector, even though student participation rates have increased substantially.

Tertiary Education Reforms

From 1974 (under the Whitlam Labor government) until the late 1980s, attending university in Australia was free or at nominal cost. Higher education was viewed as an important part of nation-building, to develop a competitive workforce, even framed as a ‘right’. However, in 1987, universities began to implement student fees, and within the next two years began charging full fees. Under the Dawkins Reforms (Sharrock 2013), the Hawke Labor government introduced legislation to enable students to take out interest-free loans via a Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). These loans were repaid through income taxes, after a critical earnings threshold was crossed later in life. This is the situation today.

The Dawkins Reforms also restructured a two-tier sector of 19 universities and 46 colleges /institutes into a ‘unified’ sector, with close to 40 public universities—many created through mergers. Remaining technical and further education institutions (TAFE) were funded by state governments. These reforms also spurred an increase in international student recruitment, since they paid higher fees. Universities began to compete for Federal research funding—based on their performance and success in meeting national social and economic objectives. The Australian Research Council (ARC) dates to 1988 (independent from 2001), and still awards competitive research grants.

A raft of further reforms saw the growing dominance of free-market principles from the early 1990s. A demand-driven funding system was introduced by the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments in 2009. This was based on the Bradley Review (Dow and Kempner 2010) of higher education in 2008, which recommended higher enrolment targets—by 2025 the aim is for 40% of 25-34 year-olds to have a university degree (with a focus on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). The Review also reallocated Commonwealth (federal)-funded student places, based on demand, and established a Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to regulate teaching quality.

The ambition was for universities to reorient degrees to focus more on ‘skills development’, purportedly to meet the needs of the contemporary global economy. In 2014, a Higher Education Bill was narrowly voted down—it would have allowed universities to be ‘deregulated’, to charge what they saw fit—currently domestic student fees are capped. Universities Australia, the peak university management body, actually supported the 2014 Bill, to the dismay of students. There was only one dissenter—the Vice Chancellor of the small University of Canberra, Stephen Parker, who deemed unregulated fees to be unethical and unfair (Parker 2014). But in 2017, there are new government proposals to raise student contributions to fees, cut government funding for teaching, introduce new performance criteria, and sharpen loan repayment conditions.

Raewyn Connell (2013, 2015) traces much of the financial and bureaucratic measures in Australia back to the Dawkins reforms of the 1980s. She argues that after redesigning the tertiary sector in the ways described above,

[t]he next step was to find someone else to pay [for funding education], and a neoliberal solution was at hand: fees. The federal government share of university funding began an astonishing collapse, from around 90 percent of university budgets at the start of the 1990s to around 45 percent now. Student fees have risen, decade after decade, to compensate. (Connell 2015, 24)

The results are striking. For example, an international PhD student at the University of Melbourne will pay around AU$36,000 (€24,555) per year in 2017 (discounting is discretionary), an international Science undergraduate AU$39,680 (€27,065), and AU$29,728 (€20,277) in Arts. At Griffith, an Arts student would pay at least AU$26,500 (€18,075). These fees, some of which are a little lower that equivalent public US universities, are not profit-making or greedy—they are essential. Institutions have to cross-subsidise their research and teaching using revenue from international and other fee-paying students. The high Australian dollar and difficulty in sustaining international enrolments make this a difficult task.

The obvious solution, as Connell (2015) argues, is to fund universities adequately from public funds, with suitable checks and balances, given this is an affluent nation in which universities play a vital economic role. But no government has chosen this route since the 1980s, and government funding has not even kept up with inflation. Budgeting pressures cascade down to academics and professional staff. Universities, caught up in the New Public Management with its ‘metrification of ‘quality’’ obsession (Lorenz 2015, 7) now vie to outcompete each other, and to attract domestic and international students based on their reputations. Australian universities have fully embraced international university rankings. Vice-Chancellors and university marketing machines are quick to publicise any improvements (online, and around the campus). Reputations are buttressed by spending on campus infrastructure (even if this is at the expense of more personnel), such as dining and recreational facilities, on-campus accommodation and so on. Some of these generate needed revenue. Capital expansion is in part to accommodate more students, but ‘quality’ of facilities and ‘student experience’ count towards rankings, thus meeting costs through enrolments.

The Wolf in Australia

Most (or a significant percentage of) academics are on some form of permanent or multi-year contracts. Most are paid adequate salaries because they are a skilled workforce and potential revenue earners. With the decline in core public funding, income generation has become just as essential as generating ‘knowledge’ and ideas, and it is a feature of annual performance evaluations at most universities. Furthermore, there is no academic tenure, which makes retrenchment possible if finances are tight (for a debate on tenure, see Batterbury 2008). The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) represents and fights to protect academics and professional staff, through collective bargaining agreements at each institution. These are hard-won. The NTEU has become increasingly important as universities have sought to respond to fiscal austerity by tightening budgets, retrenching staff, switching to online course delivery and converting the workforce to a higher percentage of (cheaper) sessional teachers and researchers, on short-term contracts. Sessional lecturers are probably doing up to half of all teaching in Australia, although figures are not available (Connell 2015). Thanks to the NTEU, the hourly rates for teaching, marking and tutorial work are generally good (much better than in North America), but as in the Netherlands and other countries, sessional academics can become trapped, with massive teaching loads and little time for their own research.

Neoliberal management has ushered in a tier of highly paid executives, suggesting cost savings are not equally distributed. Vice Chancellors (Presidents) of Australian universities now receive annual salaries of up to AU$ 1 million (€709,100). They are supported by layers of management—Deputy Vice Chancellors, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Deans, Assistant Deans and Heads of School, with salaries from around AU$200,000 to almost AU$500,000. The situation varies across the sector but the irony of an over-paid echelon of managers telling overworked academics to ‘work smarter’ is not lost on academic and professional staff. As funding dries up, class sizes increase, teaching loads blow out, bureaucratic processes multiply and colleagues become retrenched or leave due to high rates of stress, anxiety and depression, why should millions be paid to management? Disputes over working conditions have yet to translate into large-scale strikes and protests—in part, because poor pay is less of an issue for the cohort of permanent academic staff than in some other countries.

Another feature of cost reduction is ‘restructuring’. This is less visible in the top-ranked universities (the Group of Eight). It is not always successful. At La Trobe University in the early 2010s, a large reduction in humanities and social sciences staffing was retracted after protest and strong action (Bode and Dale 2012). Professor Judith Bessant’s firing at RMIT University, Melbourne, was a test case of line-management power—it was overturned in the courts which found RMIT contravened the Fair Work Act, and it did not appeal (Bessant 2015). But both of us have experienced departmental and broader faculty reshuffles, regularly losing and gaining colleagues, degrees and facilities under a new ‘Business Plan’ each time. In the younger universities, some Departments have been merged into super-departments, folded into larger Schools, which sit within Faculties—each requiring oversight from a managerial class but saving on administrative posts. Research and teaching are bifurcated in some cases, where teaching is managed by Heads of School and Deans, and research by Research Centre Directors. This creates further layers of bureaucracy and fragmentation, although there are exceptions. Melbourne has created a single School of Geography for research and teaching, but only after a whole Faculty (Land and Environment) was axed and merged into two others.

Because the academics function as an income-earning resource, the professional staff are usually the first to suffer during budget shortfalls. Across the sector, Australian universities have cut functions like student support to the bone. For example, the Business Improvement Program at the University of Melbourne (2013-2016) was announced on the back of a financial shortfall. Some 540 administrative jobs were targeted for termination by 1 January 2016 (Fioritti and See-Tho 2014). We do not know how many actually went, but many people lost work, reapplied in competition with each other for fewer jobs, and functions were moved online (Campbell and Morrissey 2015). Griffith University has had rounds of retrenchments, redundancies and ‘voluntary early retirements’. Student centres at both universities and across the country, once numerous and offering personalised support for enrolments and other queries, have been downsized or replaced, in one of our institutions by AI-based ‘helplines’ such as IBM Watson. Remaining human support has been centralised and therefore reduced. IT support has also become centralised, or outsourced, with substantial job losses and oftentimes, marginal financial benefits. Mailrooms have closed, various systems automated and linked to smart phone apps, and marketing and school outreach have been consolidated and centralised. The aim is to save salary costs. Efficiency has resulted in some areas, but oftentimes with higher workloads of those remaining, and substantially less human contact and therefore conviviality.

The two universities we know best have followed different routes. Melbourne is a well-ranked university and oversubscribed with student applicants. The most pervasive result of New Public Management at Melbourne is struggles over how their fees are allocated. Faculties are given financial targets, and must meet them. But for several years now, faculties have been in competition with each other to ‘capture’ student fees. There are ‘ownership’ disputes for classes and whole degrees, with fears of ‘fee leakage’ to other faculties. This does affect student choice, often narrowing most ‘elective’ classes on a degree to those taught in the most central faculty. Arguing over undergraduate degree ‘ownership’ has continued since a major restructuring took place in the mid-2000s, the ‘Melbourne Model’. An Academic Board adjudicates, but a new degree was established in 2017, with the majority of fees accruing to one faculty, more so than the one it has essentially replaced.

At Griffith, a range of degree offerings have been consolidated into larger units—such as a generic Bachelor of Science. Similar to Melbourne faculties are becoming concerned about leaking student load and income. Unlike Melbourne, Griffith is often forced to manage its entry scores to attract enough students to ‘meet quota’. Academics then have to support and scaffold student learning, when a growing number of students (often from non-traditional backgrounds), may lack adequate study skills. This has increased rates of attrition, which are closely monitored by management, and has placed an additional burden on academics to change their assessments and course delivery mode, offer improved student experiences, follow up students with one-on-one meetings, and undertake other ‘pastoral care’ efforts to maximise retention. Much of this is attributable to the ‘permanent competition’ in the sector identified by Halffman and Radder (2015).

Individual Performance Metrics

Faculty are now seeing quantified, individual performance targets. These are relatively recent. They can apply to publications, ‘grant capture’ and even evaluation of teaching. Targets are a feature of the commercial world too, and always cause stress. Individual performance could be managed much more sympathetically and more supportively without hard targets, and through regular feedback. Hard targets mean in the last instance, noncompliant individuals can be sanctioned or retrenched. Research success is now defined as much by winning Nationally Competitive Grants and ‘soft-money’ consultancy contracts—as by publications. ARC or the medical NHMRC grants are hard to get with success rates below 15% for several disciplines (ARC Discovery: 17.8%, 2017 [ARC 2017a]; NHMRC project grants 2016: 15.2%). Those who win them can insulate themselves against higher teaching loads, which are often borne by early-career academics or those deemed not to be so research active. ‘Grant capture’ and publications in top-ranked journals with high impact factors, also sway hiring and promotion decisions—much more so than teaching excellence or public outreach (no matter that a grant is nothing more than an input—money to conduct research, not an output, and some researchers have little need of them).

Doing research cheaply is not rewarded at all (Martin 2011)! Neither is publishing ethically and cheaply—open access and outside the commercial publishers that are crippling university library budgets. Taking many years to produce a stellar edited volume, for example, without top journal articles, is punished because this does not win the university sufficient points during national research excellence appraisals (ARC 2017b). In their worst forms, injunctions on input and output are close to being breaches of academic freedom, and they have worsened significantly over the last decade. Critics like Lorenz argue that ‘professions need professional autonomy in order to function properly and [that] quantified control makes this impossible’ (2015, 7).

Teaching is also subject to scrutiny and performance metrics—adding to stress. Oversight of quality is needed, but The Australian Quality Framework has standardised curricula. ‘Learning outcomes’ are now driving assessment. These are required in course profiles, which are contracts between academics and students for service delivery. Academics are assessed annually by centrally administered, mandatory student performance evaluations of both teaching and course experiences, as happens in many countries. Repeated failure to achieve teaching evaluation targets can have some effect on promotion and job prospects—even though international literature cautions that numerical values cannot be used to assess ‘quality’ (Stark 2013).

Internal support for research and conference attendance has dropped at the institutions we know. An automatic right to a research sabbatical is now rare. Academics are expected (or forced) to undertake a good deal of research work outside a 40 hour week—yet are exhorted to have a good work-life balance. Those encountering stress and depression are given little sympathy, typically told to telephone an outsourced counselling helpline and to access three free sessions of counselling per year.

All of this might be bearable if there was sympathy, opposition and protest by the university workforce. Constant struggle against inequity and pressure is materially and symbolically important, and a key feature of healthy workplaces. But many Australian academics, and professional staff, remain silent. Actual dissent is muted as people worry about the implications of dissent. Hope lies with the ‘stars’—the full professors whose services are too good or too lucrative to lose. But even there, collective action is rare. Many professors are not accustomed to such struggles, and sadly they may share some of the values of the management—their success is, after all, because they achieved the required targets or because they were fortunate enough to have climbed the food chain before the structural reforms to tertiary education really began to bite.

Many senior academics reproduce exhortations to staff to publish in top journals, obtain grants, and boost departmental success. Yet there are plenty of examples of ‘top academics’ and executive-level managers being unable to achieve the same key performance indicators as the lowly staff they harass and cajole. In addition, if they were those on ‘normal salaries, who prioritise intellectual content and public interest over reputation’ (Halffman and Radder 2015, 176), then perhaps they would be more likely to side with their overworked colleagues. This would solve many issues with one stroke.


In sum, many of Halffman and Radder’s (2015) points ring true in Australia. But academics are not yet under desperate siege in our better-funded universities, even if restructuring and the quest for even higher rankings has been onerous. There are many clusters of decent, hardworking and convivial people that socialise together and even have time for some blue-sky thinking and research. Australia has many foreign academics that still find its universities much better, and more tolerant, than those in their own countries. But many others are hunkered down, trying to meet the next target or deadline, and it is our belief that this is more and more common as performance metrics and rankings have taken on greater importance. It is mid- to lower-salary professional staff, predominantly women, who have suffered the most.

As the British Athena-Swan gender equality accreditation system (SAGE 2017) reaches Australia, these and other issues are beginning to be scrutinised. Herculean efforts have kept teaching quality good enough to continue to attract students, but perhaps too many of them, and certainly with fees that are already high when cost of living is taken into account. In the mid-to-lower ranked institutions, academic life can be become almost unbearable. There is widespread burnout, high staff turnover, low morale, and some departmental closures and retrenchments. Again there are exceptions and clusters of goodwill, but the structural conditions of persistent underfunding can easily close them down.

We concur with most of Halffman and Radder’s (2015) Manifesto of twenty points to alleviate the pain of neoliberal university bureaucracy and its unethical outcomes. But Australian problems begin outside the university sector. With its vast resource-rich landmass and small population, Australia is strongly embedded in the neoliberal mind-set and there is little willingness to fully fund its public universities. Many students want degrees that will position them in a nation that is largely neoliberal and business-focussed. While we agree a university should be ‘aimed at the common good’ (175), the Australian version says that students (and maybe industry) should pay, not the state. Connell (2015) wants an end to Australian student fees and advocates a return to adequate support to universities from the public purse. Even if we could get ‘star’ professors to protest metrification and high fees, a prerequisite for change is a national government much more committed to the public university.

We return where we began—the problem is systemic, and financial. Running a university means managing a huge budget, paying hundreds or thousands of staff, and keeping the lights on. An ethical university, if we could somehow get back to that, will not come cheap, and this cannot be ignored (Bode and Dale 2012). Ending inter-faculty competition, and muting inter-university competition, is something that can be done by agreement (possible through centralised revenue distribution, with staff input into the models used, and de-emphasising rankings and metrics). Restoring academic autonomy is also essential: this will not be easy, because metrification begins at the top, where research funding and the remaining block grants also come from.

Apparently, F.J. Foakes Jackson once said to a new academic at Cambridge: ‘It’s no use trying to be clever—we are all clever here; just try to be kind—a little kind’ (the exact citation is hard to locate). Restoring cultures of conviviality, respect and cooperation can increase the power of collective resistance and resilience at a small scale. All students and staff would benefit. We need academics that can ‘take back’ the university, rather than grudgingly accepting the inequalities and the workloads—currently they are a minority.

A university should trust its staff and students. And, academics want more than a pat on the back for their achievements. If they could practice ‘slow’ scholarship (Berg and Seeber 2016; Mountz et al. 2015), meet practical and ethical responsibilities, and support academic and professional colleagues more, then we would feel more confident about the future of Australian university life. For this we need less bureaucratic oversight from people who are not qualified, experienced or able to foster work cultures of support and collegiality. Again, this is a sweeping statement because it conceals vast differences across the sector. But Australia needs less New Public Management, and more ‘confidence governance’, as Sweden has recognised (Myklebust 2017).

Most embarrassingly, Connell (2015, 24) points out that in Australia,

[t]he universities are now full of fake accountability. At the same time, they have turned to public-relations techniques to attract potential students and donors and burnish the organization’s image. The corporate university now projects to the world a glossy fantasy of broad lawns, relaxed students, happy staff, spacious buildings, and eternal Australian sunshine. The cultural rationale of universities as bearers of truth, of rigorous thought, is becoming deeply compromised.

This phantasmagorical image conceals a troubling and sometimes unpleasant underside, as well as many decent people struggling hard to keep the Wolf from the door. And that really hurts.


ARC—Australian Research Council. 2017a. “Discovery Projects Selection Report for Funding Commencing in 2017.”

ARC—Australian Research Council. 2017b. “Excellence in Research for Australia”.

Batterbury, S.P.J. 2008. “Tenure or Permanent Contracts in North American Higher Education? A Critical Assessment. Policy Futures in Education 6 (3): 286-297. doi: 10.2304/pfie.2008.6.3.286.

Berg, M., and B. Seeber. 2016. The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bessant, J. 2015. “Smoking guns: Reflections on Truth and Politics in the University.” In Through a Glass Darkly: The Social Sciences Look at the Neoliberal University, edited by M.Thornton, 229-258. Canberra: ANU Press.

Bode, K., and L. Dale. 2012. “‘Bullshit’? An Australian Perspective. Or, what can an Organisational Change Impact Statement tell us about Higher Education in Australia”. Australian Humanities Review 53: 1-15.

Campbell M., and P. Morrissey, eds. 2015.  The people’s Tribunal: An Inquiry into the ‘Business Improvement Program’ at the University of Melbourne. Melbourne: Discipline.

Connell, R. 2013. Neoliberalism and Higher Education: the Australian Case. Universities in Crisis—Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA).

Connell, R. 2015. “Australian Universities under Neoliberal Management: The Deepening Crisis”. International Higher Education 81: 23-25. doi:10.6017/ihe.2015.81.8740.

Dow, Coral, and Carol Kempner. 2010. “Meeting the Need for Higher Level Skills through Tertiary Education Reform.” Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook43p/tertiaryreform.

Fioritti, Nathan, and Michelle See-Tho. 2014. “Inside the Business Improvement Program.” UMSU/Farrago, July 23.

Halffman, W., and H. Radder. (2015). The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University. Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy 53(3): 165-187. doi:10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9.

Lorenz, C. 2015.  “The Metrification of ‘Quality’ and the Fall of the Academic Profession.” Oxford Magazine Hilary week, Trinity term: 7-11.

Martin, B. 2011. “ERA: Adverse Consequences.” Australian Universities’ Review 53 (2): 99-102.

Mountz, A., A. Bonds, B. Mansfield, J. Loyd, J. Hyndman, M. Walton-Roberts, R. Basu, R. Whitson, R. Hawkins, T. Hamilton, and W. Curran. 2015. “For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14 (4): 1235-1259.

Myklebust, Jan Petter. 2017. “In Search of a New Form of University Governance.” University World News (450), July 6.

OECD. 2017. “OECD Better Life Index: Australia.”

Parker, Stephen. 2014. “Higher Education Changes a ‘Fraud on the Electorate’.” The Conversation, December 2.

SAGE—Science in Australia Gender Equity. 2017. “Athena SWAN Principles.”

Sharrock, Geoff. 2013. “Book Review: The Dawkins Revolution, 25 Years On”. Review of The Dawkins Revolution, 25 Years On, by Simon Marginson, Gwilym Croucher, Andrew Norton, and Julie Wells. The Conversation, October 23.

Stark, Philip. 2013. “What Exactly Do Student Evaluations Measure?” Berkeley Blog, October 21.

Watts, R. 2016. “The Idea of ‘Marketising’ the University: Against Magical Thinking.” In Public Universities, Managerialism and the Value of Higher Education, edited by R. Watts, 147-179. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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6. Report from Bosnia and Herzegovina

On Wolves, Sheep and Shepherds: A Bosnian Comedy of Errors
Mario Hibert and Andrea Lešić-Thomas[6]

There is a saying that the sheep spends all its life in fear of the wolf, only to be, in the end, eaten by the shepherd. The foundational leitmotif in the Academic Manifesto illustrates the current stage of management hunger in the corporate-academic complex. However, in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it raises issues of the post-communist transition to a neoliberal university, and its ambition to safeguard its ‘immature children’ on the path towards the ideal of modern education.  Still, who is the Shepherd, and who the Wolf, is a matter far from clear in the Bosnian (and we would argue, in the wider post-Yugoslav, and maybe even post-communist) case.

Of the two of us, Andrea has directly experienced something similar to the university system that the Manifesto describes and addresses. She both studied and taught literature in the United Kingdom (the original European testing ground for the managerial approach to universities), and experienced both the delights of having easy access to world-class teaching and research, and the frustrations of being made to justify the existence of the unprofitable humanities in the universities increasingly driven to function according to the neoliberal logic. Having returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2007, she was stunned by the almost surreal freedoms enjoyed by university lecturers in Bosnia, to teach however they like, to publish whatever and wherever they want, and to expect an almost automatic social status on the basis of having an academic title in front of their name. These freedoms, however, come from an unresolved, multi-layered chaos of a post-communist transition in search of a solution and from an almost deafening cacophony of clashing academic practices, tendencies and ideologies in search of a common tune. In this chaotic situation, the Manifesto provided a balm of calm and clarity. If we now have a space in which our future can be shaped, then it is better to look hard at what all the possible futures have to offer.

There are arguably four contradictory yet coexistent systems of academic ideology and practice embedded in the functioning of our university (the University of Sarajevo): its socialist foundations and legacy; the post-1992 nationalist ideology; the current burning desire to ‘catch up with the world’ and adapt to the ‘Bologna process’ (the pan-European project of convergence of degree structures, course credits and ensuring the ease of mobility of students and staff (which in the local interpretation is reduced to a ballooning bureaucracy and turned into the standardisation mania, and so has caused an equally passionate backlash amongst many of the teaching staff; see EUA 2017; EHEA 2017); and a vague longing for the ‘ivory tower’ (of which there is very little authentic local experience, but which functions as the obvious contrast to the pains of the ‘Bologna process’).

Even though a couple of the Faculties of the University of Sarajevo were founded before and during World War II (Agriculture and Forestry, in 1940, and Medicine, in 1944), the University itself was founded in 1949. Our own Faculty of Philosophy (which initially taught not just the humanities, but social and natural sciences as well) was founded in 1950, making it one of the oldest and probably most representative members of the University’s initial purpose, which was to provide training for socially meaningful professions.7 The University of Sarajevo, as well as the three additional universities founded in mid-1970s in Bosnia (in Banja Luka, Tuzla and Mostar) were supposed to offer free education (be it in law, medicine, engineering or in teaching in secondary and primary schools) to talented individuals for the advancement of the whole of society, with the full set of moral and political demands that this entailed.8 This legacy is still evident in the fact that our Faculty, as well as the Faculty for the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, or the Art and Music Academies, offer degree programmes which include a set of courses in both theoretical and practical pedagogy, and thus enable their graduates to become teachers of the subject they studied without any additional training. In some cases, the pedagogy component is optional, but in many (and this is particularly the case in our Faculty) the only way to study, say, Bosnian Literature, is also to study to become a schoolteacher.

To this first operational level is added the post-war ideological framework. For the last 20-25 years, systemic nationalism, which provides the basic background noise if not the music sheet for most of what is being done in the social sciences and the humanities, has taken over the socialist educational institutions (along with everything else). Just as the socialist student was provided with a set of skills to become a socially useful worker, the post-socialist student of transitional Bosnia is being driven through a procedurally almost identical, and yet ideologically modified, educational system, in order to be made into a national subject and the cog in the nationalist machine (a ‘worker’ he or she is less likely to become in the economically moribund country kept afloat by international loans and held together by widespread corruption). Added to this is the proliferation of both state-owned and private new universities, all of which are increasingly driven to pursue student numbers, and compete with each other on the higher education market.

The third layer, the one which calls for modernisation and the adoption of international standards, and claims to wish to drag us from a backward past into the bright and globalist future, is the layer where the comedy of errors really starts in earnest. That layer is the one where nationalist (traditionalist, conservative, pre-modern) ideology shows itself as the perfect partner of transitional post-socialist neoliberal practice. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the wider region, the Wolf is painted as the snarling, utopian, delusional, red flag-carrying beast, with its teeth sank into academic freedoms, whilst today’s neoliberal salvation is seen as the Shepherd who saved us with his commodification agenda, and will successfully shelter us from the ills of the past if only we would submit to standardisations, measurements, and quality control procedures of a purely administrative kind.

Our Shepherd rarely has any real investment in the best of what those international standards entail (such as peer scrutiny, robust debate, and constant questioning of received wisdom). It is more interested in replicating the cosmetic effects, following somebody else’s rules in evident bad faith, pontificating on international standards and the need for quality control, while serving up nationalist propaganda wrapped up in a semblance of scholarly discourse. It also shows an almost complete disregard for local academic traditions (discarded along with the rest of the socialist legacy), whilst at the same time claiming that it represents a return to national traditions, which were slaughtered by the socialist Wolf. Yes, our little comedy of errors really is that much fun.

Added to this is the fourth layer: the instrumentalisation of the belief in the sanctity of academic autonomy, and a longing for an imaginary (and illusory) ‘ivory tower’ of the past. This longing, with its airy proclamations of academic autonomy, and its accompanying dizzying mix of intellectual loftiness and academic irresponsibility, dilettantism and sublimity, mostly serves as a screen and an alibi for substandard teaching and research, as well as for corruption and clientelism.

When we presented the Academic Manifesto at a round table on the future of public universities organised by the University of Sarajevo, we focused our talk on the fact that competitiveness in our surroundings looks more like a caricature of salvation, since we do not even have operational administrative management to get close to a proper rearrangement.9 Our universities might demand that we only publish in indexed journals (as the University of Tuzla imposed on their staff last summer), but for many of us in the humanities and social sciences in Bosnia, local journals that are indexed simply do not exist within our own academic community, and our (once, in the days of the socialist Wolf, thriving) academic presses and journals barely survive from one publication to the next, with no long-term investment and no hope of any sustainable future. We have colleagues who despair at the thought of the future where they will no longer have any incentive to publish in local journals (such as they are), as much as many of us despair of the current chaos in which each of us has barely any real exposure to proper peer scrutiny (as opposed to either ideological rubbishing or superficial matey sycophantic support, both of which are available in abundance).

It is clear that it cannot go on like this forever, and that at some point we must decide which of all of this is going to be our future. For the two of us (and, it seems, for a fair number of our younger colleagues), we find that being children of Yugoslav socialism is nothing to be ashamed of, and that maybe the traditions of solidarity and cooperation, along with the perfectly solid scholarly legacy inherited from those days, may provide a home-grown basis from which to build a vision of public university for Bosnia’s future. For us, the Academic Manifesto was a reminder (and a warning to our colleagues who are in thrall to the neoliberal Wolf dressed as Shepherd) that we might just as well embrace our position on the margins of the global academic community, give up the self-colonisation project on which our universities are on the cusp of embarking, use this moment of chaotic freedom to build on the strengths our University’s foundation provides, and avoid the mistakes made by those who could afford them much more easily than we could. At least, that is what we are trying to argue. Wish us well, since, slowly but surely, we are being forced to liberate ourselves from the Wolf by being served up as dinner at the Shepherd’s Academic Inn.


EUA—European University Association. 2017. “European Research Area and the Bologna Process.” Accessed May 8 2017.

EHEA—European Higher Education Area. 2017 “How does the Bologna Process work?” Accessed May 8 2017.

Halffman, Willem and Hans Radder. 2015. “Akademski Manifest: Od Okupiranog Do Javnog Univerziteta.” [In Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.] Translated by Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Translated by Mario Hibert and Andrea Lešić. Pregled: 173-203.

University of Sarajevo. 2017. “History of University.” Accessed May 8 2017.

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7. Report from Hungary

Beside the Wolf There is Also a Ravenous Giant Octopus Eating Away Academic Freedom in Hungary
Anna Wessely[10]

The Network of University Lecturers in Hungary (OHA) held a meeting in Budapest on 21 February 2017 to discuss the relevance for Hungary of the claims of the Academic Manifesto. This report summarises the main points of that discussion regarding three central questions.

1. What are the most significant similarities and dissimilarities with the situation in your country?

The situations are deceptively similar on the surface, on the level of day-to-day operations, but there are significant dissimilarities underneath, concerning the constantly changing legal context in which Hungarian universities are encouraged or permitted to exist. The Wolf’s strategy and rhetoric as well as the Wolf’s instruments will be used in an opportunistic and clearly selective manner if the government or the Ministry of Human Resources (sic!) want to justify specific organisational and funding arrangements, all directed at strengthening state control—financial, administrative, political—over universities.

We can see interference with, and restriction of the scope of, the autonomy of universities at all levels.

  • A new law on higher education in 2012 curtailed the powers of the Rector (and, as a consequence, of all lower-level boards, administrative units, department heads, etc.) of a university by creating the position of the government-appointed Chancellor who has to countersign all decisions by the Rector if they are to take effect.
  • A new administrative body was inserted into the organisation of the universities to warrant constant government control. It is the so-called Consistory with a secure pro-government majority, charged with overseeing, approving or vetoing decisions by the Senate of a university.

Legislation seems to bind only the universities, not the state administration. The extent of support, funding from the national budget for teaching and research, access to European funding, permission to take part in international projects, launching new educational and training programs, appointing full professors, setting the number of students to be admitted to study on all levels, setting the requirements for various degrees and university-issued certificates, etc., are all dependent on government approval that depends, in turn, on the loyalty to the government of the chief office holders at the university in question.

Circumventing or disregarding the decisions of the Academic Accreditation Board by legislation or singular administrative regulation, the government of Hungary succeeded in destroying the autonomy of the institutions of higher education even in academic matters. The exercise of their nominal autonomy and self-government tends to depend on the changing objectives of the national government and the equally volatile power relations at the various levels of public administration organisations.

The present government of Hungary (in office since 2010) proudly defines itself as an ‘illiberal democracy’. It strives to centralise all resources and get every institution and social process under its control. Private institutions of higher education are, just like all NGOs, no less threatened, except if they happen to enjoy the particular favour of the prime minister or the leading political parties. The mechanisms this government has put in motion and its mixed tactics of combining or alternating false accusations, derogatory labels and legalistic arguments with more or less covert coercion and benumbing propaganda prompted political analysts to speak of a mafia state and compare its functioning to the greed and deadly embrace of a huge predator: ‘The Hungarian Octopus’ (Magyar and Vásárhelyi 2017; Magyar 2016). Its most recent prey are the free churches, the NGOs and the Central European University (CEU).

The mixed tactics in the case of the CEU mean that the state does not prohibit or dissolve that university, but seeks to destroy the conditions of its functioning by pushing through Parliament a bill proposing certain modifications to the Higher Education Law, which happen to concern a single institution only, the Central European University. It does not matter if the legislative changes in the bill that was formulated, debated, and passed with a majority vote within three days, will turn out to be unconstitutional. By the time the courts in Hungary and, perhaps, even in Strasbourg, will have decided that the ‘lex CEU’ is unconstitutional and in conflict with European law and the EU accession documents, the government of Hungary will have caused CEU so much harm on the basis of the new law that it will find it difficult to survive. The Rector’s Office at CEU summarised the legislative changes and their expected impact on CEU as follows:

Summary of the Legislative Changes and Their Impact on CEU

Central European University is a higher education institution with a dual legal identity operating on a single campus in Budapest. CEU is chartered in the State of New York, where all its degree programs are registered. In the US, CEU is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. CEU is also established as a Hungarian university by the Hungarian Parliament under the name Közép-európai Egyetem (‘KEE’) and it is accredited by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee.

The dual identity of CEU/KEE enables the University to comply with both Hungarian and U.S. laws and award both Hungarian and U.S.-accredited degrees. CEU does not have operations in the US. This is a common model. CEU is one of many American-accredited international universities that do not operate any academic programs within the U.S., but have international level education brought to the doorsteps of local students. The amendments to the Hungarian national higher education law would require CEU to offer programs in the state of New York. Forcing CEU to do so would have no educational benefit and would incur needless financial and human resource costs.

The section of the amendment that most clearly illustrates discrimination against CEU is the provision that prevents Hungarian-accredited universities (in this case, KEE) from delivering programs or issuing degrees from universities from non-European OECD member states on behalf of CEU. Existing legislation allows for university programs and degrees from OECD countries (including the U.S.) to function through joint Hungarian entities, as CEU/KEE currently does. Hungary itself has been a member of OECD since 1996, and as such, should not discriminate against other OECD countries.

Another clear example of discrimination in the proposed amendment, is the elimination of a good-faith waiver that currently allows academic staff from third countries to work at the KEE entity without requiring a work permit. The change would create additional and unnecessary barriers to hiring and recruitment. The Hungarian government may deny such permits based on political or narrow bureaucratic considerations. Given that CEU relies particularly much on professors from outside of the EU, the new regulation would place the university in a disadvantageous position, if not simply make its operation impossible.

The proposed amendment also forbids institutions from having the same or similar names. This would require CEU’s two legal entities—which are jointly delivering programs—either to change the names they have used for decades or to discontinue operation in Hungary.

Lastly, the amendment would require a binding international agreement between Hungary and the US both on federal and state level supporting CEU’s operation as a foreign university in Hungary. Further, the law was amended within 24 hours before it was passed, requiring a binding international agreement to be completed within six months of the publication of the law and less than nine months to register programs in the foreign higher education institution’s country of origin. This is punitive and does not allow sufficient time for higher education institutions to comply with the newly adopted provisions.’ (Ignatieff, 7 April 2017)

This summary was published three weeks ago. Since then there have been massive street demonstrations, teach-ins, protests etc., by academic institutions, scientists, writers in Hungary and abroad. Yesterday (27 April) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) called on Hungary to suspend parliamentary debate on Fidesz’s NGO law and halt implementation of Lex CEU (Novak 2017). And the story has not come to its end yet.

2. How do the assessments made in the Manifesto relate to the situation in Hungary?

From the perspective of the situation in Hungary, the assessment of the on-going processes of change, given in the Manifesto, is fully justified. As indicated in the title of this paper, the Wolf has been joined by the Octopus in our country. This means that even if direct political interference is in the forefront of interest now, the Wolf keeps working in all our schools of higher education, demanding and churning out regulations, reports, spreadsheets, etc. If we are persistent or lucky and get rid of the Octopus, the Wolf is here to stay. Not because we, professors or students, would miss his services or feel lost without his guidance, but because Hungary’s membership in the European Higher Education Area entails a similarity in the main trends of change in the whole of Europe. The next Hungarian government may and, hopefully also will, be liberal, democratic and transparent, but still it could not and would not fight the Wolf.

3. What possibilities are there, in Hungary, to change the situation for the better?

Nobody has ever opted for making the university an ‘ivory tower’, its alleged inhabitants felt never really comfortable. Anyway, the ivory tower is a combative slogan used by the opponents of academic freedom rather than anybody’s wish or lived experience. The public university as a knowledge commons is an attractive but risky idea in an age of commercially controlled, print or electronic, media that monopolise the transmission of information on topical issues. As long as the universities are under political control, strategies to change their situation and social role have to confront the government. This is what our small organisation, the Network of University Lecturers, tries to do, availing itself of the various means of political protest. Unfortunately, these actions are insufficient in a country where all major media outlets are under direct or indirect government control. From this perspective, university reform politics seems secondary and a much easier task. When we finally get there, however, we will find how difficult it is: workers of (all) universities are seldom willing to unite.


Ignatieff , M. 2017. “‘Lex CEU’ Now in Force, is Contested in Hungary, US, EU.” E-mail message to supporters of CEU by Michael Ignatieff, CEU President and Rector. April 13, 2017.

Magyar, B. 2016. Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of Hungary. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Magyar , B., and J. Vásárhelyi, eds. 2017. Twenty-Five Sides of a Post-Communist Mafia State. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Novak, B. 2017. “Council of Europe Calls on Hungary to Suspend Debate on NGO Law, Rescind Lex CEU.” Budapest Beacon, 28, April 2017.

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8. Report from Slovakia

Striving for Academic Authenticity: A Slovak Position in the Context of the Academic Manifesto
Jozef Hvorecký, Emil Višňovský, and Matúš Porubjak[11]

The text of the Academic Manifesto (Halffman and Radder 2015) exactly captures not only the Dutch situation. A similar plague is devastating academic culture around the World. Naturally, there are also national specifics brought up by the factors rooted in the history. An example is tertiary education in Slovakia—which is in fact very young and, consequently, immature. The oldest still existing university was established in 1919, the second one in 1940. In 1990, after the Velvet Revolution, there were only twelve institutions of tertiary education, many of them rather small. Despite a much larger demand, the proportion of university-educated population was only slightly more than 10%.

The figures prove that the foundations of the Slovak system of tertiary education have been laid mostly during the Communist regime. Basically it represented a variation of the traditional Humboldtian model (as a heritage of the past Czechoslovakia) combined with the Soviet model. As to the former, its key idea of the unity of research and teaching was basically observed, including even some portions of academic freedom for some, though not for all. As to the latter, it controlled not only the proportion of students belonging to the ‘working class’ (including their possibility to be admitted), but also the content of all study programmes (with extended political pressure on the humanities). The academics learned that their obedience to authorities was the best way to survive or get promoted.

After the revolution in 1989, there was a chance for the revitalization of the system. The result cannot be considered a success mainly due to three reasons.

    • 1. During the Communist regime, the salaries in all positions were more or less equal. However, the newly raising private sector started offering much bigger earnings to its qualified personnel. Many (primarily young) academics quickly left their universities to private businesses. This gap is still notable.


    • 2. The remaining staff consisted either of enthusiasts devoted to education (and ready to continue their academic career irrespective of money), or of those who could not find better paid positions elsewhere. As the enthusiasts usually formed a minority, the academics with a passive and formal attitude to their education and research started to dominate many departments.


    3. There was also an attempt to increase the quality of universities. It was primarily organised by researchers from mathematics, and natural and technical sciences, because these fields were less suppressed during the past. Unfortunately, they started applying their own quality criteria to all remaining fields. As scientometrics describes quality in these types of research rather well, it has been considered as the best and generally applicable tool.

The development in the 1990s and its first fruits are well identified in Bakoš (2011). The later developments have only strengthened these initial trends. The senior generation, which used to obey the authorities, continues to select their followers among those ready to obey, too. The salaries at universities are still much lower compared to the business world. Young potential academics are running out of the system—partially abroad, partially to businesses. The scientometrics criteria have become to distort the system exactly in the way described in the Academic Manifesto. The road to this undesired state was different, but the current status quo is more or less the same: ‘academics cannot be trusted, and so have to be tested and monitored, under the permanent threat of reorganization, termination and dismissal’ (Halffman and Radder 2015, 166).

The ‘multi-headed Wolf of management’ has a slightly different face compared to the one in the Manifesto. A substantial portion of decision power is still centralized and remains in the hands of the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, ‘a mercenary army of professional administrators, armed with spreadsheets’ does not consist of clerks only. The Accreditation Commission serves as its prime ally (Porubjak 2015). Its initial positive effort to improve the quality of universities through intensified research has resulted in the carbon-copy of the series of subsequent quality criteria: ‘the number of publications, then international publications, after which only English-language publications counted, thereafter articles in high-impact journals …’ (Halffman and Radder 2015, 167). At this very moment, the Accreditation Commission not only enables this kind of pressure but also opposes attempts to discuss changes in its criteria. One has to admit that two thirds of the members of the Accreditation Commission are academics from Slovak universities. A similar approach has been followed by an independent civic auditing organization named the Academic Ranking and Rating Agency (ARRA). It has tried to assess the quality of Slovak higher education institutions for more than ten years. Its assessment criteria are equally formal, insufficiently transparent and in some aspects misleading, as shown in Sýkora (2015).

If there is a difference compared to the Dutch situation, then it lies in the darker side of academic work. As the initial constellation of the post-communist educational system was worse compared to traditional democratic countries, there probably are more cases of violations of academic integrity (e.g. of plagiarism) and a lower desire to solve such problems. Its outcomes and ways-out are analysed in Hvorecký (2015).

No matter how paradoxical it may seem, the current academic system and the situation in Slovakia is a very powerful result of both: the former Soviet/Humboldtian model and the post-communist/neoliberal model. The two have found their ideological brother in each other. In post-communist countries, the bureaucratic-managerial Wolves have found perhaps the best possible ground for their neoliberal mission supported by the general ‘cultural turn’ toward the Mammon. Boyadjieva and Ilieva-Trichkova (2015) and Sabic (2015) show that the same situation can be found in other post-communist countries. In practical consequences, it simply means: what cannot be measured, does not exist, and what can be measured, has to be converted into pecuniary value. As a result, a new generation of junior academics have been raised in the environment that has adopted these unauthentic academic values and practices. In their minds and activities, these approaches are now considered ‘right’ and worthy to follow. The younger generation has adopted the idea of the academy as a machine, a factory, a business or an agency whose mission is to produce articles that, at the end of the day, bring money. Everything—knowledge, education, publications, citations, applications, etc.—must be measured by and/or converted into money (Višňovský 2014). These pseudo-academics and pseudo-academic managers do not talk science, wisdom, meaning, insight, understanding, values, etc. They just accept measures, inputs, outputs, performance, excellence, accreditation, evaluation, audit, and the like.

Nonetheless, the application of the majority of methods for change, proposed by Halffman and Radder, might lead to a disaster. In the near future, massive protests or demonstrations at universities are not probable. The community has learned to obey. The disobedient ones have left by their own decision, due to the unbreathable atmosphere, or ‘were left out’.

Thus, the change can come only through ‘education to academic democracy’. Its main aim must be to teach the community that academic freedom and integrity are keys to a better academy. It will require long and patient stepwise work. And an inevitable international communication among academics who, against all odds, still do not wish to give up on their determination in what they consider the meaning of their lives and work: the joy of inquiry and thinking. The current crisis of academia is not the ‘apogee’ of the crisis of humanity—at least not in comparison to the corruption of global politics. However, the ways out of it might hopefully show the way out beyond its one-time ‘ivory tower’ walls. The global role of academia is to work hard to stop the current stupefaction of humanity and to turn itself into a ‘gleam of light’—in the hope that it still is possible.


Bakoš, O. 2001. Katedra paupológie [Department of pauperology]. Bratislava: L.C.A.

Boyadjieva, P., and P. Ilieva-Trichkova. 2015. “Institutional Diversity and Graduate Employability: The Bulgarian Case.” In Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education: Can the Challenges be Reconciled?, edited by R.M.O. Pritchard, M. Klumppand, and U. Teichler, 153-171. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Halffman, Willem, and Hans Radder. 2015. “The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University.”  Minerva 53 (3): 165-187. doi:10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9.

Hvorecký, J. 2015. Testament vedca [Testament of a researcher]. Bratislava: Premedia.

Porubjak, M. 2015. “Mráz prichádza odvšadia” [Freeze comes from everywhere]. Ostium 11(3). .

Sabic, N. 2015. “Governance through Transparency Tools: The Case of Romanian Higher Education Reforms.” In Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education: Can the Challenges be

Reconciled?, edited by R.M.O Pritchard, M. Klumpp, and U. Teichler, 217-230. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Sýkora, P. 2015. “Robí si ARRA srandu z filozofických fakúlt?” [Does ARRA poke fun at faculties of arts?]. Accessed March 25 2017.

Višňovský, E., ed. 2014. Univerzita, spoločnosť, filozofia: Realita verzus hodnoty [University, society, philosophy: Reality versus values]. Bratislava: Iris.

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9. Report from Finland and Scandinavia

Anxieties and Tensions in the Nordic Model—Finland and Scandinavia
Anita Välikangas[12]

In December 2016, Willem Halffman and Hans Radder called for responses to “The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University.” I promised to describe recent developments in Finland, and to say something about how these developments stand in comparison with the other Nordic countries. At first glance, the task seemed quite straightforward: many items in the Manifesto sounded quite familiar to me. In Finland, we have seen cuts in university funding and a change in the direction of university research to solution-oriented and ‘policy-relevant’ research. New quantitative indicators to measure the impact of university research are constantly being developed. There are pressures to monitor and to increase the employability of university graduates, since a larger proportion of university funding is based on these figures. Rather than being based on the Humboldtian ideal, this new ideal seems to come from employment agencies. Within universities, the typical length of work contracts is quite short, and researchers tend to spend a lot of their time writing (and reading) grant proposals. There are increasingly fewer reasons to publish in national languages: this has had an impact especially in those scientific communities and disciplines that study local phenomena (Koskinen 2016). For these reasons, the Manifesto resonated quite well with my personal experiences, but at the same time, there were also some significant differences.

Compared with many European countries, the higher education system in Finland is still in a quite good shape. Even though the levels of funding for student allowances have decreased significantly in the last few years, there are still no tuition fees for domestic higher-education students. In Finland, as in other Nordic countries, universities receive most of their funding from the central government. Even though universities face pressures to find new sources of funding, few new activities have emerged, at least outside the technical universities. My personal view is that, currently, politicians and people in technology transfer offices like to represent these ventures as something that researchers ‘should’ be interested in doing. In practice, however, most of the researchers from non-applied sciences’ disciplines prefer to undertake normal research, teaching, and general social outreach activities. In this sense, the Manifesto’s estimation that the Nordic countries are still more public than occupied, is true.

Even if Nordic universities are funded from public money and students do not pay hefty tuition fees, it does not mean that the university community would be public in a wider sense. The concept of public, as implied by its Latin origin in populus, implies that it needs to include ‘the people’. Universities are not only schools that need to train young people with suitable, hopefully work-related, skills. Universities are also social communities, and in order to meet their responsibilities properly, they should be able to attract and retain talented researchers. As mentioned previously, university researchers’ work contracts in Finland are quite short, typically for only a few years. Competition is tough at all levels. In the humanities, the typical acceptance rate for starting PhD researcher applications is somewhere between 10 and 20%, and it definitely does not get any easier in later career stages. When the opportunities to undertake research full-time are so limited, many people can only dream of financial stability. A typical scenario is that a person spends a period of several months up to one or two years in a research-related project, and then, in the best-case scenario, in another one. The thing that remains constant is the need to seek new funding and a sense of vulnerability that cannot be erased. This situation is not very helpful for creating good scientific communities or places of learning.

Last year was quite grim for Finnish and Danish higher education institutions. In Finland, the government decided to cut research funding by €600 million over the next four years. In Denmark, the situation was at least as bleak: there were the largest-ever cuts to the education budget in the country’s history in 2016. These cuts totalled to 8.7 billion DKr (€1.17 billion), being a two per cent cut to the total education budget (Bothwell 2016; 2017). Cuts as large as this shake the confidence of people and communities. The University of Helsinki confirmed that it would cut staff numbers by nearly 1,000 by the end of 2017, and more than 500 members of staff lost their jobs at the University of Copenhagen (Grove 2016).

Nordic winters are typically dark. And in order to cope with this darkness, many people have developed a black sense of humour. If there was one positive thing last year, it was that it did not take much effort to find material for these jokes. For me, this occurred at my first visit to the newly-renovated Finnish national library. Renovated before the cuts, the building looked spectacular, but when strolling through the lonely corridors, it seemed that few personnel were around. When looking for items, I found an interesting book. However, when I opened it, it fell apart, and it was in such a dire state that it could not be borrowed. I brought the book to the information desk. The person sitting behind the desk looked like she was the only staff member in the whole building. She looked at the book: ‘Sorry, I cannot do anything about it. The person who was responsible for repairing the books was sacked’, she said. The book itself was on the ideals of universities, a defence of universities written in the 1950s.

However, there have been some successful moments. For instance, at the end of the 2016 negotiations between Finland’s higher education and research institutes and Elsevier and Wiley, a deal was reached that we could have access to their electronic journals for one more year ( 2016). At least so far, we did not need to decide what to do in situations in which we do not have access to these publishers’ journals. But there were also some plainly grim things. Many people found out that they would become unemployed, and almost all people were afraid of this. The layoffs were executed poorly. Why would any sound person feel loyal to an institution that treats them so badly?

So far, it remains unknown what will happen next in the story. Many people have decided not to wait for it. There are signs of a severe brain drain from Finland, signalling a catastrophe for Finnish research (Bothwell 2017). Typical destinations have been Sweden, Norway, Germany and the UK. Personally, I know several people who have either already moved or are planning to move. International mobility is typically a good thing, but here, the unfortunate thing is that nobody is coming in to replace them, as there are few vacancies to fill. I would not be surprised if it later turns out that the cuts have resulted in increasing favouritism within academia. These aspects, as well, mean that there are fewer opportunities for people from underprivileged groups to find their place in the academy.

In matters concerning the future, my crystal ball is not capable of providing a 100% accurate prediction. I would not be very surprised, however, if we will next witness the introduction of firmer new public management-oriented strategies, and a firmer separation between power and execution. In Sweden, Mats Ericson, chair of the Swedish Association of University Teachers (SULF), was concerned about the de-professionalisation of teaching and research, and about pressures to increase external funding at Swedish universities (Ericson 2016).

As far as I know, a comprehensive account that would tell us which areas of research have been most badly affected by the financial cuts in Denmark and Finland does not exist. So far, I can only make an educated guess, and estimate that it is likely that the cuts have affected smaller disciplines and projects, and left those areas that were in line with ‘universities’ strategic priorities’ in a better position. In Finnish universities, a large proportion of the cuts were directed at support staff, a substantial number of whom have been made redundant or their work contracts have otherwise been discontinued.

Previously, at my own university, support staff worked in individual departments, and they were often people with knowledge and research training from the disciplines they were supporting. Now they have all been moved to a central location. As a result, many practical things, such as having information on webpages, booking classrooms, and offering students information on what courses are available, now require considerable effort from research and teaching staff. Previously, support staff and researchers met in coffee rooms and during lunch breaks. Now, they engage mostly through task-related communication. When support staff are separated from the research staff, or when people working on grants are not given desks close to their department, it is perhaps no wonder that the universities include an increasing number of people who do not perceive themselves as being an integral part of the university. For management, this is a good thing: isolated individuals can be managed more easily than groups can. With efficient management techniques, it does not take many years to destroy the ideal of collegiality.

At first glance, the idea of reacting to the Academic Manifesto from a Nordic perspective seemed quite easy: there are so many similarities. However, it is difficult to write about the developments across the whole Nordic area. Universities and university managements are currently changing at so many levels. There are changes within individual disciplines, at the faculty and university levels, and there are differences between countries. Changes affect many people, but it is quite difficult for people at different levels to communicate with each other and to oppose this development. In Finland, budget cuts have had some impacts that have distorted the university community and are diminishing the ideal of the collegial university. ‘Everyone has more of a stake in being left alone to be excellent than in intervening in the administrative process’, as summarised by Bill Readings (1997, 33). We are left alone, as isolated units. It is not easy to beat this process, but it is a task worth trying. I believe it would require active support for those university communities, in which the common element is something other than constant competition and strict divisions between groups of people.


Bothwell, E. 2016. “Nordic Higher Education in Decline? The Region’s Reputation for Excellence Could be Threatened by Funding Cuts and Restructuring.” Times Higher Education, September 15, 2016.

Bothwell, E. 2017. “Finland Funding Cuts a ‘Catastrophe’ for Research: Scholars Fear Reputation of Country’s Higher Education Sector will be Damaged as Evidence of Brain Drain Mounts.” Times Higher Education, January 17, 2017.

Ericson, M. 2016. “Academic Freedom Increasingly Restricted.” Accessed April 10 2017.

Grove, J. 2016. “University of Copenhagen to Cut More than 500 Jobs.” Times Higher Education, 11 February 2016. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Koskinen, I. 2016. “Objektiivisuus humanistisissa tieteissä” [Objectivity in humanities]. Niin et Näin 4: 35-42.

Readings, B. 1997. The University in Ruins. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2016. “The Cost of Scientific Publications Must not Get Out of Hand. Accessed April 10 2017.

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10. Report from the United Kingdom

Activism over Acrimony: Not Getting Better but Getting Beyond the UK’s Research Excellence Framework
Richard Watermeyer[13]

The unavoidability of academics ‘submitting’—both deferentially and opportunistically—to a culture of excellence in UK universities is more than already confirmed by what feels like the most protracted if paradoxically lightning of transitions between the UK’s last national research performance evaluation, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, and its future successor, REF2021. Vice-chancellors, pro-vice chancellors, deans of faculty, heads of department, directors of research, impact officers and the various other administrative personnel populating UK universities find themselves busy messaging, at what is just short of four years from the likely point of institutional submission,[14] that all academics ‘eligible’ for inclusion in REF2021—which on the advisement of the recent Stern Review of REF2014 (2016) includes all ‘research active’ staff—should be concentrating their focus on getting their REF publications and impact case studies ready. The REF is, aside from its more junior and less prominent sibling, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)—the only game in town. And what a game.

For those not in the know, the REF is the system by which publically funded research conducted by researchers working in UK universities is evaluated by disciplinary expert panels of academic and user assessors. It is the yardstick by which researchers and the institutions they are affiliated to are considered persons and places of research excellence and those, therefore, also deserving of a slice, some larger than others depending on the measure of their performance, of the pie of Government ‘Quality Related’ (QR) funding; estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of £2 billion per annum to the UK’s higher education sector. The REF, therefore, counts for a lot in the binary and co-informing contexts of 1) universities’ financial sustainability and 2) institutional reputation, esteem and marketability. Its value to UK universities is in many ways, therefore, priceless. So much so that ‘for research, see REF’.

In such context, it is perhaps unsurprising that all manner of tactics, tricks and levers of competitive advantage have been reported as committed by universities in ensuring that the research they submit to the REF is the most competitive, and that consequently, is likely to court the most favourable response from REF panellists and most generous of QR returns. In the milieu of REF2014 various game-playing was committed by universities; the most prominent of which perhaps being that of hyper-selectivity by institutions in the choice of academic staff they chose to submit—the figures for which are staggering, at least in the context of those who were excluded. Of a potential 145,000 academic researchers eligible for inclusion in REF2014, only 50,000 were evaluated. 95,000 academic researchers were, it seems, not fit-to-be counted in the context of their potential excellence. Instead, a policy by universities of cherry-picking the best was preferred.

To my mind, this says one of two things. Firstly, that two thirds of the academic researchers based in the UK are in the estimation of their institutions not up to much. Secondly, the notion of excellence articulated in the REF is even more fatuous than first thought—with first-thinking predicated on an a priori sense of the meaninglessness of the term ‘excellence’. Crudely put then, and however one values a notion of excellence, REF2014 was only a partial and highly selective measure of the performance of UK academic researchers or a vastly expensive15, self-fulfilling (or safe-bet) exercise involving the confirmation of those deemed excellent by their institutions as excellent by REF panellists. Consequently, where the REF in such terms is attacked for being a limited show of the strengths of UK research and concomitantly for its treatment in marginalising and disenfranchising vast swathes of the UK’s academic community, the central recommendation of the Stern review of universal submission appears at first sight a genuine effort to lessen if not eradicate the deleterious effects suffered by the academic ‘rank and file’ of an aggressive and egregious system of performance management and auditability.

A recommendation for universal submission appears something, if only minor, in the way of an attempt to placate and appease those who perceive in the REF the emasculation of academic autonomy and scientific self-sovereignty and the intensification of government and managerial regulation and control. But it achieves this subtly and in a back-handed way by saying to academics, ‘You all can be involved’. One can’t help but think, however, that such a recommendation operates almost at the level of what the great émigré sociologist Herbert Marcuse (2002) spoke of as ‘repressive desublimation’ or a mirage of participatory democracy—if academics feel involved in something then they will likely just happily go along with it. It’s perhaps not so strange then that so much of what is considered wrong with the REF relates less to how it conflicts with or corrupts an Enlightenment ideal of science or of the Humboldtian university and instead how it denies academics an opportunity to participate in its game.

I have been one among other commentators who has argued strongly for greater inclusivity and equal participation for academics in the REF. But I’m minded now to think that this focus has been a little narrow, a touch reductive and a distraction from the bigger picture of what’s wrong. Perhaps, in fact, I’ve fallen prey to the kinds of quantitative mesmerisation—the sort of which I frequently caution my students and colleagues—that tell only too cogently and conclusively the story of non-participation. Now, however, as I look again, I’m struck that the argument against the REF has become excessively entangled if not hijacked by the theme of its unequal participation.

Whilst there can be no denying that non-participation in REF2014 has been detrimental to the social fabric of UK academia, a sense of academic collegiality, citizenship and community especially, the dominant critique of the REF has perhaps mistakenly advocated for increased participation and, therefore, compliance rather than disengagement. Moreover, the critique, largely one of victimisation, has neither developed nor progressed. Certainly, it has not translated in any meaningful or substantive way into activism. Such has been the focus of observation on what the REF does to academics in ways that challenge or compromise their identity and praxis, that the academic community in the UK has ostensibly lost sight of its capacity to affect positive change. Instead, academics have preferred to privilege the pathologisation of their profession and coterminously become immobilised by the homogeneity—and in large part indirectness—of their (pseudo)disapproval. Indeed, the curse of the REF is something that some academics not only embellish, but perversely appear even to enjoy as a ‘legitimate’ opportunity with which to lament their lot and indulge almost masochistically in a nostalgia of a golden age that never was.

As the object of their disaffection, that they love to hate, the REF also, however, emboldens the reproach of their detractors who detect within their diatribe and mythologies not the cry of injustice but the whine of narcissism. Of course, apologists may explain and defend this almost ritual of academic dissatisfaction, on the basis of academics’ escalating precariousness in the era of higher education’s neoliberalization. Where universities have surrendered their status and role as sanctuaries of critical pedagogy and have allowed, seemingly with little resistance, the de-professionalisation and de-politicisation of their academic community, academics have had to confront the impossible challenge of reconciling ever-greater demands of accountability with ever-diminishing autonomy. The co-emergence of their compliance and complaint is perhaps, therefore, whilst profoundly arrestive to an ideal of academic endeavour, entirely inevitable.

An excessive recent focus on issues of participation in the REF must, therefore, be reconsidered, indeed halted. It is such single-mindedness that has perhaps blunted and/or distorted the edge of critical commentary and unwittingly served to normalize and even legitimize the REF as the locus of control in the lives of UK academics. It has also perhaps consolidated and exacerbated the narcissism that has tended to plague what A.H. Halsey (1995) called the ‘donnish dominion’ and the perception of those looking-in that has bred mistrust and justified the implementation of such new public management technologies designed to instil order among academics as an alleged herd of cats. Hence, we find academics’ REF ‘submission’ as ambivalent and dichotomous. It is volunteered yet with an affected disdain. The REF ultimately perhaps reveals a trend, a penchant even among academics for wanting to be counted rather than doing what counts.

The virtue of the REF as an opportunity for academics to perform accountability is rightly contested. It is a grossly imperfect system that fosters a multitude of undesirable behaviours that also cause to neglect the purpose and role of the university as a genuinely public institution. However, academics ought not to gorge themselves on a fixation with its imperfections; rather they might engage with accountability unto themselves. If the REF is what ascribes academic researchers in the UK their identity, they might look in its mirror for a reflection of themselves as impetus for change. Where they are then to see what they don’t like, only active and direct transgression of the rules of the game may produce an identity other than that ostensibly foisted upon them. Easier said then done, no doubt. But something needing to be done, no less.


Halsey, A.H. 1995. Decline of Donnish Dominion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marcuse, H. 2002. One-Dimensional Man. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

Stern, N. 2016. “Building on Success and Learning from Experience: An Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework.”

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11. Report from Belgium and Flanders

The Academic Manifesto: The Situation in Flanders
Koen Bogaert, Valerie De Craene, Anton Froeyman, Karen Stroobants, and Sigrid Vertommen [16]

In general, we would say that, despite some different accents or aspects, the situation described in The Academic Manifesto applies just as much to Flanders as it does to The Netherlands. Since the instalment of the Bologna Agreement (2008), a political agreement meant to create a common, standardized European higher-education space, the Flemish research landscape has changed dramatically. Indeed, as the Academic Manifesto mentions, the rationale here was that universities should not be trusted. The share of the (competitive) second and third money stream became increasingly larger, while the first stream (direct public funding for universities) was re-organized into a competitive system, where universities had to ‘fight’ each other for funding.[17] The weapons with which this fight was to be held were quantitative output parameters, such as the number of ECTS-credits taken, the number of PhD-degrees issued, the number of publications in Web of Science journals, the number of citations by Web of Science journals, etc. Since then, universities are in a continuous struggle to get more money for themselves, and (of course) less money for the other universities.  This rationale was then copied by universities into an internal allocation model, where different faculties have to ‘fight’ each other for money, and many faculties in their turn took over these criteria to deal with funding issues of their different departments.

Hence, this financial logic has pervaded all of academia: hiring decisions are based almost solely on how much money you can bring in (in the form of grants, PhD scholarships, publications, citations, and the like), which strongly determines the types of knowledge that are produced: cutting edge research or research where the outcome is unclear is avoided, while easily publishable research can prevail, even if the quality is mediocre, or the ideas unoriginal.  The kind of knowledge that is produced at universities is not (or no longer) the kind of knowledge that seems most interesting for researchers, or that is most beneficial to society, but rather the kind of knowledge that serves best the interests of academic policy makers and financiers. Generally speaking, the idea is widespread that things like academic research, education or public service are nothing but means to achieve a greater good, which is to get more money for your department/faculty/university. Activities that do not bring in money (such as lectures or articles for the general public, collaboration with NGOs or museums) are seen as a waste of time. This situation is made worse because universities also tend to spend more and more money on advertisement, business administration, communication and real estate projects instead of education or research. In this sense, again, we agree with the statements in the Academic Manifesto: Flemish academia is based on the idea that academics cannot be trusted, that they should be monitored closely by means of quantitative indicators, and that they should be under a continuous threat of losing their job if one wants them to achieve anything at all.

One thing that needs to be noted is the specific personnel structure of Flemish universities. Since the introduction of the Dehousse-tax exemption for PhD students (in 1993) the number of PhDs has risen spectacularly, from less than 3,000 in 1993 to around 10,000 in 2015. In a way, universities have been using the tax exemption for PhD students for the same reason multinational companies have shipped their production bases to low-wage countries: it’s a way to hire much more employees without having to spend extra money. This situation is made worse by the fact that universities get a bonus (of around 50,000 euro) for every completed PhD. Of course, this creates an incentive to hire as many PhD students as possible. This has two negative consequences.

The first is that the quality, and therefore the value, of a PhD degree is dropping steadily, since universities do not have any incentive not to let a PhD student graduate. The second is that there are lots of opportunities to do a PhD in Flanders, but very little career opportunities for PhD holders within academia. Policy makers reply to this that a PhD should provide you with extra skills for the labour market. While this sounds nice in theory, the concrete practice of the PhD trajectory is very different. Firstly, professors have (due to the rise in student numbers, the number of PhD students and the dramatic increase of time spent on grant proposal writing) less and less time to actually teach their PhD students. Secondly, universities, departments, and faculties only receive money for academic achievements in the narrow sense (publications, citations and PhD degrees). Hence, anything that does not lead directly to one of these achievements (such as investing in transferable skills, or networking outside academia) is often seen as a waste of time.

Meanwhile, the number of professors in 2017 is virtually the same as it was in 1993. Because the numbers of PhD students, master students and bachelor students have risen spectacularly, in combination with the ever increasing demand to write grant applications and do other administrative work, professors suffer from an enormous workload, and are under an abnormally high stress.

One important difference with the Netherlands is that all Flemish universities are run (largely) by academics, or, to be more precise, former academics, who went from being a professor into a career in university administration. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the proliferation of the new public management ideology, as it became clear quite quickly that these academic policy makers are susceptible to the same ways of thinking in terms of output, quantification and efficiency as ‘real’ managers are.

Another important difference is the engagement of the students in the protests against the neoliberal new public management university. In places such as the UK and the Netherlands, students form the driving force and the bulk of the (wo)manpower behind the protests. In Flanders, however, students and the official student bodies (for example the VVS, the Flemish Society of Students) are remarkably absent: they do protest when they are afflicted on a short-term individual level (for example by higher tuition fees or a compulsory entrance exam), but in most cases (with some notable exceptions, such as the humanities students in Ghent), they seem to be more or less in agreement with the general, official new public management discourse. The reason for this is—paradoxically—that students have since long had a strong and institutionalized voice in debates about higher education. Hence, it seems that being in contact with the establishment for so long has effectively turned them into a part of that establishment.

Last but not least, we need to bring attention to the gender gap at Flemish universities. Despite the fact that the majority of PhD students in Flanders are women, there is still a huge gender gap when it comes to the ‘higher’ academic positions. The percentage of female academics at the highest academic position (hoogleraar) is among the lowest in Europe. Hence, at Flemish universities, old boys’ networks are numerous, and the neoliberal university often goes hand in hand with a macho culture. There has been some awareness of this issue: the ‘women’s strike’ at Ghent University in the spring of 2017 received a lot of attention and we have seen the arrival of the first female rectors since long. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go.

The Assessments in the Manifesto

We strongly agree with the general message of the Academic Manifesto: there is something very wrong with 21th-century academia, and the Wolves of management, efficiency, accountability and quantification are the most important culprits.

However, we are somewhat hesitant to share the Manifesto’s expectations of a change in formal decision structures. We understand that, from the point of view of the Netherlands, this seems like a good solution. However, in theory, Flemish universities have a kind of semi-democratic structure: the rector and vice-rector (who both have to be full professors) and the members of the board of directors, are elected by university staff and students by means of a kind of weighted democracy (in which the votes of full professors matter by far the most). This system, however, has by no means been able to stop or fight the many-headed Wolf of management. In practice, elected academics always seem to turn into accomplices of the Wolf as soon as they take a manager’s seat. And even if they don’t, there are still non-elected management phantoms in the background and in the corridors of administrations, who often succeed in taking the actual decision-making away from the elected policy makers.

Nevertheless, we agree with all recommendations made in the Manifesto. There is one recommendation, however, we would very much like to add: a recommendation on the precariousness of researcher’s job situations. The main reason why researchers and teachers still support the system is because they need to in order to keep their jobs, and compete with colleagues in equally precarious situations. Hence, we would very much like to introduce a compulsory minimal percentage of tenured staff in the academic community. This ratio may differ from field to field, depending on the chances of PhD holders on the labour market (which are very high in chemistry for example, but low in the humanities).

Action, and Possibilities to Change the Situation for the Better

In Flanders, the Bologna reforms and the managerial universities that sprung from it have been under continuous criticism since their coming into existence in the second half of the 2000s. Action groups such as the Slow Science Movement and the Actiegroep Hoger Onderwijs (‘Higher Education Action Group’) have helped bring the issue to the fore. Up until now, however, nothing has changed, despite many opinion pieces, articles, books and research on the matter. Nevertheless, it needs to be said that at some universities in Flanders, new rectors have been chosen with programmes that show signs of a willingness to name, and deal with, the problems that haunt the university. However, it still remains to be seen whether these ideas and promises will be put into practice.

At this point, the most important thing to do is to monitor this new generation of academic policy makers: will they put their money where their mouth is? If not, there is indeed, as the Manifesto states, a need for a different kind of action. A strike would definitely be a very good idea, and would definitely have an influence. However, it would not be easy to organize, since it might be hard to mobilize a sufficient amount of individual researchers, partly because of the individualistic mind-set of many researchers, and partly because of the fear of repercussions by the university board. Another possible option seems to be a combination of ‘sabotage’ and ‘refusal’, for example by means of an ‘administrative publication strike’. As said, the Flemish government allocates public funding partly based on publications in ISI, which it counts by searching people’s affiliation. If academics stop mentioning their institutional affiliation on their papers, they become invisible, and cannot be counted any longer. For each paper not counted, a university loses thousands of euros. This would give university boards the much needed financial incentive to strive for betterment. The biggest problem with this kind of action, next to the obvious danger of repercussions by the university board, would be that people could be afraid that their own department might lose money.

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12. Report from Spain

Complutense University of Madrid and the Academic Manifesto: Common Traits of a Global Crisis in Higher Education
Eva Aladro Vico[18]

The Academic Manifesto (published in April 2015) arrived at the Complutense University just at the beginning of a huge Re-structuring Process in which this centennial university was announced to close 9 of its 26 Faculties, some of them as legendary as the Faculty of Philosophy, where Ortega y Gasset, the famous Spanish thinker, had his cátedra, his chair, in 1930.

One of the professors at the Geological Sciences Faculty, one of the faculties about to close and to be assimilated by another one, decided to share the Academic Manifesto with colleagues, in the ‘Platform against the Restructuring Process at the UCM’. As we read it, we decided to translate the paper into Spanish in order to be accessible to all of Complutense University.

The process of a restructuration at the University Complutense is in fact an administrative and organisational earthquake that intends to cut the costs of secretarial staff and infrastructural spending, in this huge centre of Spanish public education. It will also cut the recruitment of new professors and it will entirely transform the articulated structure of UCM, divided into Faculties and Departments, into a much more gigantic and megalomaniac design. One of the ‘ideas’ was to merge the big Faculty of Medicine, and three other Faculties (Dentistry, Optical Sciences and Nursery) into a huge ‘Health Faculty’, producing a Centre of more than 10,000 students.

The Plan was announced as an academic re-organisation that wanted to rationalise and increase efficiency and excellence through the suppression of the Departmental articulation of the Faculties. It arrived just in the middle of an atmosphere of a competitive, impoverished and managerial conception of academic work, which preceded the announcement. The Academic Manifesto described exactly what we had suffered and were about to suffer in the process.

The Director or ‘Rector’ of Complutense University, a supposedly left-wing sympathiser, connected immediately, once he was elected a year ago, with the right-wing government of the Madrid local community, a government which was developing a big politics of cuts and privatising the public education system at all levels in the Madrid community. The Rector developed a whole strategy to manufacture consent about the re-structuring plans. He announced the ‘urgent’ Plan, proceeded to control mass media about it, and is now trying to loosen the pressure, because the Claustro, the main chamber of democratic decision in Complutense University, can veto the Plan and stop it definitively.

In fact, the academic opposition to the re-structuring and merging ideas was immediately stirred by some professors and directors of Departments and Faculties, who developed an electronic ‘Platform to the Reorganisation of Complutense University’. They arranged meetings and manifestos, they signed articles in the main newspapers and media, and they started a strategy of mobilising the university community, students included, sending by mail and by social media the comments and alternative plans to the UCM government.

The Platform against the Re-structuration in Complutense University used the Academic Manifesto as one of the critical pieces to inform and convince everybody in the UCM community of the general movement against the public university in the whole area of Europe.

The circumstances described in the article were so identical to the Spanish ones that all the community was shocked and surprised.  We could recognise the ‘Wolf’, the competitive jails, the rankings misuse, the ‘excellence’ marketing chatter, the ‘disloyalty’ charges against the rebels, etc.

One of the main syndicates of workers and professors sent all the UCM workers the Spanish translation of the Academic Manifesto, which was read by nearly all the university staff, including the office and managerial workers, who commented by mail their impressions and reactions. The University Complutense is an academic community of more than 20,000 workers (the biggest university in Spain).

The situation by now—some six months on—has slightly changed for the better. From the initial idea of suppressing nine Faculties, they now only try to close four of them. Many pressures and negotiations between Rectorate and the different Centres (Faculties and Departments) are producing a new style in the Plan. Many of the Faculties that were about to close will merge only organisationally and will preserve their academic structure.

The battle now is still against the demolition of the Department structure, which protects the academic careers, the teaching organisation, the specialisation and research in small groups. As a piece to display the manoeuvres and the strategies of the Rectorate, the Manifesto was really essential. It helped, with other pieces of academic studies, to create an opinion atmosphere against the process and to open a real opposition to the Plan.

The Academic Manifesto suited the Spanish university situation in all respects. Now that the crisis has beaten the entire Welfare State deeply in Spain, weakening public education, the public health-care system and other public services, the Spanish university is in a very weak position and even some left-wing political leaders are against its survival as a quality institution.

The new consciousness and the critical position of professors and students against the process is getting bigger and bigger. Students—who started to protest and occupied the Faculties in our process, and now are waiting for what will happen—are each time more aware of the dangers of losing a high quality university in their public system. The fight against the tendency is very clear and open. That is why some governors and managers try to reformulate the process, pressing for achieving or creating an artificial consent.

The democratic and autonomous structure of chambers of government in Complutense University still protects the possibility of stopping mergers and restructuration. Complutense University has a Claustro of hundreds of representatives who must accept the Plan, and they are not convinced. The Academic Manifesto has been very important as a tool to stir the critical positions, sharing with them information. The last word of the Claustro is really decisive in UCM.

As in Spain the political trends are now changing from a right hegemony to a more divided and collaborative political balance, with pacts and alliances, the protests will probably allow us to redirect the reorganisation processes and stop them where they are not yet implemented. That will be surely the case in Complutense University. The political uncertainty will give an oxygen balloon to our old university, which has now developed a much more active and critical stance among its professors and workers than the one it had some two years ago.

It seems essential to wake up the critical debate and to recover the critical function that the university always had in European social communities. The last decades of economic bubble and the impact of the crisis left the Spanish university in a very lost and weak condition. It seems that we are reaching times of reconstituting the essence of the university as an organ of critical education and research. These are the common traits of a big crisis in higher global education that we must fight, or we shall perish as developed countries.

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13. Report from France

Problems of the French Universities
Christophe Charle[19]

The current problems in French higher education are related to two complex factors. On the one hand, there are the long-term imbalances inherited from a history of successive reforms, which have tried to correct things in principle, but without ever really going to the root of the problem, as social, political and ideological forces have resisted the consideration of too radical policies. The repeated crises that have confronted certain governments since 1968 are testimony to these obstructions. On the other hand, reform attempts have targeted the segments that were easiest to reform (research, non-university institutions) and have used the internal contradictions among universities (conflicts between disciplines, rivalries between regions and between Paris and the provinces) to introduce changes desired by the government, but these attempts were never really discussed by the academic community in order to avoid crises and head-on confrontations with it. This is the strategy adopted in particular by conservative majorities that were keen to bring international university competition to France and to protect its elite sector, whether it concerns social elites or elites by intellectual recognition (the policies of excellence).

Since 2002, during the decade of right-wing political dominance and the five years of François Hollande, political choices have been limited to a sprinkling of appointments and external funding that has been insufficient to cover the increased needs resulting from the growing numbers of students asking for better training and professional prospects. In addition, universities have been reorganised with the objective to rise in the international rankings, in which very few French universities held prominent places. The problems inherited from the past and aggravated by these choices, have only become more accentuated, with the pauperisation of the smaller universities and the widening of the gaps between disciplines and between institutions.

This policy is the policy of ‘excellence’, the new international rallying call that is never really defined (excellence of what, for whom?). It typically does not question the privileges of the ‘great school’ sector (grandes écoles) and accentuates social, financial and career inequalities between the selective and non-selective sectors. We can identify four recurrent problems in French higher education.

Unequal Financing

This is the misallocation of resources that contradicts the principle of democratisation that has been advertised since the 1990s: those who already have, receive even more. The discourse of broken rungs on the social ladder is confirmed by the study failure rates and unemployment rates between different degree programmes, but no consequences are drawn from this to reboot the system. The failing social mobility is precisely the consequence of the structural inequalities maintained by the ‘policies of excellence’.

Premature Specialisation

This is the premature choice to specialise in the name of ‘professionalization’, advocated as a remedy for unemployment, even while current societies demand more and more ‘flexibility’, polyvalence, professional mobility during lifetime. While in other countries universities assume an important role in permanent education or the readjustment of older workers who fall victim to careers truncated by unemployment, they do not fulfil this role very well in France—except for the most qualified managerial staff who benefit from additional training paid by their employers (and in any case this mostly occurs through the sector of the écoles).

The Mirage of International Awards

The obsession with international rankings (such as the Shanghai index) that are, by their methodologies, ill-adapted to realistically measure the efficacy of a university system originates in a misconceived analogy with sports rankings. The university rankings are centred on international academic ‘reputations’ or on a few standardised disciplines, such as the natural sciences, and hence privilege research work that is but a minor fraction of the work done in most mass universities, which dominate the French academic landscape today. Pedagogical innovation, a university’s adaptation to its local environment or the capacity to integrate new groups and new issues are ignored, as these rankings use fixed academic indicators rooted in the past. However, these are the very qualities that show the true dynamism of an institution, not its conformity to an old-fashioned ideal dominated by criteria that are alien to education.

Loss of Independence

This obsession has been sustained by governments from left to right and cloaked in various reorganisation policies, which have created ungovernable bureaucratic entities, such as PRES (Poles of Research and Higher Education) or Comue (Communities of Universities and Institutes). This has aggravated inequalities between universities in their ability to acquire external resources, leading to financial deficits or administrative subjection. Control has become concentrated in small and exclusive groups, which has practically abolished the principle of autonomous education and pedagogical choice. Priorities are fixed in light of what ‘sells’ internationally or in the rankings, not in function of real needs or what lecturers and students actually require.

In sum, all that was granted to universities after 1968 or after 1984 (the two previous laws on higher education) is about to be abolished. The current reforms benefit but a minority of institutions, of academics and of students. French governments refuse to evaluate inadequate policies, already established abroad, which have demonstrated their limitations and lack of pertinence to solve French academic problems.

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14. Report from the Netherlands

The Struggle for the Public University in the Netherlands
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder[20]

Much has happened since we published the first (Dutch) version of the Academic Manifesto in the philosophy journal Krisis (Halffman and Radder 2013; for the English version, see Halffman and Radder 2015). Since then, there has been a remarkable wave of resistance among academic staff and students in the Netherlands: several protest groups arose, which published a flood of critical analyses, organised numerous debates, and engaged in many political actions. As a result of all this critical activity, some minor improvements have been made, but unfortunately many of our objections to Management’s colonisation of the university remain acutely relevant today. We briefly review the various forms of protest and reform initiatives of the past years and assess the changes of the main devices and policies deployed by the ‘Wolf’ of Management.

Resistance and Reform Action

Critical Movements

In the course of 2013, two critical movements arose: the Science in Transition group and the Platform for the Reform of Dutch Universities. The focus of the first is on the excesses of the current research culture, especially in the life and natural sciences (Science in Transition 2017). The group has organised a series of workshops and conferences, aimed primarily at academics and science policy organisations. Its main claim was that science had become too focused on producing research articles, at the expense of social relevance, but it did not question the fundamental features of the Wolf’s management. However, its tone of reasonability, its relations to the science policy establishment and a well-resourced website did draw the attention of many. The second initiative (in which both of us are involved) critically addresses a broader spectrum of issues concerning the research, education, organisation, administration and public role of Dutch universities (Platform H.NU 2017). A variety of activities were undertaken. One of these was to offer a petition for radical reforms of the universities to the Dutch Parliament early 2014. This petition was endorsed by seventeen relevant organisations, including several unions, university councils and professional associations. This more confrontational and political strategy raised attention, but its main effect was indirect: keeping pressure on those attempting change from within the system.

The Unions

One of the smaller unions, the Scientists’ Union (VAWO), has always been keen on supporting the broader work conditions of academics. However, the larger unions still had to make a shift from a primary emphasis on traditional labour issues (wages, pensions, employment) to a more systematic critique of the overall structures and cultures of current academia. At the moment, the focus of the unions is on the problems of precarious labour and work pressure, but these problems are now seen as embedded in broader issues of the system of research funding, managerial bureaucracy and administrative hierarchy. The unions have obtained some minor concessions through labour negotations, such as a concession from academic employers to a modest reduction in precarious labour.

Student and Staff Protests

At the same time, student activism was booming. Several student actions and an occupation took place at VU University Amsterdam. They were followed by a larger and longer occupation of the Maagdenhuis, the administrative centre of the University of Amsterdam, early 2015. In the wake of these occupations, the students’ protest organisation The New University was formed as well as the reform group Rethink-UvA (2017), primarily consisting of faculty of this university. Furthermore, significant actions, both by students and faculty, took place in other universities, especially in Groningen, Maastricht and Utrecht. All these critical movements found significant response among faculty, staff and students, as was for instance shown in the two ‘Nights of the University’, the first held in Amsterdam in 2014, the second in Groningen in 2015. More generally, the many events generated a lot of media attention, locally, nationally, and even internationally. These movements raised a major additional issue that we had overseen in the Manifesto, to our shame: the arrival of ethnic, gender and cultural diversity as a political issue at Dutch universities, especially in the more diverse Western part of the country.

Government and Political Parties

Meanwhile, the Government consisted of a coalition between the right-wing and neoliberal party VVD and the ‘new left’ social-democratic party PvdA. The former was the larger one, but the Minister of Education, Culture and Science was Jet Bussemaker, a social democrat. Generally speaking, science and university policy is not a popular subject among politicians and the dominance of the neoliberal ideology makes things worse. For instance, the only issue that came up, occasionally, during the last election campaigns in the spring of 2017, was the system of student loans that had recently replaced a bursary system. Although initially several political parties acknowledged the problems of the current university and science system, this consensus soon waned. The only parties with a consistent interest in, and constructive views of, the problems were the liberal democrats (D66) and the socialists (SP). MPs from these parties participated frequently in meetings and panels, criticizing work pressure and commodification and emphasizing the importance of academic self-governance.

Policy Advice

Expert advisory organisations, research organisations and academics have produced several reports on the future of research and higher education, most of which simply ignored the fundamental criticism and discontent. Among the exceptions was a report of the Rathenau Institute sketching different priorities for higher education and research (Van der Meulen, Pont, Faasse, Deuten, and Belder 2015). Even though this report did underline the possibility of alternatives in the heart of Dutch science policy circles, it did not provide an incisive analysis of the fundamental features of the current management regime. Another exception that also drew attention among research managers was the Leiden Manifesto, a brief but powerful statement on the meaningless and meaningful use of research metrics (Hicks, Wouters, Waltman, de Rijcke, and Rafols 2015). While not denying the value of some current output measurement, it did offer a vision of how this important aspect of the current regime could be reformed and made more reasonable.

Regime Change?

Under the pressure of protest and the perspective of reform, small changes have been made to the rule of the Wolf in the Netherlands, of which we can only discuss the most prominent here. The Leiden Manifesto is at least being noticed by some academic leaders in the Netherlands and in some places we see certain modifications of the indicator fetishism in the area of research.21 The Utrecht Medical Faculty, a quite significant research unit in the Dutch research landscape and run by a key member of the Science in Transition group, has initiated new staff assessment procedures that will rely less on purely quantitative indicators of academic pseudo-achievement, but pay more attention to social relevance.

The Dutch Standard Evaluation Protocol, which is generally used for the periodic audit of research units, now prescribes peer assessment of the best publications’ quality, and has skipped assessment in terms of mere quantity of publications. It remains to be seen how audit committees will apply the new rules—there is a risk that the process will start to resemble the English REF system (the Research Excellence Framework; see Watermeyer and Olssen 2016), along with its transfer market for top scorers.

Another relevant development is the articulation of ‘counter-measures’ for the humanities: a diverse set of more flexible indicators that can be used by humanities departments. These criteria for ‘Quality and Relevance in the Humanities’ ( 2017) are meant to be included in the Standard Evaluation Protocol. Even though this does not remove the dangers of indicator fetishism completely, it does at least allow the humanities to escape the imposition of natural science indicators, which are meaningless and often even destructive for these disciplines.

However, the idea that permanent competition of all against all is the royal road to efficiency and excellence is still thriving. The competition for students among universities is as fierce as it was, and has even been expanded by attempts to attract significantly more foreign students. Equally fierce is the competition for research money and research positions, with decreasing success rates in the competition for research grants (Rathenau Instituut 2017).

The related problem of the disproportionally large percentage of temporary teaching and research contracts is also far from solved. In addition, there is the plan to end the civil-service status for academic staff, which entails less job protection and undermines what was left of academic independence.

Under the motto that management of a university is essentially the same as managing any other organisation, some administrators were catapulted into universities from banking (Engelen, Fernandez, and Hendrikse 2014), or from other institutions completely alien to academia. Some of them have not fared well and have clashed hard with academic constituencies, especially at VU University Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam, even forcing some of them out of office. There seems to be some recognition that maybe there is something peculiar about academic work and that—just maybe—academics should be more involved in how universities are run. In this spirit, Minister Bussemaker has increased the say that student and faculty councils have in university politics. Even if their overall role is still primarily ‘advisory’, they now have at least a say in decisions on the main features of the university, faculty and department budgets.

Finally, not much seems to have changed concerning the promise of economic salvation and the broader issue of commodification (cf. Radder 2010). In spite of significant objections, the so-called Top Sector policy will be continued. That is to say that a substantial part of the budget of NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (550 million euros for the two years of 2016 and 2017, which is roughly 35% of its yearly budget for research grants), will still be earmarked for research collaboration between publicly funded academics and private, commercial enterprises. Even in the debate on the Dutch Science Agenda, officially advertised as a form of citizen science, the rhetoric of economic salvation is present everywhere (De Graaf, Rinnooy Kan, and Molenaar 2017).

Activism: What Works?

In the last section of the Manifesto, we listed eleven strategies for change. Looking back at the experiences of the past four years in the Netherlands, a combination of the following strategies seems to have worked best (in as far as they have achieved anything at all): inclusion of the unions, which also provides opportunities for legal action; mass demonstrations (in the many large-scale debates and events) and contra-occupations (in which the students have played a very significant role); contra-indicators, such as the new Standard Evaluation Protocol and the new assessment criteria for the humanities; finally, parliamentary and political action, in the form of attempts to engage political parties and government in the cause for a public university. In general terms, a combination of pressure (from unions, protesting students and academics, political parties, media attention) with the development of concrete alternatives for university managers has generated minor reforms.

Assessment: Towards a Public University?

In the Manifesto, we articulated a number of principles for a public university. Unfortunately, apart from the promise to reduce quantitative productivity as an assessment criterion for research, not much progress has been made in the direction of the concrete measures we suggested to establish a more public university. Management has had to withdraw in some places, but overall, the modifications to the devices of the Wolf have remained marginal. Even if current policy promises come true, there will be a little bit less blind indicator fetishism, some more attention for the peculiarities of the humanities, a few per cent less casual labour, a little bit of ground regained for academic democracy, and a little more attention for social issues next to economic research priorities—in the most optimistic of assessments.

Nevertheless, something has shifted. When we wrote the Manifesto, we argued that the Wolf was so powerful, it could simply brush away all criticism as irrelevant, out-dated, or naïve. Protest could be ignored: it was not even necessary to reason with the opposition. This has changed. The Minister of Education visited the occupiers at the University of Amsterdam. Even in the lofty cloud of academic policy makers, there is now talk of social significance beyond economic relevance. Although the National Research Agenda has devolved from an ill-conceived citizen consultation into a venue for lobbying, at least there is the recognition that public deliberation on scientific and scholarly research could be meaningful and not just a matter for investment bankers (Halffman 2017).

In sum, some small progress has been made. Cracks have appeared and dissent has acquired legitimacy, but the tensions that sparked this dissent are still there. The huge wave of activism of 2015 has waned, but the resistance is still significant and much remains to be done.


De Graaf, B., A. Rinnooy Kan, and H. Molenaar, eds. 2017. The Dutch National Research Agenda in perspective: A reflection on research and science policy in practice. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Engelen, E., R. Fernandez, and R. Hendrikse. 2014. “How Finance Penetrates its Other: A Cautionary Tale on the Financialization of a Dutch University.” Antipode 46 (4): 1072-1091. doi:10.1111/anti.12086.

Halffman, W. 2017. “De Nationale Wetenschapsagenda: leuk geprobeerd.”

Halffman, W. and H. Radder, H. 2013. “Het academisch manifest: Van een bezette naar een publieke universiteit.” Krisis: Tijdschrift voor Actuele Filosofie (3): 2-18.

Halffman, W., and H. Radder. 2015. The Academic Manifesto: From an Occupied to a Public University. Minerva 53 (2): 165-187. doi:10.1007/s11024-015-9270-9.

Hicks, D., P. Wouters, L. Waltman, S. de Rijcke, and I. Rafols. 2015. “The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics.” Nature 520 (7548), 429-431. doi:10.1038/520429a.

Platform H.NU. 2017. “Platform Hervorming Nederlandse Universiteiten.” Accessed July 6 2017. 2017. “Quality and relevance in the humanities.”

Radder, H., ed. 2010. The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Rathenau Instituut. 2017. “Factsheet: aanvraagdruk bij NWO.”

Rethink-UvA. 2017. “UvA Staff for a New University.” Accessed July 6 2017.

Science in Transition. 2017. “Science in Transition—English.” Accessed July 6 2017.

Van der Meulen, B., P.M. Pont, P. Faasse, J. Deuten, and R. Belder. 2015. Keuzes voor de toekomst van de Nederlandse wetenschap: Analyse van beleidsopties bij vier scenario’s. Den Haag: Rathenau Instituut.

Watermeyer, R., and M. Olssen. 2016. “‘Excellence’ and Exclusion: The Individual Costs of Institutional Competitiveness.” Minerva 54 (2): 201-218. doi: 10.1007/s11024-016-9298-5.

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The Productivist University Goes Global (and So Does Its Resistance)
Willem Halffman and Hans Radder

The model of the productivist university has spread over the globe like wildfire. It organises academic work for maximum ‘output’ at the lowest possible cost, in the spirit of a corporation—even if, mostly and for the time being, still in public ownership. The model is supported and sold by a powerful discourse that promises accountability of researchers and their expenses through rigorous and impartial measurement; improved quality through fierce competition between researchers and their institutes; enhanced ‘efficiency’ in research and higher-education resource allocation; the fostering of ‘excellence’ or ‘top’ research and schooling; economic salvation through a never-ending stream of ‘innovations’; all led by professional managers who have earned their spurs in tougher worlds than leafy university campuses. The model finds its roots in the New Public Management of the 1980s, which advocated running public services like businesses and has allowed corporations to take over public transport, utilities, inspectorates, regulatory bodies, education, health care, and sometimes even police functions and prisons.

The productivist university model is pushed by a variety of believers. There are those with a blanket trust in rugged competition, the universal benefits of markets and the wonders of free enterprise, also on campus. Further to the right of the political spectrum, there are those who see this form of management as a convenient tool to get unruly academics back under state control, safely chained to their production mills. Then there are the ‘realistic’ factions who believe this is the only way to save public universities, to safeguard affordable higher education and research, faced by the massification of higher education and the need to escape the policies of permanent austerity. And then there are the well-intending scores of university administrators, academics-become-managers and policy makers, who have been made to believe that there is no alternative: this is how universities are managed; this is the professional standard. They explain the details to each other at professional conferences and professional training workshops and make sure the model spreads to countries in ‘need of modernisation’, such as aspiring EU candidates or global laggards.

The havoc caused by the productivist university is all around us. In the shadow of its win-win rhetoric lie the hidden costs not expressed in key performance indicators and the unintended, but no less destructive, ‘side-effects’. For those below the pinnacles of performance and recognition, academic employment has become precarious and stressful. Lecturers are expected to invest massively in courses they may not ever teach a second time, because the dynamics of production has already progressed to a ‘higher-quality’ curriculum. In spite of this, they are primarily assessed by their research ‘performance’, often in terms of reified and distorting indicators. Blunt evaluation systems reward researchers and institutes that have found ways to game the system through salami publishing, text recycling, citation rings, or other ways to boost proxy indicators. Academic self-rule through representative boards and councils has to make way for ‘more efficient’ professional managers, taking control over academic work and creating more hierarchical relations—especially as ‘increased autonomy’ of the university comes wrapped in the regimentation of ‘responsibilising’ performance indicators. Meanwhile, management seems obsessed with buildings, hoping one day to develop the real estate portfolio of US Ivy League schools, aggravating the logic of commodification that has penetrated university politics. PR and marketing specialists hope to tap into the international student market, bringing in ‘fresh talent’ and especially fresh scholarship money, while organising a brain drain from countries most in need of that talent. To draw in students, resources are reallocated from actual teaching and student support, to advertising and ‘holiday camp’ facilities. Growth is imperative, as is the belief in the benefits of scale, in ever-larger (but less convivial) research institutes, campuses and classrooms (see Batterbury and Byrne for the case of Australia[22]). In the global pseudo-market of research and education ‘output’, making local cultural and societal contributions is not, or hardly, rewarded. Regularly publishing in newspapers, magazines and non-English academic journals becomes a hobby or a sign of being an academic loser. Societal relevance has become a code word for the acquisition of funding, be it corporate or otherwise.

When we denounced this model in our Academic Manifesto as an occupation of our dear universities by an alien force, the ‘Wolf of management’, we knew the productivist university model had blown over to The Netherlands from the Anglo-American world. But little did we expect our angry Manifesto to resonate so far and wide. We received sympathetic mail from all corners of the world, including countries we presumed far less tainted by the madness of maximising management. We asked our respondents to tell us their stories, to explain what they saw happening in their countries and received thirteen accounts, which we complemented in this collection by our own description of recent events in the Netherlands. These accounts are not systematic and quantitative hypothesis-testing country studies. They are reports both prompted by personal experience and backed by empirical studies and cogent arguments. They tell of colonisation, of how the productivist model creeps in; but also of resistance and protest, sometimes resulting in partial victories. Below are the lessons we draw from these accounts, although ours is but one perspective on a wealth of contributions from widely differing contexts.

Productivism Contextualized

Many authors in this collection agree with Michel Lacroix that the analysis of the Academic Manifesto, recapitulated above in terms of a productivist university (following the term used by Dagnino and Barbosa de Oliveira), triggers a very strong ‘worryingly familiar’ feeling. At the same time, they point to significant contextual variations in the productivist model. As a result of conditions specific to national systems, geo-political regions, or even a specific university, the toolbox of productivism is applied selectively and adapted to local settings. In some places, such as Spain or Belgium (see Aladro Vico; Bogaert, De Craene, Froeyman, Stroobants and Vertommen), a relatively strong academic representation remains in place in the form of elected councils or elected deans, providing some leverage for resistance. However, even if academics are formally in control, the toolbox of productivism still spreads, supporting our uncomfortable observation that, at least partly, we are doing this to ourselves.

Of particular interest is the role of the productivist model in the post-communist context of Eastern Europe. Here, the productivist university is presented as the modern, professional model, shaking up clientelism, driving out free-loaders, while at the same time sneaking in the commodification of knowledge at the expense of local academic culture: see the accounts from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Hibert and Lešić-Thomas), Hungary (Wessely) and Slovakia (Hvorecký, Višňovský and Porubjak). In Hungary specifically, productivism is allied to a strongly authoritarian state that is using the discourse of managerialism to assert its power over liberal (and hence threatening) academics. In our communication with Eastern European academics—not explicitly in these accounts—we were struck by their perception of EU institutions as imposing the productivist model, either under the banner of facilitating student exchange (‘Bologna’) or simply as the paradigm of up-to-date university governance.

However, the idea that productivism is identical to good governance, the ‘right way to do things’ and worth emulating from countries at the top of the global science league, also spreads without such formal pressure. Both from Brazil and Spain (Dagnino and Barbosa de Oliveira; Aladro Vico) come reports of how tools and models are copied as alleged success recipes, but stripped of the stories covering the disadvantages, as if there are no downsides. In these circumstances, accounts of the dark side of productivism from seemingly successful countries such as The Netherlands can apparently help counter the managers’ hurrah.

National legislation and policies are a clear mediating factor in all cases, including the extreme government interference in Japanese universities (see Katsumori), the infamous UK Research Excellence Framework (see Watermeyer), the peculiar position of elite public institutions in France (see Charle) and the intrusive administrative reform attempts in Québec (see Lacroix). The massification of higher education has made university degrees attainable beyond the upper and higher middle classes. At the same time, in the face of an inability of national governments to match this growth in the budget, it has been an important source of tension for which productivist recipes are presented as a solution. Overall, this drives higher education towards (semi-)privatisation through raised fees and increased corporate funding, providing excuses for further public divestment (see Brown describing this logic for the US). These features also point to a certain weakness of our analysis in the Academic Manifesto. Although we briefly acknowledged in a footnote the significance of ‘wide-ranging political and socio-cultural developments’, our primary metaphor was the Wolf of management. Because a notion of the ‘managerial’ university might tend to ignore, or at least underestimate, the importance of wider factors, such as neoliberalist government policy, legislation and worldviews, we now prefer the more comprehensive notion of the productivist university.

Quite specific also is the position of English-speaking countries, which have a particular strategic advantage in the international (graduate) student ‘market’. Among these countries, Australia has attempted to turn the massification of higher education to its benefit, by attracting students from South-East Asia. Under the pressure of austerity politics, the foreign students are heralded as a way to preserve and even boost the position of Australian universities, a manoeuvre facilitated by a move to a more productivist university (see Batterbury and Byrne). Although the English-speaking countries have, in this respect, a strategic advantage, similar processes have occurred in the Netherlands, as we mentioned in our contribution to this collection. Thus, the University of Groningen proudly announces they will be the first ‘mainland European’ university to open a branch campus in China, in collaboration with China Agricultural University, Beijing, and alongside the Dutch dairy company Friesland Campina (University of Groningen 2017). They see China as an ‘enormous growth market for students’ and hope to lure to Groningen a significant number of the 450,000 Chinese students who go to study abroad and will then, of course, pay tuition fees that are  much higher than the Dutch fees (depending on the degree programme, they may be between four and sixteen times higher).

Besides these contextual features, similar elements keep returning when the productivist university goes global. As reorganisations are triggered by budget cuts, economic crises and austerity policies, or even by populist election victories, policy makers look for alternatives and find a model that is believed to work in some remote scientific Shangri-La, at the top of the Shanghai ranking. The country reports include several examples of persistent austerity policies that have hollowed out academic institutions and collegiality, such as in Denmark and Finland (see Välikangas), but probably nowhere as dramatic as in Brazil (see Dagnino and Barbosa de Oliveira). When the state lets down its universities, private capital seems the only way out, along with adventures in financialisation.

How to Resist the Productivist University

Modified by local specificities, accounts of the introduction of the productivist university, either partial or in full deplorable glory, have come to us from many places. Often, they come from academics relieved to find that others share their outrage; that they are not alone in their attempts to resist. Just as the specificities of the productivist university are mediated by local conditions, so are the forms of resistance. Ideally, resistance to the productivist university has three general aims. First, the creation and maintenance of solidarity among students, faculty and support staff. This includes the defence or formation of institutionally embedded democratic structures that guarantee all involved a voice and a vote in significant matters of their concern. Second, in-depth analysis and criticism of the current predicament of the university, complemented by the development of well-considered, concrete alternatives. Third, a variety of activities (primarily, debate and action) aimed at the realization of these alternatives.

In the Manifesto, we identified a long list of examples from labour movements to assess possible action forms against productivism. Which patterns of resistance can be found in our fourteen country reports? We briefly review seven different forms of resistance (or the reasons for their absence).

Democratic Intervention

The accounts from Spain and Belgium show that democratic university and faculty councils and elected deans may not prevent the introduction of productivism. Yet, the case of Spain also demonstrates that they may form crucial platforms from which to resist its most pernicious effects. For this reason, the small extension of the democratic rights of students and staff that resulted from the recent protests in the Netherlands constituted at least a step in the right direction.

Inversely, attempts to remove the institutions or deliberative platforms of academic democracy are a prime tactic to pave the way for productivism, as illustrated by the accounts from Japan and Hungary. Like these accounts, the Slovakian report emphasizes the value of academic democracy and argues for a return of personal integrity and academic freedom. The Bosnian report advocates a revival of some elements of the older Yugoslav socialist tradition, especially the virtues of solidarity and cooperation. In all these reports, opportunities for substantial change are seen to be few or even absent. Of the reasons for this, two stand out: an authoritarian, illiberal national government and an academic culture of passivity, obedience and conformism. The account from the United Kingdom argues that even well-meaning attempts to make the current system of research evaluation more inclusive, in fact conform and contribute to an intrinsically bad way of assessing research achievements.


The most remarkable pattern among the successful strategies to defend the university against productivism in the accounts we collected is the importance of unions, organizing academics, support staff and students. Brazil, Québec, Spain, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands: they all report how unionisation has been vital to counteract the devices of the Wolf. Unions provide a collective bargaining position over work conditions, can investigate and gather evidence, or organise up mass mobilisation for protest. Therefore, there is an important empirical question: how many university employees and how many students are member of a union? In the Netherlands, this is only a small fraction and we are afraid that the situation in most of the other countries is not much better. Still, these accounts suggest that unions are a key factor in successful resistance.

Demonstrations and Critical Action

The aims of demonstrations and critical, public actions by inhabitants of the university may vary. Sometimes it is to raise awareness of a range of problems, both among students, academics, the wider public, and policy-makers and politicians. They may also aim to put pressure on managers or policy makers to solve a particular problem in an appropriate way. Or they may try to enforce basic changes in higher-education politics and laws. The role and impact of these forms of resistance appear to differ significantly in the countries represented in our collection. The United States reports ‘many promising examples of effective advocacy for the values and institutions of public higher education’, especially student activism, resulting in increased public awareness of the current state of higher education in the US. The Netherlands has also seen a big wave of resistance, starting in 2013, culminating in 2015, and continuing now with lower amplitude. Some small, yet significant modifications to productivism have been achieved by providing alternative management strategies, such as the reforms in the new academic career model in development at the Utrecht Medical Centre.

In contrast, mobilising students and academics seems to be more difficult in Australia, due to the dominance of a widespread neoliberal worldview and politics. Also in the cases of Canada, Finland and Slovakia the individualising tactics of the Wolf, which increase competition rather than solidarity, seems to be quite successful. In Hungary, the first and strongest challenge is to defeat the ‘Octopus’, the anti-democratic and anti-intellectual national government, with its hugely destructive tentacles. However, thus far, the impact of demonstrations and critical actions has been small, while legal action is considered but is not seen as very promising.

Strikes and Collective Refusal

A few actual strikes have been reported: from Brazil, Canada and Belgium. We feel that, in the face of deteriorating working conditions, this form of resistance could be exploited more, especially by teaming up with the unions. In the Academic Manifesto, we also surmised the possibility of administrative civil disobedience, with sabotage strategies against petty administrative control measures. From Québec now comes a successful example of this strategy, as meaningless paperwork was withdrawn after a joint disobedience act to systematically report ‘nothing to declare’. Our Belgian colleagues propose collective action against output funding: the strong relation between the number of publications in journals indexed by the commercial company Thomson Reuters (recently sold and rebranded as Clarivate Analytics by investment bankers) and the public funds allocated to a university. If academics would stop mentioning their institutional affiliation in their publications and presentations, institutional output counting would be subverted without endangering individual careers. Such acts of non-cooperation are a powerful reminder that many of the productivist instruments are implemented with our assistance. At the same time, they remind us of the fact that these forms of resistance can only succeed if there exists a substantial measure of solidarity: many, or even most of the people involved should be prepared to participate.


The only reported contra-occupations took place in Spain and in the Netherlands. Yet, from other sources we hear that every so often they do occur in Brazil as well. It is primarily the younger generation of students who play an indispensable role in these strongly physical events. The Spanish and Dutch occupations have been quite successful in raising the awareness (of academics, politicians and the wider public) concerning the predicament of the universities, but they have not (yet) led to solutions to the big, fundamental problems.


Brain drain is a common form of exit: leaving your country because the situation elsewhere is perceived to be more promising. Another form of exit may happen even more frequently: frustrated or resigned young academics who decide to leave academia after their n-th brief and temporary teaching contract and/or their n-th rejected application for research money. Forms of exit have been mentioned in the reports from Finland, Slovakia and Australia, but they surely occur in many other countries as well. However, even if individuals may have good reasons for both forms of exit, individual resignation does not constitute an effective form of resistance, as we already stated in the Academic Manifesto.

Contra-Indicators and the Power of Humour

The only examples of contra-indicators come from the Netherlands, in the form of alternatives to the h-factor and specific assessment criteria for the humanities. In the Manifesto, we also advocated the development of more playful counter-measures. No doubt, the many forms of in-depth argument, serious debate and ‘hard’ action reviewed thus far, are necessary for effecting significant change. But will they also be sufficient for mobilising the silent majority? And will they be sufficient for keeping alive our own motivation in the face of (unavoidable) barriers and disappointments? Perhaps not. For these purposes, more playful actions may be equally important, showing that the emperor wears no clothes.

Last year, for instance, the Platform for the Reform of Dutch Universities organized a ranking-the-slogans contest (Platform H.NU 2016a). We collected all PR slogans of the Dutch universities on our website with a button to vote for the worst of them. At the same time, we approached newspapers and university magazines to make the action widely known. Finally, we calculated the scores, published the results of the contest and delivered the prizes at the governing boards of the two ‘winning’ universities.[23] We also offered a ‘random slogan generator’, based on an arbitrary selection of slogan clichés, to provide university management with a free alternative to expensive marketing bureaus (Platform H.NU 2016b).

The more serious, underlying aim of this playful action is, of course, a strong critique of the university as an ordinary commercial enterprise. Its particular target is the forceful and costly promotion of universities through extensive marketing and PR departments and branding campaigns. Ideally, this action should be accompanied by quantitative analyses of how much public money is being wasted in this way. The reports show that PR and marketing is seen to be a crucial task of universities in many countries. For this reason, similar playful actions could be appropriate and effective in other countries. They may make an indispensable contribution to raising public awareness and keeping up our own spirits.


As the productivist university goes global, people in academic institutions are beginning to realise that their struggles are not just against the mischief of a local phenomenon. Productivist recipes have spread fast, but the stories and analyses of their downsides are also catching up quickly. Our objective was to spread not just the analysis of what is wrong, but also of what can be done about it. The accounts from fourteen countries offer an overview of successful forms of action. Unions seem to play a crucial role, in many of the reports, but we think there is much in them that may assist the struggles you are facing in your own academic environment.

Which further steps could be made? More country accounts would be helpful: more reports on resistance strategies followed and tactics tested. It would be particularly interesting to get more stories from South-East Asia, a rich and fast-growing culture of research and higher education that has remained beyond our scope so far. The Middle East and African countries would also be interesting, for example covering the extensive political action at South African universities in recent years. Perhaps a next step could be to develop more systematic comparisons, but for now a geographic expansion of our coverage seems to be most useful.

Another major task will be to develop an outline of a radical alternative for the future, the features of a university that is profoundly public, proudly academic, but also financially sustainable. This is no mean feat, but as the next series of reorganisations comes around, you too may find yourself in need of a more inspiring vision than that of the productivist university.


Platform H.NU. 2016a. “Rijksuniversiteit Groningen heeft domste universitaire reclameleus.” Accessed July 10 2017.

Platform H.NU. 2016b. “University Slogan Generator.” Accessed July 10 2017.

University of Groningen. 2017. “University of Groningen to start first Dutch branch campus in China.” Accessed July 10 2017.

[1] Michel Lacroix is Professor in Literary Studies at the Département d’études littéraires, Université du Québec à Montréal. His current research focuses on literary and scholarly periodicals, the sociology of literary groups, and transatlantic intellectual networks. He is also a union officer at UQAM.

[2] Mark B. Brown is Professor in the Department of Government at California State University, Sacramento. He is the author of Science in Democracy: Expertise, Institutions, and Representation (MIT Press, 2009), and various publications on the politics of expertise, political representation, bioethics, climate change, and related topics. He teaches courses on modern and contemporary political theory, democratic theory, and the politics of science, technology, and the environment.

[3] Renato Dagnino: Professor in the areas of Innovation Policy Analysis and Public Management at the Department of Science and Technology Policy (State University of Campinas—Unicamp), of which he was one of the organizers in the late 1970s. He has been a visiting professor at several Latin American universities. His most important books are Science and Technology in Brazil: The Decision-Making Process and the Research Community; Neutrality of Science and Technological Determinism; Social Technology: Conceptual and Methodological Contributions; The Defense Industry in the Lula Government and Strategic Public Management.
Marcos Barbosa de Oliveira: BSc in Physics (University of São Paulo (USP), 1970); PhD in History and Philosophy of Science (University of London, 1981). Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, USP, until retirement in 2014. Now assistant lecturer at the Philosophy Graduate Programme (USP). Researcher at the Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA-USP), member of the Philosophy, History and Sociology of Science and Technology research group. Member of Associação Filosófica Scientiae Studia. Recent publications in English: “On the Commodification of Science: The Programmatic Dimension” and “Technology and Basic Science: The Linear Model of Innovation.”;

[4] Makoto Katsumori is Professor of Philosophy, Faculty of Education and Human Studies, Akita University, Japan.

[5] Simon Batterbury is Professor of Political Ecology, Lancaster University and Principal Fellow, School of Geography, University of Melbourne. He has taught for 24 years in the UK, USA and Australia (including three years in program management). He has edited the free online Journal of Political Ecology since 2003.
Jason Byrne is Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University, Australia.

[6] Mario Hibert, PhD, since 2006 teaches at the Department of Comparative Literature and Librarianship, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo. He holds a doctoral degree in information and communication science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia; and has a Master’s Degree in Human Rights and Democracy from the Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, University of Sarajevo/University of Bologna. He explores the critical issues of librarianship, networked society, digital culture and information ethics.
Andrea Lešić-Thomas, PhD, has studied (Belgrade and London), taught (School of Slavonic and East European Studies and Queen Mary, both University of London, and currently Philosophy Faculty, University of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina) and written on comparative literature (Russian, French and South Slav literatures) and literary theory (in particular structuralism, narratology, and Bakhtin, as well as memory studies). She currently teaches literary theory at the University of Sarajevo, and conducts research on memory studies, cognitive poetics, love stories, and vampires. She is the author of the book Bahtin, Bart, strukturalizam: Književnost kao spoznaja i mogućnost slobode. Beograd: Službeni Glasnik, 2011.

7 The official website of the University of Sarajevo, however, on the page detailing the history of the University, seems to imply that the institution draws its legacy from the founding of the Gazi Husrev-Bey’s Library in the 16th Century, as well as in the founding of various Seminaries (even though theology Faculties—Islamic, Catholic and Orthodox—have become the official members of the University only in the last few years) and of the National Museum in the 19th Century. This muddling of chronology is itself a sign of the muddled state of affairs (University of Sarajevo 2017).

8 Andrea’s father’s early career is a good example of this; a few years after World War II, he was amongst the crop of talented pupils who were, by government decree, picked out of grammar schools and enrolled in secondary schools which trained primary school teachers; upon graduation, aged 18, he was allocated to the primary school in the small town of Kreševo; two years later, a school inspector decided he was wasted in the small town and its primary school, and decreed him more suited to university study and an academic career; so, again by decree, he was amongst the first students of the Faculty of Philosophy where both Mario and Andrea now teach. This kind of detailed social engineering was not sustained for very long, but did remain as background logic to why people attended university in the first place.

8 Our translation of the Academic Manifesto was published in Pregled (Halffman and Radder 2015), the main academic publication for the social sciences of our university, in an issue which serves as the proceedings of a round table entitled ‘The Role and Place of Public Universities in Bosnia-Herzegovina’. The round table itself represented all sorts of views (from elderly academics defending the Humboldtian university to PhD students arguing that customer/student surveys show that customers/students are most satisfied if their institution has a plan for strategic development, above the quality of teaching and access to good libraries or laboratories, above even the good price of beer in the student cafeteria); it has been, as far as we are aware, completely ineffectual in terms of any policy impact, beneficial or malevolent, and at the time mostly served as a ritualistic airing of views.

[10] Anna Wessely, PhD, is art historian and sociologist. She is University Lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University and at the Fine Arts University in Budapest, President of the Hungarian Sociological Association, and Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly journal BUKSZ (Budapest Review of Books).

[11] Jozef Hvorecký, PhD, is Professor of Information Science at the High School of Management/City University of Seattle located in Trenčín, Slovakia, and an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Liverpool, UK.
Emil Višňovský, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
Matúš Porubjak, PhD, is Associate Professor of philosophy at University of Ss Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, Slovakia.

[12] Anita Välikangas is Doctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Social Sciences. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on the connection between scientific research and policy making at the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (TINT).

[13] Richard Watermeyer is a Reader in Education at the University of Bath, UK. He is a sociologist of education (knowledge, science and expertise) with general interests in education policy, practice and pedagogy. He is specifically engaged with critical sociologies of higher education and a focus on new conceptualizations of academic praxis and the current and future role of the (public) university, particularly in the context of the marketization, globalization and neoliberalization of higher education.

[14] The formal timetable for REF2021 is still to be agreed.

15 Reported figures put the total cost of REF2014 at somewhere in the region of £240 million.

[15] Valerie De Craene is a PhD student at the division of Geography and Tourism at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Leuven University, Belgium.
Anton Froeyman is a former academic (and now a free-lance academic consultant), who until 2016 worked as a Post-Doc at the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science at the Faculty of Arts & Humanities in Ghent University, Belgium.
Karen Stroobants is a Post-Doctoral researcher at the Centre for Protein Misfolding Diseases at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and a former PhD student at the Department of Chemistry at Leuven University.
Sigrid Vertommen is a Teaching Assistant at the Middle East and North Africa Research Group at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at Ghent University, Belgium.

[17] The money universities receive is denoted by means of different ‘streams’. The first stream consists of direct donations from the government to the universities. The second stream consists of bottom-up competitive funding for individual researchers (i.e. grants), the third stream is formed by money coming from top-down projects (from the government or the industry), and the fourth stream (which in Flanders is by far the smallest) consists of donations to the university by individuals (wealthy alumni, for example).

[18] Eva Aladro Vico is Director of the Department of Journalism III, Faculty of Information Sciences, at Complutense University Madrid; professor in Information and Communication Theory; Coordinator of the academic journal CIC Cuadernos de Información y Comunicación (Latindex, IBSS, WPCA, SA, Ebsco, Ulrich’s, DOAJ); Director of the research group Communicative Structures and Interactions Between the Different Levels of Interpersonal Communication, and autor of several academic articles and books, including̔ The 10 Laws of Information Theory (2015) and Digital Language: A Generative Grammar (2017). She is also a writer, a blogger and cultural activist.

[19] Christophe Charle, born in 1951, studies in Sorbonne and the École normale supérieure (Ulm); Senior Researcher at the CNRS (1978-1991); Professor of Modern History in Lyons and at Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University since 1993; Director of the Institut d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 2000-2013; silver medal of the CNRS (2001); Senior member of the Institut universitaire de France (2003-2013). President of the Association de réflexion sur les enseignements supérieurs et la recherche (ARESER) ( Recent books: Histoire des Universités with J. Verger. Paris: PUF, 2012; Homo Historicus, Paris: A. Colin, 2013; La Dérégulation Culturelle, Essai D’histoire des Cultures en Europe au XIXe Siècle, Paris: PUF, 2015; editor of Histoire de la Vie Intellectuelle en France (XIXe-XXIe Siècle) with L. Jeanpierre, Paris: Seuil, 2016, 2 volumes.
This report translated from the French by Willem Halffman.

[20] Willem Halffman is Associate Professor at the Institute of Science, Innovation and Society of Radboud University, Nijmegen.
Hans Radder is Professor (Emeritus) at the Department of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam.

21 In the area of teaching, micromanaging academics through the use of digitalized, quantitative systems is still rampant, and in some places even increasing.

[22] Mere names refer to the country reports in this collection.

[23] More than 3,200 people voted. Proud winner was the University of Groningen (Born leaders reach for infinity); the University of Amsterdam (We are U) scored an honourable second place, while VU University Amsterdam ended fourth with its profound Looking further.

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