University of Oulu

Finnish higher education : a study of the impact of neoliberal values on the perceptions of quality and quality assessment among academics at a Finnish education institution

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Author: Arrey, Marie1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Sciences and Teacher Education, Educational Sciences
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.3 MB)
Pages: 110
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : M. Arrey, 2013
Publish Date: 2013-09-17
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Roberts, Gordon
Reviewer: Jokikokko, Katri
Roberts, Gordon
The shift from the industrial to the post-industrial era, as well as the infiltration of the neoliberal ideology into the higher education sector, have brought with it ramifications with regards to the tasks of higher education, and the idea of quality and quality assessment in higher education. In the industrial era, tangible factors of production such as land and money were considered the key factors of economic development. However, in the 21st century post-industrial era, knowledge has emerged as the key driver of economic development. Knowledge is no longer seen as stuff, which could be stored away for future use and codified into disciplines, rather, it is seen as factor that is defined by the results it achieves. Neoliberalism is an ideology that sees the market as having the potential to produce a wide range of beneficial outcomes for individuals in a competitive market environment. Inspired by neoliberalism, governments around the world have put in place competitive performance-based funding schemes, by which higher education institutions are funded, not on the basis of intake, but on production, efficiency, and effectiveness. Central concepts of neoliberalism include: efficiency, productivity, effectiveness, and quality, along with their assessment. The present use of the term quality is a concept that emerged from the manufacturing industry and infiltrated into higher education, with implications for what the tasks of higher education are, and how quality is defined and assessed in higher education. Higher education has had its own traditional understanding of quality and quality assessment, which relied more on peer review to ascertain the quality of its work. In the four dominant archetypal models of the university; the Napoleonic, Humboldtian, Newmanian, and Deweyan, a common feature was that the university was an institution for the state by the state, and it was to promote collective good, and foster values such as democracy, equality, and critical thinking, One thing that is inherent in the neoliberal ideology is that it provides a narrower conception of what the tasks of higher education are, as well as a skeletal definition of quality in higher education. This research involved interviews with university staff, and sets out to answer two questions: 1) How do the participants perceive the tasks of the University of X? 2) How do the participants perceive quality and quality assessment at the University of X? This research aims to find out the impact of neoliberal values on the perceptions of quality and quality assessment among academics at a Finnish education institution (given the pseudonym the University of X in this research). The research participants comprises of a teacher, junior researcher, professor, professor emeritus, and an academic in a managerial position. Phenomenography, a qualitative methodological approach which studies the perceptions of individuals was used in this research. Data was collected using semi-structured phenomenographical thematic interviews, and was analysed using the phenomenographical method of data analysis. The findings of this research revealed that, the participants perceived that research and journal article publication are the main tasks of the University of X, while the institution’s societal and teaching tasks are not a primary focus. This research also established that, quality is conceived of as, and assessed more in terms of productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and reputation, rather than in terms of process, educational value, content, or human well-being. The participants also felt that, the performance-based funding scheme instituted by the Finnish government and the neoliberal market values which has swept over Europe, play vital roles in the University of X’s narrowed conception of what its tasks, quality and quality assessment are The participants expressed an awareness of the role of neoliberalism in narrowing the University of X’s tasks to economic instrumentality, and reducing its conception of quality and quality assessment to quantitative performance indicators, to the exclusion of non-quantitative educational and societal indicators of quality.
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