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Globalization and Local Orders – The Production of Academic Quality By Higher Education and Research Organizations

  • Paradeise, Catherine
  • Thoenig, Jean-Claude
  • Schoen, Antoine

Are higher education and research academic organizations submitted to a irreversible dynamics of globalization? Shall local specificities be erased in the coming years by standardization criteria about quality and quality production? Shall academic institutions, professions and disciplines be led to adopt a single and uniform strategic framework and positioning? Our argument, supported by an on-going international comparative field research project20, is that, despite the reference made today to rankings of various sorts, a great diversity internationally but also inside countries is still at work. In other terms, the global convergence paradigm should be considered with much caution when not scepticism. Local orders remain active actors in producing academic quality. Isomorphism dynamics are questionable, or at least should be defined more precisely in terms of their analytical and theoretical relevance. Our proposal shall cover the following items and issues: 1. Academic quality as judgments Quality as a concept refers to a judgment. We shall make a distinction between two forms of judgments. One form is linked to substance. A classic example is the criterion of ―prestige‖ or reputation, It is generated, supported and legitimated by scholar networks and by social networks (alumni, etc), in terms by stakeholders who are socialized and are parts of specific contexts such as leading scholars of a discipline, presidents and deans of universities, etc. In other terms it is generated endogenously. Prestige is based on a kind of knowledge that takes the form of synthetic judgments that are not identical across networks. It is expressed in cardinal terms Another form is linked to formalization. ―Excellence‖ is by far the best known example of judgment reference. It is based on and derived from impersonal and quantitative indicators that enable the use of ordinal scales, of rankings and comparisons. They also are defined and elaborated in an exogenous way, by actors who do not belong to academic production organizations (media, etc). The analytical judgments in terms of excellence enable the judges to explore in a systematic way the academic black boxes that produce outcomes (publications, patents, diplomas, etc) 2.Local orders as autonomous actors To take distance with the iron cage of macro-deterministic perspectives, we shall adopt a specific set of theoretical and analytical lenses Sociologists of science such as Robert Merton (1960/1967) make a distinction between two facets of academic quality. An instrumental one defines how universities produce and manage opportunities to grow and express their potential assets. The honorific dimension refers to the processes they make use of to value their outcomes within institutional and profit contexts on which academic institutions are embedded. Sociologists of organizations define an university as a pluralistic entity combining highly differentiated subparts and which acts and outcomes reflect in a relevant way power dynamics. James March proposes the concept of local order (1962) to make sense of the fact that an organization as a social and political system of its own should also be questioned as a collective actor per se, and not just as either a mirror of societal or institutional determinisms or as a piling up of micro-groups or individuals. Social arrangements to achieve some compatibility between heterogeneous logics of action shape action spaces and construct resources in diversified environments. Therefore local orders are produced through action taking. 3. A typology of academic quality production by local orders We shall present a typology crossing how local orders position themselves in terms of the attention they actually allocate to the two honorific dimensions of quality: namely prestige and excellence. These four types shall then be examined in terms of the instrumental dimensions they construct and implement. It shall be suggested that each of them functions organizationally in a very different way. A third step shall deal with change processes. More precisely what happens when a specific type modifies its sensitivity and attention to either prestige or excellence? These typologies have to be considered as heuristic tools for our empirical comparative research. A first test of their validity and robustness shall be presented. It is based on the Times Higher Education rankings of the 200 top universities in the world, by comparing the 2009 and the 2010 scales used (the latter one having reinforced the weight of excellence standards as compared with the former one while decreasing the weight of prestige based judgments).

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Paper provided by Paris Dauphine University in its series Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine with number 123456789/9224.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Handle: RePEc:dau:papers:123456789/9224
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