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ANR PRESTENCE - From prestige to excellence: the fabrication of academic quality

Thursday 13 February 2014, by Last Update

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

- Scientific in charge : Caroline LANCIANO – caroline.lanciano@univ-amu.fr

- 1. From a higher education policy steering and evaluation perspective, research on academic quality focuses mainly on the study of incentives, on what decision-makers want to get achieved or generate by allocating resources and constraints to academics. How the actors get organized, how they handle and deal with the resources and constraints provided by various environments, is a topic much less explored.
The PrestEnce project specifically analyzes how organizational governance in terms of actual social interaction processes is functioning at the level of high reputation departments. Such departments are considered as local orders, as actual organizational arrangements, which in diversified arenas are handling tensions between heterogeneous goals or stakes and logics of action. It highlights how de facto the level of quality they benefit from is acquired, managed, increased or jeopardized from a mid-term perspective. Academic quality is defined as a mix of two different criteria or scales: prestige or reputation judgments, excellence rankings base on performance indicators linked to teaching and research publication. PrestEnce also studies if and how the dynamics of quality judgments induce relevant impacts for the agenda of such departments (for instance the work content and the salary level of their members, the division of academic labor, their capacity to generate sustainable interdisciplinary projects, etc.)

- 2. The PrestEnce project covers three academic domains - Management, History, Chemistry – which are linked to very different labor markets and do not benefit from the same negotiation capacity with their environment. Five countries were selected – France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the USA – in each of which two departments in each domain were studied. On top of three management schools were studied in the Republic of China.
In depth studies were done on each campus and department or school: 700 face-to-face interviews of academics and administrative staff, organizational ethnography. CV analyses of faculty members were done, networks of scientific cooperation were identified, and power and prestige networks analyzed.

- 3. Relevant PrestEnce achievements are:

  • A heuristic typology of academic institutions that crosses the ways they position themselves according to prestige and excellence. Each type is associated with a specific organizational governance model and is driven by a specific evolution curve.
  • The specific properties in terms of norms and values that are linked to each organizational and governance type rather than to citizenship, in particular for institutions that position themselves high in terms of excellence.
  • The impact of excellence based positioning and strategic quest for the relevance of academic production in management sciences
  • The factors that favor or are obstacles to multidisciplinary approaches when related to the quest for excellence, and the impacts for organizational governance as well as for the ontological roots of academic disciplines
  • Comparisons between the six countries and across the three disciplines
  • The sustainability of institutions that are mainly reputation or prestige based in terms of academic quality
  • The dynamics of institutions that are missionaries (low reputation and low prestige)