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Managing the learning university.

Chris Duke Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, 2002.

Managing the learning university spans a vast terrain, covering topics including managing the academic enterprise--Clark's academic heartland, managing people, resources, communication and information technology. It includes a chapter where Duke draws from the organisational theory and leadership literature to shape his conception of the university as a learning institution. Along the way, he notes that the concept of the 'learning organisation' which was the buzz word of 1990s management has now been replaced by the 'knowledge society' or 'knowledge economy'. In another chapter, changes in the operating environment of universities are identified, although not explored in any depth.

Drawing on Senge's Learning organisation, Selznick's conception of leadership through developing an organisation's social capital, Emery's open systems theory of organisation's and Burton Clark's pathways for entrepreneurial transformation of universities, Duke fashions his vision of how a university should be managed (Clark, 1998; Emery, 1969; Selznick, 1957; Senge, 1992). He quotes Tight's critique of the higher education management literature where two distinct genres are observed: 'the how to' or 'can do' approaches to the management of higher education and the 'analytical or critical approaches to current practices and policies in that area' (Tight, 2000). Managing the learning university fits in the latter category; it is a strident manifesto. Duke demonises 'managerialism', which he asserts is the dominant ethos for managing modern universities and he articulates a vision of the 'abiding university'.

Duke's vision of university management is paradoxical. He argues that a university 'can perhaps be governed, led and administered; but in the sense that management has come to be used, management and learning stand almost in opposition' (p.143). He concedes that the 'learning environment can be managed, fostered and facilitated, and the wider environment monitored, influenced and massaged into relative benevolence. But the tougher, tighter and closer the management, the more the creature slips through the fingers. Self-management, yes; managerialism, no' (p. 143).

The first principles of Duke's thesis are sound. The operating environments of many Australian universities and their constituent academic units have become more complex and turbulent and public funding has declined (Marginson, Considine, Sheehan, & Kumnick, 2001a.) The emergence of Mode 2 transdisciplinary applied research teams situated in industry are intensifying competition in research markets, challenging conventional conceptions of knowledge (Gibbons, Scott, & Nowotny, 2001; Gibbons, Scott, Nowotny, Limoges, Schwartzman, & Trow, 1994; Jacob, & Hellstrom, 2000.) Massification of students, especially increases in mature-age and part-time cohorts are placing new demands upon universities to accommodate a more diverse range of needs for flexible, student-centred courses (Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, 2002.; Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002.) There is increasing competition among universities across the globe for international students (Salmi, 2002; Tremblay, 2002.) Developments in information communication technologies provide additional options for the delivery of tuition and the administration of the infrastructure required to manage a modern university, but implementation and maintenance costs of this technology are high (Bates, 1999.)

Duke's argument goes awry when he suggests that vice-chancellors and other executive managers of Australian and British universities have commonly responded to the increasing complexity and turbulence of operating environments by adopting tight managerialist control of their institutions. He asserts that some vice-chancellors exercise a megalomaniac level of control, 'a cult of one' where they attempt to micro-manage every facet of their institution, diminishing the autonomy of academics and turning them into a proletariat, disenfranchising collegial governance structures and thereby creating dysfunctional neurotic institutions. Duke reserves a particular level of vitriol for strategic planning--depicted throughout the text as the epitome of the evil of 'managerialism', perpetrated by 'the enemy within', the economic rationalist. He asserts that too often strategic plans are mechanistic exercises that are either never implemented or pointless 'tick a box' activities that engender grudging compliance from academics but bring about no real and meaningful change. Duke's argument is too extreme. The fundamental flaw in Duke's logic is his reductionist equation of managerialism with management; the two concepts are not the same; suggesting that they are is fallacious.

Duke is keen to advocate his notion of the 'abiding university', the good and pure institution where scholars actively pursue higher learning--truth, knowledge and wisdom, passing this moral enlightenment on to the next generation of apprentice scholars unsullied by the 'mire of iniquity' that is the modern global commercial higher education market. If Duke sought to persuade his readers of the imperative of the abiding university, he should not have been so capricious with the truth as to suggest that contemporary university management is usually managerialist. Some universities have opted for executive management diminishing the role of collegial governance structures; this is entirely appropriate given the competitiveness of higher education markets and the complexity and turbulence of operating environments. These challenges necessitate quick clear decisions rather than indecisive compromise recommendations that are often the product of boards, committees and working parties. It is a pity that Duke permits himself to get carried away with his fondness for colourful imagery and rhetorical prose, because many of the points that he makes in Managing the learning university--the need to motivate staff, develop networks internally and externally and create universities that are open, flexible, adaptive institutions, are sound advice but will probably be overwhelmed by his florid mantras and hence ignored by university leaders.


Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. (2002). Fact sheets,

Bates, Anthony. (1999). Restructuring the university for technological change. In John Brennan, John Fedrowitz, Margaret Huber, & Tony Shah (Eds.), What kind of university? International perspectives on knowledge, participation and governance. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press

Clark, Burton. (1998). Creating entrepreneurial universities: Organisational pathways of transformation. Oxford: Pergamon.

Department of Education, Science and Technology. (2002). Students 2001: Selected higher education statistics.

Duke, Chris. (2002). Managing the learning university. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Emery, F. (Ed.). (1969). Systems thinking. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Gibbons, Michael, Scott, Peter, & Nowotny, Helga. (Eds.). (2001). Rethinking science. London: Polity Press.

Gibbons, Michael, Scott, Peter, Nowotny, Helga, Limoges, Helga, Schwartzman, Steven, & Trow, Martin. (Eds.) (1994). The new production of knowledge. London: Sage Publications.

Jacob, Merle & Hellstrom, Tomas. (2000). The future of knowledge production in the academy. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Marginson, Simon, Considine, Mark, Sheehan, Peter, & Kumnick, Margarita. (2001). Performance of Australia as a knowledge nation: Report to the Chifley Research Centre. /Chifley-KnowledgeNation-rev2106.pdf

Salmi, Jamil. (2002). New challenges for tertiary education: The World Bank report. Boston: Boston College, Center for International Higher Education.

Selznick, P. (1957). Leadership in administration. New York: Harper & Row.

Senge, Peter. (1992). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organisation. Sydney: Random House Australia.

Tight, Malcolm. (2000). The higher education management literature: An analysis and critique. Warwick: University of Warwick, Department of Continuing Education.

Tremblay, Katherine. (2002). International mobility of the highly skilled. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Deanna de Zilwa

Monash University
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Author:de Zilwa, Deanna
Publication:Australian Journal of Education
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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