Management and Performance in Higher Education

By Patrick L. Warren

In the "research you can use" department, I was reminded today of a small literature on management in higher education. There was a nice paper published in EJ a year back by John McCormack, Carol Propper, and Sarah Smith entitled "Herding Cats? Management and University Performance" (Final, WP). In it, they investigate the impact of Bloom-and-Van-Reenen-style management practices on research and teaching in UK universities. They find that management is mostly a department-level phenomenon. There is much higher variance across departments within universities than you find across units in a firm. But there appear to be no systematic patterns across disciplines. In line with this, they find that good practices at the departmental level matter more for performance than those at the university level. In particular, good recruitment and retention practices are especially important. 

In re-reading this paper for today's post, I came upon a column by Amanda Goodall, John McDowell, Larry Singell, that touches on another aspect of department management, leadership. In particular, they look at whether departments with highly-cited scholars as chairs have better citation-growth trajectories than those with lower-cited chairs. They find that departments that appoint more influential chairs end up improving the influence of their other members. In their own words, "Our study shows that a longitudinal predictor of a department’s future research success is the cumulative number of citations to the incoming chair’s own research (that is, the chair’s research done prior to his or her appointment as head of department)." They spend some time working through alternative explanations for this correlations, including the importance of some features in line with McCormack, Popper, and Smith's findings... that successful scholars are better at recruiting and retaining other top scholars.

These two papers just give a few practical hints, but we obviously don't know enough about this question (Tweet to me @SIOEcon about other good things that I've missed), despite the fact that there are multiple graduate degrees offered in higher education management available today. These two analyses are great, but I would love to see more good stuff on this from SIOE members in Paris this summer.