Jabbar, Abdul, Analoui, Bejan David, Mirza, Mohammed and Kong, Kai (2017) The rise of the machine: Twilight of the autonomous academic. In: The 24th Nordic Academy of Management Conference, 23 -25 August 2017, Nord University Business School, Bodo, Norway. (Unpublished)

We propose that for many academics in the United Kingdom (UK), Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are now a machine: faceless, controlling and nearly all-powerful. This we credit to the rising tide of managerialism (Alvesson & Spicer 2016), that has focussed on maximising efficiency whilst minimising costs (Marginson 2012). This yearning for efficiency stems from increasing competition, consumerism and marketisation of Higher Education having a negative impact on students and staff (Kinman & Jones 2003). As a result, the focus in UK HEIs has shifted to reducing costs, managing KPI’s, and the enactment of strategies which views teaching and knowledge as a product (Baldwin & James 2000).
We explore the impact of these changes on academics and their ability to enact their autonomy when engaged in teaching activity. To that end, we present findings from qualitative interviews with twenty-two Business school academics from across three different Business schools in the North of England.
We demonstrate that the increase of managerialism has led to a scenario where many decisions are expected to follow a policy or procedure, creating a climate of mechanisation. As a result, the process of teaching and learning becomes a production line and knowledge is packaged into gift-wrapped consumable portions on conveyor belts. In turn, this negatively impacts on academics’ feelings of self-worth, value and makes them question their contribution to the teaching and learning process. Further, we find that increased bureaucracy, which is an output of managerialism (Meyer 2002) constricts academics to the point where they feel they have little or no freedom to engage with students as individuals.
The effect of these changes on academics and management education is profound, one of the key findings from this paper suggests that academic autonomy, control and support is lost or marginalised as courses are developed and marketed centrally with little thought or foresight about the student experience or the impact this will have on academics.

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