Fixing the facts: The rise of new public management, the metrification of “quality” and the fall of the academic professions

Chris Lorenz


In this article I argue that neo-liberal reforms of universities since the 1980’s have
installed a new type of governance – usually known as New Public Management
(NPM) – that is undermining the very idea of professionalism. NPM does so basically
by replacing professional ideas and practices concerning the judgment of quality by the
continuous “metrification of output” in both the domain of teaching and of research.
As the idea of the university is based on the idea of professional specialisation, NPM
is rendering the discussion about “the idea of the university” irrelevant. NPM does
so especially by “impact factor measurement” and by university ranking, but in the
Dutch case also by using “performance agreements” between the government and the
universities that force faculties to produce fixed “outputs”. Simultaneously, in terms of
labour relations, the faculty’s autonomy is effectively undermined by replacing tenured
faculty positions by casualised academic labour. Therefore NPM also requires the
permanent “re-education” of the faculty – usually advertised in NPM-New Speak
as the faculty’s “professionalisation” – although in fact it boils down to the faculty’s
de-professionalisation. The article primarily uses the example of the Dutch universities
in order to analyse “impact factor measurement” and “performance agreements” and
their role in the general neoliberal economisation of academic teaching and research.


neoliberalism; New Public Management; quality assessment; metrification; impact factor; professionalism; de-professionalisation; casualisation; labour relations

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