Talent management in academia: performance systems

7 July 2018

The aim of this study is to provide a clearer picture on how academic talent is defined and recruited in order to obtain a better understanding of academic talent and performance management and on how that it is implemented in practice. Most universities currently operate in a global, complex, dynamic and highly competitive environment. Trends such as globalization, the increased mobility of academics and the retirement of the baby-boom generation are leading to a scarcity of academic talent in many disciplines.The sector is moving towards a more ‘professional’ approach to staff management, not only in the Netherlands, but also in other Western countries.

In the managerial model, the collegiality of academics of equal status working together with minimal hierarchy and maximal trust is replaced by a seemingly more objective, fair and transparent approach to evaluating performance. Part of this movement is the emphasis on recruiting ‘talent’ and using performance indicators, which provides academics and HRS managers with the opportunity to select people for their institute.

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METHODOLOGY: This article draws on empirical material acquired in two research projects on the recruitment and selection of academic talent in the Netherlands. The first duty focused on senior academic talent: full professors; the second study on junior academic talent: PhD students, postcodes and assistant professors. The structure and composition of the academic career system in the Netherlands can be viewed as a pyramid.The number of lower and temporary positions is high (Pods and other scientific staff, such as lecturers), but the number of higher permanent academic positions decreases with each rising level. There are signs that fewer students are interested in pursuing a doctorate.

Factors such as the salary system and the lack of career prospects exert a large influence on their decision. Doctoral graduates can be employed as postcode researchers or assistant professors.We initially started to explore four academic subfields: humanities, social sciences, STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and medical sciences, since these represent a large part of the academic spectrum (Becker and Trawler, 2001 ). An analysis of the predominant patterns revealed that some social sciences tend to resemble the human ties (in particular qualitative oriented studies such as anthropology, cultural studies and gender studies), whereas others tend to assemble the STEM fields (in particular quantitative studies such as psychology, sociology and economics).The social sciences were therefore regrouped accordingly so that our analysis consists of three and not four fields. Table 1 shows an overview of all contextual factors in the three different academic fields. TABLE 1 Overview of the characteristics of the subfields (source: Study A + B) Humanities STEM(science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields Medical sciences Prospects in the employment market outside academia Poor Good Very good Pool of candidatesAbundant number of PhD candidates, few positions Limited number of PhD candidates, reasonable Limited number of specialized PhD candidates Core activities Education and research Research Research, patient care Cooperation Individual projects/small units Conglomerates of research Multidisciplinary teams Knowledge/epistemic culture Subjectivity/diffuse subjects, concerned with particulars, qualities, complexity Objectivity, concerned with universals, quantities, simplification Objectivity, purposefulness, pragmatic, concerned with mastery of physical environment Subfield cultureAutocratic, pluralistic, loosely structured, personally oriented, political Science as vocation, egalitarian, task-oriented Practical, dominated by professional values, role-oriented Way of recruitment open (64%) Closed (73%) Closed (77%) Origin of professorial candidates Criteria Multi (teaching and research) Mono (research) Multi (research and management) ‘jack of all trades’ Leadership style Strategic Facilitating (transformational Assertive Study A: professorial recruitment and selection: All 13 Dutch universities were invited to participate, but due to privacy issues ND limited resources among auxiliary personnel, only seven universities agreed to cooperate.

The study included an analysis of 64 interviews with committee members, and 971 appointment reports. In total, 24 women and 40 men were interviewed in their function as chairpersons, committee members and HARM advisors. Information from 971 appointment reports in the period 1999-2003 was used to gather background information about the number of committee members and the number of closed and open recruitment procedures. These reports contain information about the basic refill, the applicants and the final nomination, and are written by the selection committees for the university executive board, which is ultimately responsible for the appointment of candidates.

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