Irritable Emotions - Resistance to University Reforms


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Why does it seem to be so difficult to make real change happen in universities? The current higher education system certainly requires balance, and several attempts to change it have been made.
However, making change happen in higher education institutions is not an easy business. The focus of this article is on the grassroots of the university, on the development of education and on teaching in a research intensive institution. I am using the theoretic optics from research on emotions and their role in social life to shed light on the reasons which cause ”resistance to change” as well as on conflicts which result from a clash of values between new and old ways of behaving. I will also focus on how local practices, values and beliefs are embedded in academic institutions. Empirically, the article is based on my research on educational development in a Finnish university,
but the emphasis here is on how local practices and values meet the reforms.

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Reference: Simola, M. 2012. Irritable Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms. In Journal of the European Higher Education Area (, 3(2012): 105-124.

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Irritable Emotions - Resistance to University Reforms

  1. 1. Irritable Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms Mari Simola Why does it seem to be so difficult to make real change happen in universities? The current higher education system certainly requires balance, and several attempts to change it have been made. However, making change happen in higher education institutions is not an easy business. The focus of this article is on the grassroots of the university, on the development of education and on teaching in a research intensive institution. I am using the theoretic optics from research on emotions and their role in social life to shed light on the reasons which cause ”resistance to change” as well as on conflicts which result from a clash of values between new and old ways of behaving. I will also focus on how local practices, values and beliefs are embedded in academic institutions. Empirically, the article is based on my research on educational development in a Finnish university, but the emphasis here is on how local practices and values meet the reforms. Content 1. Page Towards improved higher education – the long journey from paper to practice 106 2. Irritable emotions 109 2.1 2.2 2.3 Theoretic framework: conflicts and emotions Case Study: Development of University Education and Teaching Creating Hope – Central to Change 109 111 112 3. Competing Goals and Contested Governance 116 3.1 3.2 From Idealistic Imaginations to the Realism of Resources Generating commitment and causing chaos 118 119 4. Conclusion 121 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 105
  2. 2. Mari Simola 1. Towards improved higher education – the long journey from paper to practice We will support our institutions in the education of creative, critically thinking and responsible graduates needed for economic growth and the sustainable development of our democracies. Conference on European Ministers responsible for higher education, 2012, 1 Target of higher education: creative, critical and responsible graduates In their latest conference in April in Bucharest, ministers of the European Higher Education Area displayed their commitment to continuing the development of the various European higher education systems. Their vision would supposedly enable these systems to produce graduates with the ethical consciousness, skills and knowledge needed to create a healthier, more humanistic and economically stable Europe which would then be able to renew itself. In a recently reformed Finnish University Act (from the year 2009) the same concept, with a focus on institutional responsibility and initiatives, is defined in the following way: Universities must promote free research and scientific and artistic education, provide higher education based on research and educate students to serve their country and humanity. In carrying out this mission, universities must interact with the surrounding society and strengthen the impact of research findings and artistic findings on society. Ministry of Education and Culture, 2012 I am writing this article in the early summer of 2012, when discussions on the crisis of Europe’s common currency have been heated for over one year. During the previous year we experienced the “Arab spring”; the collapse of several dictatorships close to the borders of Europe was followed by typically unstable conditions, civil wars and increased emigration, especially to southern European countries. At the same time, nationalistic and populist voices have grown stronger in the central and northern parts of Europe, in many cases representing racial perspectives or based on cultural and racist assumptions rather than the reality. Youth employment is a growing problem causing frustration and the loss of hope among the younger generations. Funding of public education has been questioned several times, e.g. by the introduction of increased tuition fees which resulted in remarkable demonstrations and resistance from some student, teachers and parents all over the continent. Socially equal access to higher education is still a topic which faces many challenges and restrictions at a local level. I dare say it seems to be a time of serious introspection for higher education institutions and the education sector as a whole, as changes and developments in teaching and learning are sought. 106 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  3. 3. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms At the heart of the change lies both the relationship between the university and its external environment and the reciprocity of theory and practice. From the perspective of higher educational function, this is embodied in the issues of relevance and utility for different stakeholders – society, the world of work, research, the academic community and an individual student. At the level of teaching and learning, there is a need to overcome the common paradox of theoretic and abstract knowledge vs. practical action. This means applying the theoretic knowledge in practice and overcoming the gap between professional or academic skills and knowledge. At the core of change: Relationships of the university to its environment and theory to practice Attempts towards better higher education and teaching An example of a successful attempt at practical development which combines research results from educational sciences with policymaking and stakeholder perspectives in higher education is Time for a New Paradigm in Education: Student-Centred Learning (T4SCL) – a project jointly lead by Education International and European Students’ Union. One outcome of this project, besides European-wide discussion, has been the Student-Centred Learning Toolkit for students, staff and higher education institutions (EI & ESU 2011). Student-Centred Learning is defined as a paradigm shift in not only learning and teaching, but also the ways of organizing higher education institutions. I am aware of the amount of variations between different pedagogic approaches which exist, e.g. problem-based, critical and feminist pedagogies, and sometimes competing or conflicting practices and different emphases between them. However, I also regard the following definition for student-centred learning as one which captures the central change in learning and teaching: Student-centred learning – a holistic approach to developing higher education Student-Centred Learning represents both a mindset and a culture within a given higher education institution and is a learner approach which is broadly related to, and supported by, constructivist theories of learning. It is characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and other learners and which take students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking. EI & ESU, 2011, 5 There are several examples and activities happening within universities; practices and processes with the purpose of changing methods of teaching, learning, planning and organizing the curriculum and, increasingly, also working with the main aim of facilitating organization-wide changes in the academia. Some examples of these tools and practices, defined in my study (Simola 2009b) and categorized by the field and target of the development activity, are listed in the following: Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 Examples of institutional development practices 107
  4. 4. Mari Simola Teacher and teaching • Implementation of the Bologna Process at an institutional level • Curriculum design • Organizing courses and consultations for the pedagogical methods and technological devices and software in teaching • Launching and planning the course feedback-systems • Creating spaces for discussion on teaching, e.g. organizing seminars • Raising the status of teaching in higher education (compared with research) Student and studying • Study plans • Tutoring • Psychological services and counseling for students • Scheduling of studies and learning • Courses on learning techniques • Career counseling Academic organization and work • Portfolios for teaching merits • Mentoring for new academics • Career counseling • Quality assurances and audits Why change is so slow and difficult to achieve? 108 There is certainly no lack of guidelines, policy statements or research articles supporting and requiring change, or different kinds of temporary projects and initiatives. But why does the journey from paper to practice seem to take so long, be so complicated and sometimes even return a completely different result than expected? This is the main focus of this article – simply to provide some answers to the question of why change is so slow and difficult to achieve. I will describe and explore the challenges and tensions which those working on the development of higher education and teaching in the academic institutions face. Special focus is given to how emotions are intertwined in the contradicting and conflicting situation of change and in development work. The perspective is from the grassroots level of the organization. Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  5. 5. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms 2. Irritable emotions 2.1 Theoretic framework: conflicts and emotions Ulrich Teichler (2011), in his comparative article on the Bologna Process in European countries, addresses some problems concerning the implementation of reforms in higher education institutions. One of them is the difficulty of obtaining reliable and valuable information on acceptance of the Bologna Process reforms at an institutional level because the answers are too emotionally loaded. Another issue is the lack of involvement of ‘actors’ in universities, which Teichler describes as follows: “Many assessments of the Bologna Process point out that the governmental actors have been the strongest advocates of the key reforms from the outset. Leaders of higher education institutions followed quickly, while many academics continued to consider the Bologna programme as an undesirable imposition from “above”. And protests by students were not infrequent. There were widespread critiques that a university Bachelor was not a sufficient level of academically based-study, and many university teachers and students see the university Bachelor as a transition stage to the Master. The learning processes are often viewed as over-regulated in the short Bachelor programmes that are shaped by frequent examinations as a consequence of the implementation of a credit system. There as concerns that the strong drive towards “employability” undermines the academic quality and students’ critical and innovative reasoning.” Teichler, 2011, 14 – 15., cursive MS Here Teichler pinpoints several clashes and local aspects which have caused these conflicts: the reforms are regarded by academics as something which is directed at them, leaving no space for their own decisions; students’ dissatisfaction with programmes leaves them with fewer choices; and a dichotomy endures between the values associated to “employability” and those linked with academic criticism. According to Lynn Davies (2005), a British educational sociologist, the conflict situations, at the level of society, and ways of solving and handling them are strongly interrelated and embedded in the current education system. However, she questions the normative and harmonising method of education – which is today unable to provide students with the necessary tools and perspectives for understanding diversity, difference, and variation – and its ability to facilitate and steer social change, rather than reproduce existing structures, values and relations between groups of people. Davies also calls for “interruptive democracy” and “the complex adaptive school”, which she explains as a “process by which people are enabled to break into practices which Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 Towards a more constructive understanding of conflicts 109
  6. 6. Mari Simola continue injustice” (Davies 2005, 1033). Sarah Ahmed, in turn, turns her eye to the ways in which shame, hate and other emotions are embedded in relationships between people; how they are constructed in the local and current practices of everyday life, and how they regulate human behaviour (Ahmed, 2004). As such, considering emotions and conflicts might help us to understand and influence better tensions on existing practices and solve the contradicting issues and conflicts, whether at societal or organizational levels. The need to understand the central roles of emotions and local construction can also be clearly seen in the following guidelines for the adaptive education institution, written by Lynn Davies (2005, 1033): • handling of identity and fear, • need for deliberation and dialogue, • need for creativity, play and humour, • impetus for defiant activity, • existence of a wide range of forums for positive conflict, • provision of organized and frequent ways to generate dialogue, deliberation, connectivity, information exchange, • knowledge and culture are presented as continuously evolving and unfinished, • risk-taking. Conflict as a window to existing practices and values All these characteristics can also be considered as essential to achieving the targets for higher education which were described at the beginning of this text. Davies also introduces her idea about “positive conflict” as a tool for creating change in current practices; raising people’s awareness of them, handling, solving and preventing social conflicts, changing patterns of behaviour and thinking, and as a tool for working towards a more peaceful society and more egalitarian education systems (Davies 2005.). I concur with this approach, and use conflicts and contradictions experienced in change situations in the university as a window to practices, values and behavioural patterns which otherwise might stay silenced, perhaps hidden, or so taken for granted that they will not be questioned even if experienced as problematic. Emotions and social practices According to Norman Fairclough (2003, 223), “social structures define what is possible, social events constitute what is actual, and the relationship between potential and actual is mediated by social practices“. The theoretic starting point here is how these values, beliefs and the differences between them are constructed by practices, which evolve over time and are strongly rooted in a certain context and time. These practices then produce particular stabilized power relations between people, values, and ways of behaving and thinking. I conceptualize emotions as the social “glue” which regulates the relationships 110 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  7. 7. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms between people, as such this glue is essential both in maintaining and reproducing the existing power hierarchies and practices as well as being equally important when one wants to change and question them (e.g. Harding & Pribram, 2002; Ahmed 2004.). Emotions are understood here as relational; existing in relation to something or somebody. They are social by nature, even though they are experienced individually. Emotions work in social (societal, political and more personal) relationships and modify the very fundamental way of behaving. (Ahmed 2004, 10.) According to Kristy Gorton, emotions are socially constructed biological and physical reactions as well as representations and “[o]ur early experiences of emotion will effectively frame our reactions in later life” (Gorton 2007, 340). As Sarah Ahmed notes, “emotions shape what bodies can do” (Ahmed 2004, 4); bodies, or people, are then bounded socially in certain relationships and reactions by emotions. Emotional relationships are continually constructed and given meaning through social practices. Therefore, our experience of emotions – how we interpret and give meanings to them – are culturally situated and positioned. (Ahmed 2004; Gorton 2007.) My concern here is why the answers and reactions to reforms are so emotionally loaded and conflicting at the grassroots level of the university and what this might tell us. The relevance for actual development lies with how examining the emotions and conflicting situations might potentially reveal new sides to a problematic situation, and show possibilities for new action. I intend to create an understanding of the challenges faced by current development work inside universities, and the tensions these attempts are causing. Emotions – relational and social 2.2 Case Study: Development of University Education and Teaching Throughout the article I utilise my own research on educational development within Finnish universities as an illustrative example. However, the focus is not on the higher education system in Finland, but on the existing hierarchies, values, benefits and practices, which are embedded in local practices. The focusing on emotions will help us to understand the change processes and so called change resistance in a different way. The Finnish example Mainly this research material consists of articles published in PedaForum in the years 1994 – 2007. The magazine is published twice a year by the national network of expertise in university pedagogy and academic development. The main target of the network is to increase the status of teaching and share knowledge of pedagogic developments and innovations in academia. (Peda-Forum 2012.) Each issue includes stories, mostly successful ones, on development projects (e.g. on courses in university pedagogic, individual teachers’ experiences on their pedagogic experiments) and reports on the network’s activi- Research material Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 111
  8. 8. Mari Simola ties including annual seminars and international conferences. As such, the research material is an example of relatively idealist texts, which are written for an audience which is already interested in the topic. Also, one aim for writing about such issues has been, and still is, to gain the legitimate power and interest for development initiatives in academia. Discursive approach to analysis The approach taken to analysis has been discursive – language and ways of interpreting social practices are understood as always being located in a certain time and space. Discourses are positioned ways of conceptualizing and interpreting certain situations, practices and activities; seen as dynamically constructing and constructed in social practices. (Fairclough 2003) Critical discourse analysis, following the guidelines and principles of Norman Fairclough (2003) has been used to analyse the research material. The main focus has been in identifying different and possibly competing discourses, and in analysing grounding presumptions of a certain discourse and exploring how different actors, activities and relationships will be defined within these discourses. However, in this case, mainly as a result of the choice of research material, the main result of the analysis has been the relatively unifying and legitimized discourse called the story of hope, described in more detail in the next chapter. This story is shared by the writers and readers of the Peda-Forum Journal – mainly people already interested in and committed to development activities. As such, the story provides an example of the persuasive and positive, but strongly positioned and political discourse on development and reforming the universities. 2.3 Creating Hope – Central to Change Hope – the emotion of change 112 Hope as an emotion is central to change. Hope is an attitude towards potential change for a better future and as such “it keeps future open” (Ahmed 2004, 186). Sarah Ahmed describes hope as intentional – as hope for something. As such, it is directed towards the future in relation to an objective, which is faced at present (Ahmed 2004, 185). Hope as an emotion is an attitude which sees potential change for a better future and thus “it keeps [the] future open” (Ahmed 2004, 186). Therefore hope (for something better) is essential in facilitating social change and resistance, which makes hope very political in nature. Hope is also seen as a source of enjoying collective action, and a force which binds people together and moves them towards a shared vision (Roseneil 1995, 99, quoted by Ahmed 2004, 184). Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  9. 9. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms The central dimensions of hope are its relationship to time and representations of a better future (Ludema, 1997; Ahmed 2004). Hope is described “as an affirmative form of social discourse” through which people, both individually and collectively are generating new imaginations, including possibilities for new social relationships. Through these “hopeful discourses” moral and affective resources are used to translate images and beliefs into action and practice. (Ludema et al. 1997, 1027.) These positive and hopeful imaginations include the representations of the present, and especially that the current situation is interpreted as unsatisfying, but changeable. Therefore, “Feeling hopeful is reading a possibility of future change as a source of desire and joy, as positive for oneself or one’s community” (Ahmed 2004, 183). Hope and time Hope is a central – but also contested – feature in developing higher education and teaching. The following excerpt is from the dominant discourse on development work, called “the Story of Hope”. The story is based on the critical discourse analysis (Fairclough 2003) of the articles published in the Finnish educational development and teaching theme magazine Peda-Forum in 1994 – 2007. Story of Hope: Representation of the bright future − Solution Student is a young person working full-time on his/her degree. She studies an interesting subject and invests a lot of time in all of the courses. She is presented as active and as someone who likes group work and prefers cooperative teaching methods over more traditional lectures and book exams. Her motivation for studying is a desire to learn and a will to gain professional knowledge and skills for the future. She is also motivated by an academic interest and wants to participate actively in academic community. She also wants to help her fellow students in their work. Teacher is represented as a person working on research and teaching in the university. He is truly interested in his work and wants to do it as well as possible. His goals in teaching are to facilitate students’ learning and that is why he continuously wants to develop his teaching skills. He likes to get new tips and ideas, to be able to redesign the lecture and book exam based teaching; that is why teacher is very interested in participating in pedagogic courses and seminars as well as getting to know other teachers and discuss teaching issues with them. Teacher especially appreciates constructive and cooperative teaching and learning. He is happy because the position of teaching and its appreciation (in relation to research) have improved and teaching achievements will be more highly regarded in an academic career. Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 113
  10. 10. Mari Simola Educational developer works to help teachers improve their teaching. She also influences the development of administrative procedure, which will improve the position of teaching in the academy and solve the current concerns over teaching as an academic career. As a person, she is active and keeps motivated because of her will to help others to feel and work better. Part of developer’s work is to organize courses and seminars e.g. in use of cooperative pedagogic methods. She believes in the importance of research-based development and teaching activities and therefore publishes academic articles on her work as well. Both intellectual (i.e. research) and societal functions of the university are important for the developer, and she actively works on developing methods which might help in achieving these goals in practice. Administration, on both state and university level, has a goal to improve university education. With this goal in mind the Bologna Process and national reforms are, even if they sometimes cause difficulties and are burdensome, mostly represented as possibilities for grass-root development work in universities. The Ministry of Education finances various national development projects, which employ the Administration’s goals for educational development work to improve the quality of education, use of information technology and internationalization. Problematic present, better future This example includes representations of the positions of different protagonists (students, teacher, educational developer and the role of administration), and their activities such as teaching, studying and learning, development, research and management. Hope is constructed as representations of a better future of teaching and teachers in academia, in relation to presentation of the problematic present. Therefore, the story explains the desired direction of change, the vision of the future. (Simola, 2009a.) The idealistic story described here is mainly based on definitions of the problematic recent and past of university teaching: such as descriptions of “old-fashioned” pedagogy like lectures and book exams, the behaviourist concept of teaching and learning, problems with student motivation and an unsatisfying state of a relationship between education and work-life requirements, and the positive scenario of a future where these problems are solved by different kinds of techniques of educational and pedagogic development (i.e. constructivist pedagogy; collective learning; activating methods of teaching; courses and seminars in university pedagogy for the teacher etc.). (Simola, 2009a.) 114 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  11. 11. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms Story of Hope: Representation of the problematic present Student is lonely. He studies solely for book exams and attends mass lectures. Current teaching methods do not enable him to learn things as well as he would like to. It is not common to meet other students, not to mention teachers or other faculty members. The student culture is individualistic and the role of achievements is over-emphasized, which makes the student feel demoralized. Teacher is teaching, but feels very frustrated, because students do not really learn. Her teaching methods are traditional and she does not know how to improve them. Any pedagogic consultation is not available. Teaching is considered private and there are almost no discussions on it among colleagues. There is a lack of planning and cooperation in the administration of teaching; courses overlap and there is no cooperation between disciplines. The academic career is based on the merits of research work, which in practice leads to preferring research instead of teaching. Educational developer is part of temporary staff, whose career and work consist of many shorter projects. Often his work is lonely, and basically there are no colleagues with whom to share the everyday concerns of work in his own university. He would like to organize pedagogic courses and to help teachers improve their teaching, and in the long run the overall quality of university education; even though there is a lack of money and other possibilities are quite rare. The story of hope shared by the developers of university teaching and education shares similar characteristics with other “positive and emotional” discourses on educational development. Dorthe Staunæs (2011) has analysed the reports and handbooks on leadership in education, targeting school leaders, where the central aspect is the creation of potential among pupils. This means leading through creating hopeful and positive stories, though this is based on the assumption of future potential which already exists here and now. Regardless of the real practices, restrictions and available resources construct the real possibilities for change. (Ma.) Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 Leadership which creates potential futures 115
  12. 12. Mari Simola 3. Competing Goals and Contested Governance Story of hope – contesting and conflicting with the current What is very clearly shown in the “Story of Hope” and the discourse shared and produced by the people involved in development activities, is the representation of the current situation as unsatisfying – and therefore something meant to motivate further action. However I do not mean to imply that loneliness or frustration might be valuable or commendable, rather what is central here is that traditional – or at least the shared perception of – university teaching and a value system preferring research over teaching tasks has become strongly contested, similar to the traditional self-discipline by the academics to their own work. Therefore it is not surprising that the contending arguments and initiatives are causing conflicts, because they are directed towards the very core of the university system: its values, practices and the logic of organization of academic work. Mismatch of the old and the new Inside a university institution, the old and new formal structures and practices of the governance are intertwined in more informal academic and organizational cultures, resulting in variation of beliefs, practices and mentalities (Fig. 1). In many cases, the newly launched reforms cause conflicts, disorder and irritation, sometimes causing so called “change resistance”, because of the mismatch of the reforms and development initiatives and the pre-existing local culture, and also between the old and new systems and logics of governance in the university. Formal governance of the university education and institution Academic and organizational cultures Traditions, values, ideals, hierarchies, patterns of behaviour, practices Figure 1 116 Formal governance and organization culture in the university Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  13. 13. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms One of the key value conflicts related to university reforms, addressed by Teichler (2011) and quoted at the beginning of this text, is the clash between employability and academic criticism. For example, the Bologna Process, has until recently had improving the conditions for the mobility of the students both outside and inside Europe as its main priority (ma.). However, the recent and currently very acute topic which demands co-operation is the question of higher education graduate employability. This, in turn, has shifted the focus of the Process from the comparability of degrees between the different universities and nation states, e.g. from more structural issues, towards the relevance of the content of those degrees compared with the requirements of the world of work and the surrounding society. (Teichler 2011, 28.) The interest from this group of policy makers has clearly shifted towards the traditionally autonomous tasks and practices of the university – how and what to teach, and what constitutes a relevant and useful outcome1. Employability of the graduates – Questioned and contested target for HE One of the most interesting findings from my analysis is an increase in governmental and administrative initiatives towards the academic community and their vocation. The “original” initiative of the development work at institutional level – improving one’s own pedagogic skills and a need for pedagogic consultation and discussion – has turned into something else. Examples of this are initiatives towards changing the structures of an academic career and the underlying beliefs of the academic community, with mentor programmes and counselling for academics. The relatively new aspect of this is the focus on taking care of the welfare of the academic community and academics. This emerging area of organizational development is strongly connected with the introduction of different kinds of quality assurance systems. It seems that quality of higher education, in the Finnish context, has been presented as being based on an understanding of the organization, as opposed to a subject providing the basis for academic research. Organization is also presented as a source and target of commitment for academics, and this commitment – through performance Increased expectations for commitment to the organization 1 However, it might be reasonable to point out here that the international and national governmental reforms are not the only main forces behind the change. International think tanks, such as the OECD, have had a remarkable power in the form of recommending and evaluating national activities, which is shown for example by Kauko and Diego (2012), when they explain how OECD recommendations on the need for increased focus on entrepreneurship have impacted the Finnish HE policy reforms. Similarly, academic communities and disciplines vary on their traditions and relationship to stakeholders, e.g. the world of work. Business schools provide an example of how the launch of quality assurances and accreditations, as well as the institutional development connected to these initiatives, has been based on disciplinary specific needs at first, and only after that become more closely linked to Bologna initiatives (on Finnish case, see Leivonen 2012). Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 117
  14. 14. Mari Simola based payment as well as funding and payment procedures – is seen as a prerequisite for efficient work and quality of education. What makes this interesting is that traditionally the commitment of researchers is to their discipline and the organization of the work is based on disciplinary hierarchies and the power of professors, which is clearly in conflict with this new formulation of “organization”. 3.1 From Idealistic Imaginations to the Realism of Resources From implementation to application Within the institutions, the problem of implementation becomes a problem of application of the principles and practices of the reforms in a specific context. Therefore, the main challenge experienced is caused by the variety of existing precepts conflicting with and questioning the new notions of practices, values, concepts, traditions and hierarchies, which in turn define the actual possibilities for action (cf. Staunæs 2011). Problematic position of teaching In the midst of the educational development in universities lies an often silent but still very much present struggle for status and resources between research and teaching. For example, according to my analysis, the main obstacles to improving teaching in an organization are that: • teaching is considered as private, • there is no place for discussions on teaching (cf. academic conferences), neither are there resources (courses etc.) for self-improvement. • teachers suffer a lack of planning and co-operation in planning and teaching, with no co-ordination on the overlapping content of the courses inside or over the disciplinary boundaries. • an academic career is based on research qualifications. Constraining resources and practices However, in the “Story of Hope”, university teachers’ desire to teach or take part in development activities is not questioned2, neither is students’ ability and motivation to invest in studying nor the overall need for development activities at all. Graham Gibbs (2005) has defined typical organizational and structural constraints, which espe- 2 For example, in world-famous, more elitist, traditional and research intensive universities, the actual need for changing the current teaching can be minimal. There simply is no need for that kind of activity, because of the greater proportion of already outstanding students and academics and a smaller variation in background of the students. Also, because of the long traditions and pride of the old universities, the current system is seen as preferable. (Gibbs 2005.) 118 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  15. 15. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms cially affect research intensive universities. One of these is the pressure on prioritising and producing research, which is caused not only by personal motivation, but also by the financing gains associated with research achievements. Academic staff continuously report extreme workloads and even if teaching tasks are officially part of the work there is usually no quota, or resources available to develop and redesign new and existing courses and it is mainly carried out on a voluntary basis. (ma.) In a Finnish university, researchers are the ones who teach and the relationship between teaching and research, e.g. research-based education, is defined and regulated by law. However, to put it very simply, the main motivation for academic work, in most cases, is the content of and interest in one’s research. Based on everyday experience as a university teacher and junior academic, it also seems clear that one of main obstacles to improving teaching is the insecurity of work conditions in the faculty, the lack of resources in teaching and the continuous turnover of teaching staff. Furthermore, according to Gibbs and my personal experience both as a teacher and a student, facilities and classroom architecture perform an important role as well, while defining the actual possibilities for student-centred learning in practice. If it is not possible to move desks and chairs in the classroom, because they are bolted onto the floor, group work might become impossible, because students are just not able to organize themselves in a way they (or a teacher) want(s) to – despite all the good will, skills and ideas. To sum up, there is a serious need to take into account the cultural, structural and physical conditions of a university, and define the actual possibilities for action. 3.2 Generating commitment and causing chaos In this text, I have highlighted some conflicting situations in today’s university, mainly caused by the mismatch between various existing practices, hierarchies and beliefs and the newly presented ones, an issue which becomes clear when discussing the employability of higher education graduates and the relevance of higher education for example. Also, an essential part of development work, both more generally and in universities, is to question the existing values, beliefs and practices – or to put it another way to cause conflict in the current mentalities and patterns of behaviour, both personally and organization-wide (on development work in general, e.g. Filander 2002). Development work in practice – contesting and questioning At the university grassroots level, the main core of development work is both modifying and transforming the information (e.g. offering information on pedagogic innovations and tools, training and educating people), influencing attitudes and values, creating commitment and motivation, and regulating and effecting relationships between people. Making a change is about affecting on emotions and relationships Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 119
  16. 16. Mari Simola This work aims to change the current practices, values and attitudes of academics and students. In practice this means creating new shared concepts for being the teacher and student, and how they relate to each other. Due to the lack of both the scope and vocabulary to discuss teaching and education issues in a research intensive environment, one aspect of the work seeks to introduce knowledge and terms for that kind of discussion, and to create forums for it among grassroots academics (see also Gibbs 2005). Michael Hardt calls this ‘affective work’, which includes the dimensions of creating knowledge and information, symbolic manipulation and working with attitudes, values and emotions in inter-personal relationships (Hardt 1999, 93 – 98). At the very core of the development of higher education and teaching at grassroots level is the need to influence emotions, relationships and the discourse which define and construct the current practices – by creating commitment to a shared vision of a better future. Expectations and ideals are rooted and constructed in practices, which define the relationships between the people – creating emotional bonds which are difficult to change. Also, questioning the existing practices would require influencing emotionally loaded attitudes and behavioural patterns. Successful development combines perspectives, means and aims together According to my analysis, aims for development are described as at least two-fold; on the one hand, work has a purpose of increasing efficiency, cost-effectiveness and quality of higher education and teaching; on the other, developers have a strong desire to improve the welfare of the academic community. This sometimes makes the position of a person working on development tasks very conflicted and contested, potentially from “both sides of the table”: the leaders and the “regular” academic workforce. Characteristically the people working on development in a university occupy a somewhat complex position somewhere between administration, teaching and research; the actual work including elements from each of them (Bath & Smith 2004). However, according to Debra Meyerson and Melanie Tompkins (2007), who have been exploring a project on gender equality in higher education, this kind of complex position might even be the prerequisite for successful improvement. In that case, the leader of the project was a senior academic and administrator who had connections and access to resources, as well as the necessary scientific credibility to act in an environment which held academic excellence in an especially high regard. The project was openly supported by the top management of the university, but at the same time the leader was able to reach perspectives and mobilise the academics at the grassroots of the university. Research on the topic was used not only as a basis of knowledge, but – or at least according to my interpretation of the situation – as a strategic tool (ma.). 120 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
  17. 17. Irritating Emotions – Resistance to University Reforms To be able to establish the development of education and teaching on more stable ground, Graham Gibbs (2005, 7) has been calling for those in the field to create annual conferences on teaching issues, journals on teaching, search for funding for pedagogic research and establish professorships in teaching in higher education. Today this is already a reality in many universities at national and international levels. Gibbs also states the importance of grounding the development initiatives firmly in the strategic priorities and constraints which define the academic community, whilst at the same time keeping one’s feet on the ground. In practice this means projects which have strategic importance and support from the top, while the teachers, researchers and students are equally committed and their voices are equally weighted. 4. Conclusion Conflicts, contradictions and resistance to reforms at the grassroots in a university might arise as a result of the mismatch between new and old forms of formal and/or informal governance, as well as between the governing structures and the existing academic and organizational culture, beliefs, values and practices. Based on utilizing the theoretic framework of emotions and organizational conflicts of the development work in the universities, the following conclusions can be drawn: Conclusions 1. Emotional responses, e.g. irritation and resistance, should be taken seriously into account, and discussed together. Emotions regulate the relationships between people and therefore expressions of disruptive emotions are a sign of “sickness” or misunderstanding in the organization. Sometimes negative emotions show how we can see real problems more clearly and the symptoms for conflicts constructed and caused by the networked practices over time. 2. Positive emotions, such as hope, can be used to facilitate action and motivate people, but in the end change needs to be based on real possibilities, not only on imaginary potential. 3. Influencing emotional relationships, values and attitudes lie at the core of achieving change at the grassroots level in the university. To be able to change the existing practices, questioning the existing ones – consciously causing conflicts – and managing them in a more constructive and “positive” way is needed. Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3 121
  18. 18. Mari Simola Recommendations But how to make the development real, and in a way which best suits a variety of contexts? From the point of view of the institutional leaders and those others responsible for implementing, planning and making decisions on reforming higher education institutions, the following aspects should be taken into account: 1. There are no easy or universal answers Universities, faculties, departments, even research groups, differ from each other, and the logic and organization of the academic work needs to be taken into account if the long-lasting and embedded changes are to be reached. One way for ensuring this is to engage academics, also by using financial bonuses, in leading and planning targets and means for the projects. We need projects which are able to engage and give voice to people who are actually responsible for making change happen – teachers, researchers, students, administrators. 2. Organizing forums for discussion, sharing and collaborative innovating. There is a serious need for listening and finding a collaborative way of implementing the reforms locally. This is especially the case with the relevance of higher education – on employability of the graduates. To facilitate the discussion between different stakeholders and to be able to understand different perspectives better, think tanks and living labs can be used. 3. Development projects need to combine the strategic and operative orientations and to be based on real needs and realism. Projects need to be relevant for both the organization and the different people involved in them. We need approaches which are able to handle and analyze constructively, but critically ones which do so within the boundaries of the current situation, practices and conflicts. Institutional level development which is based on the real needs and realistic analysis of the current situation is a necessity. 122 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3
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  20. 20. Mari Simola [18] Simola, M. (2009a), Stories of Hope and Discipline – Affects and Emotions in Discourses of Educational Development Work. Paper presented to Discourse, Power and Resistance: Power and the Academy – conference 6.-8.4.2009, Manchester, Great Britain. [19] Simola, M. (2009b), What are the Presumptions of Teaching Development in Universities? (‘Millaista on hyvä opetuksen kehittäminen? Yliopisto-opetuksen kehittämistyön taustaolettamuksia etsimässä’). Paper presented to The Annual Conference of the Finnish Educational Research Association 26.-27.11.2009. Tampere, Finland. [20] Staunæs, D. (2011), Governing the Potentials of Life itself? Interrogating the Promises in Affective Educational Leadership. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 43(3): 227 – 247. [21] Teichler, U. (2011), Bologna – Motor or Stumbling Block for the Mobility and Employability of Graduates? In H. Schomburg & U. Teichler (eds.). Employability and Mobility of Bachelor Graduates in Europe. Sense Publishers. Biography: Mari Simola is a researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Behavioural Sciences in University of Helsinki, Finland, and the educational development consultant. Her interests include e.g. the governance and politics of education, emotions in organizations, gender issues and the development of the professional work, teaching and learning. Contact: 124 Journal of the European Higher Education Area, 2012, No. 3