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The autonomy of science - governance, organization, and enactment of university research

Time: Fri 2023-06-02 10.00

Location: B2, Brinellvägen 23, Stockholm

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Language: Swedish

Subject area: History of Science, Technology and Environment

Doctoral student: Ulrika Bjare , Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö

Opponent: Docent Charlotte Silander, Linnéuniversitetet

Supervisor: Professor Nina Wormbs, Historiska studier av teknik, vetenskap och miljö; Professor Mats Benner, Lunds universitet; Universitetslektor Eugenia Perez Vico, Högskolan i Halmstad

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The thesis deals with a tension in university governance concerning research policy actors’ mandate to decide on the academic organization and direction of research, vis-à-vis researchers’ perceptions of governance in research. This tension is addressed through an analysis of the ideas and attitudes towards universities as institutions, and research as a practice, expressed at the policy level in connection with major reforms. Additionally, it is studied how individual researchers perceive and relate to governance in research in relation to the governance system as a whole and to the university management. The study makes use of different theories and methods, including the idea of the social contract for science and perspectives from implementation and policy studies as well as enactment-perspectives and theories of metagovernance. Using a document analysis of policy documents the study demonstrates that significance has been attributed to the internal university organization by policy makers. The analysis demonstrates that policy perspectives on the internal organization of universities have been shaped by ambivalent attitudes aimed at controlling academic activities, while simultaneously adhering to norms of scientific autonomy. Through quantitative analysis the study further demonstrates a correlation between researchers' perceptions of steering in research and the internal management model of universities. Researchers at universities with a high degree of line-management perceive a higher degree of influence in research from the internal university management compared with researchers at universities with low degree of line-management. One explanation suggested is that an organization with line-management and few collegial bodies makes universities less resilient to external influence. Also, line-managed universities have a more instrumental character where external factors could have a greater impact on the internal leadership. The quantitative study also shows that researchers perceive a high degree of influence in their research through external funding. This result is consistent with previous research that has demonstrated the impact of external funding on the direction of research. Similar to the survey, the thesis’s interview study shows that governance through external funding is perceived as the most potent. Consequently, the most distinct adaptation to governance is through adjustments in research applications. These adjustments involve innovative processes and the ability to transform external funders' priorities into research proposals. In this process, prospective scenarios are created, where research aligns with both the scientific field's development and society's utility paradigm. The design of the research system means that a large part of the mandate to plan, administer, develop and negotiate forms for conducting research rests with individual researchers.