Talent and performance management are becoming a key strategic HRM issue for universities. This study adds to our knowledge by critically examining recruitment and selection practices for junior and senior academic talent in the Netherlands. We identify three key dilemmas in talent and performance management for universities: (a) transparency versus autonomy, (b) power of HR versus power of academics, (c) equality versus homogeneity.
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 HR managers with the opportunity to select people for their institute. 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 study focused on senior academic talent: full professors; the second study on junior academic talent: PhD students, postdocs 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 (PhDs 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 postdoc 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 (Becher and Trowler, 2001). An analysis of the predominant patterns revealed that some social sciences tend to resemble the humanities (in particular qualitative oriented studies such as anthropology, cultural studies and gender studies), whereas others tend to resemble 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 candidates Abundant 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 culture Idiocratic, pluralistic, loosely structured, personally oriented, politicall 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 and 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 HRM 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 profile, 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.
Study B: young academic talent The second study was a project on talent management policies and practices at five Dutch universities. Five university departments were selected from five different universities representing the core academic disciplines: humanities, social sciences, STEM, medical sciences and law. The study included 25 interviews with key figures around HRM and talent management such as HRM managers, members of the university executive board, research directors and deans.
Data analysis We first of all scanned the text and isolated the words and phrases connected to our research question: (a) what is academic talent, (b) who defines talent or excellence and (c) how are they identified. FINDINGS : a. Humanities 1. They are mostly recruited via the internal circuit, especially in the discipline of Law. 2. The majority of professorial posts are openly advertised in newspapers, websites and email networks. 3. This groups of candidates has very influential network. 4. Need highly skill and experience people .
5. Humanities scholars can make their ‘own decisions’, ‘no top-down interference’ and ‘freedom of research’. b. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields: 1. Candidates are generally recruited through informal networks. 2. This field offering very low salary. 3. This field very important in the search for new candidates. however it will be hard to attract top scholars. 4. Having strategic and political skills is considered of minor importance in this field. 5. Leadership and authority also outstanding academic reputation are key of success in this field. c. Medical sciences 1. In this field recruit most talented people. 2. Closed recruitment system and candidates are scouted and invited to apply.
3. In the medical sciences, professors are not only involved in research and teaching but also in the health care of patients in teaching hospitals. 4. In this field professional are following an assertive leadership style. 5. so we have seen that ‘making difficult decisions’, ‘deciding the direction of the department’, ‘overcoming conflicts’, ‘ruling with an iron fist’ and ‘banging one’s fist on the table’. CONCLUSION Talent policies may also be related to the role and position held by the HR department in this regard. In many cases, this is limited to administration.
HR, however, scarcely has any involvement in the recruitment, selection and supervision of talented academics. The HR advisor also has a better understanding of the opportunities for development that the organization can offer, which means that the faculty’s policy on talented young academics can be communicated more directly.
They can prepare interviews in consultation with managers, chair the interviewing panel and compile the report on these interviews. This would give them a more instrumental role in recruitment policy, comparable with that of many HRM advisors in R&D facilities or other public sector bodies.
Courtney from Study Moose
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