Accepted Paper:

Standardising for excellence: new public management and audit cultures in German universities  


Asta Vonderau (Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany)

Paper short abstract:

My paper investigates processes of standardization adopted by German universities in the process of implementing new online management systems. It demonstrates how these processes lead to the formation of auditable subjects, transforming the traditional understanding of quality teaching and learning.

Paper long abstract:

In the context of decreasing public funding and increasing demands on international competitiveness the future development of the German university system seems uncertain. German universities are under pressure to find ways of managing these uncertainties. One way to do so is to participate in so-called 'excellence initiatives' called out by the government in order to obtain the rank of an 'excellent university', which allows universities to profit from increased funding, amongst others.

Besides the sucessful implementation of the Bologna process, participants in the 'excellence initiatives' are expected to make the quality of their work seazable in economic numbers and terms. As a consequence, many universities are currently introducing new online management systems through which different disciplinary cultures and everyday routines of teaching and studying are standardized and translated into economic figures and concepts following arguments of transparency, efficiency and fairness. Using the University of Mainz as an empirical case, where I followed the implementation process of the central online management system over a number of months, this paper will discuss how the transfer of everyday knowledge into technical data is constituted, how economic understandings of quality, communication, learning and teaching are introduced, and how different groups such as teachers, students and administrative staff actively take part in this process. Referring to anthropological investigations under the banner of 'anthropology of policy' (C. Shore, S. Wright) and 'audit cultures' (M. Strathern), my talk will shed a light on the intended and disciplinating, as well as unintended effects of these standardization processes.

Panel IW002
Standards and the quest for technocratic certainty