“Recognition and recognition also means that the university has to say goodbye to staff.”

“Recognition and recognition also means that the university has to say goodbye to staff.”

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May 7, 2024 | Just like successful organizations, universities should not have lifelong careers. Implementing recognition, evaluation and open science involves saying goodbye to employees and attracting new talent, write researchers from Utrecht and Leiden.






Universities must move from an exclusive talent policy to an inclusive talent policy in which high performers are not only rewarded, but the diverse talents of all employees are exploited. An exclusive, performance-oriented talent management system still prevails in the academic world, write Utrecht and Leiden researchers and policy officials Judith de Haan, Paul Boselli, Marieke Adriaanci, Frank Miedema and Seko de Knecht. According to them, the Dutch Recognition and Evaluation Program shows that the evaluation of scientists can be more comprehensive. This also includes a different way of “talent management,” they say. New book On talent management in higher education.

Science for economic growth

For many years, excellence in research has been the model by which academic quality has been defined and therefore meant a lot for academic careers, write researchers and policy makers in Utrecht. Recently, this view of academic achievement has come under severe criticism. The focus would be too much on the individual, would incentivize exclusive and performance-oriented talent management and make collaboration, transparency and social engagement more difficult.

At the beginning of this century there was a strong belief that universities, especially because of their research, were an important engine of the economy, and that research and innovation were crucial to economic growth at the national and international level. Since 1980, this has manifested itself in the neoliberal turn in the United States, the European Union and other wealthy parts of the world. This has also determined the internal development policies of the universities. Investments in academia and its research have mainly focused on intellectual property, knowledge sharing and job creation through start-ups.

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This has led to a heavy emphasis on quantitative measures in determining academic quality, mainly the number of articles in journals with a high Journal Impact Factor (JIF), citations, grants and patents obtained. Academics who scored well on these measures were seen as the university’s top talent, the authors explain.

Insecurity and dirty science

The intense pressure to publish a large number of articles each year encouraged “sloppy science” and fraud in unsafe research environments, they wrote. Therefore, publishing research papers should not be the only goal of academic work; This goal must extend to all aspects of the academic institution, and the focus must also be on quality.

With open science, time and effort will be spent on stakeholder engagement to improve research and education agendas, the authors explain. This should be explicitly and systematically encouraged and rewarded in the academic world. After all, one cannot ask for one thing and then judge another, the authors say.

A very narrow definition of academic giftedness

The prevailing focus in recent years on individual excellence in research is only a very narrow definition of academic talent, and too focused on a selective group of employees – namely researchers, according to the authors. Therefore, university employees with different talents performing tasks of equal importance were at a severe disadvantage.

In contemporary literature on talent management, a distinction is made between exclusive and inclusive talent management. With the exclusive approach, the talent is breakout players, best in class or high performers. The holistic approach emphasizes that all employees have talents. The latter approach therefore requires an organizational effort to get the best results from all employees.

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Including talent policy

The authors argue for a restoration of balance between these approaches. According to them, there is a need for this in the academic world. “To change the recognition and reward system in academia, we also need to balance our vision of talent management, which is a combination of comprehensive and exclusive talent management (…).”

Researchers suggest a hybrid approach to talent management, in which a combination of exclusive and inclusive talent management in academia would rebalance individual well-being, organizational effectiveness, and social well-being. The starting point should be the collective ambition of a group, institute or university.

Project managers must also hold key positions

Depending on collective ambitions, for example to make the world a better place, different employee profiles are needed. A comprehensive approach to talent management provides opportunities to improve academic human capital, where the key position does not belong only to scholars. “The software engineers and open science project managers we need now and in the years to come can also fill the key positions we need to advance our open science ambitions,” the authors wrote.

Dynamic career paths lend themselves to this, they say. Internal and external mobility of employees are important aspects that can contribute to shaping sustainable employability. Distinctive, high-performing organizations in other sectors are known to move their talent to other organizations, on the assumption that they will attract other talent – ​​perhaps the talent that left first and has since developed elsewhere.

There is no lifelong job security

The lifelong job security, which still exists in some parts of the academic world, does not fit into this. Increased complexity and dynamism should contribute to the shift from lifelong job security in academia to lifelong career security in society. In other words: organizations are not expected to provide a lifelong job, but rather to contribute to a lifelong career.

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Although there is still a long way to go to put this mobility into practice in universities, the authors argue that this approach to talent management is already partially implemented among junior academics, especially doctoral students and postdoctoral students.

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