BMBF-Projekt "Nichtintendierte Effekte der Leistungsbewertung in der Wissenschaft"

About the project

The research project Unintended Side-Effects of Performance-Measurements in Science (NEL) is a comparative study sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and conducted by Prof. Richard Münch, Dipl. Soz. Len Ole Schäfer and Oliver Wieczorek, M.A. Our research aims are to uncover the complex, social dynamics that affect research conditions on individual level, department level, and level of the disciplines.

Research Questions

Our research project aims to answer the following six research questions:

1) How do performance-measurements, rankings, and prestige differences affect inequality among departments and different types of universities?

2) How strongly are research diversity and research autonomy affected by material and prestige inequalities?

3) How strongly are research autonomy and scholarly output influenced by the introduction of monitoring practices on the levels of the university and how on the level of the academia as whole?

4) How do resource- and prestige inequalities affect long-term and basic research?

5) What are the effects on career patterns of scholars and their self-attribution as researcher?

6) Does as possible segregation between teaching- and research-focused institutions have significant effects on research diversity, creativity, links to companies and politics, and returns on investment?

Theoretical Framework

In order to answer the six research questions raised, we use a theoretical framework based on the Academic Capitalism approach. This theoretical model proposes that a shift in boundary conditions influenced research conditions at universities. These boundary conditions comprise of the introduction of performance assessments in the 1980s, increasing attempts of state intervention into academia, scarcity of resources, and an alteration of how universities gain reputation. These developments introduced a struggle for material- and symbolic resources at the same time, affecting coping strategies and scientific values all over the world. These coping strategies in turn influence research autonomy, career advancement, possibility to establish collaboration, the necessity to monetize research results, and to be on top of academic league tables such as rankings and research assessments.

In a second step, our theoretical model suggests that the abovementioned shifts affect how scholars compete for academic merits and material resources. To this end, our research understands Academic Capitalism as a unique hybrid that unites the scientific search for truth and the economic maximization of profits. It turns universities into enterprises competing for capital accumulation and businesses into knowledge producers looking for new findings that can be turned into patents and profitable commodities. Therefore, Academic Capitalism has an impact on the strategic management of the universities and the relation between researchers and the university administration. On the level of the researchers, the question arises who can conduct autonomous, not directly marketable research under which conditions.

Further, our model suggests that a shift in both the general condition for research and the adaptation of the university as actor within the broader academic and economic development have different effects for scholars located at elite- and non-elite departments. Scholars at elite departments are backed by larger extents of material resources and are able to use their reputation and to remain relatively autonomous. These conditions ensure them to live according the principles of universalism, organized skepticism, disinterestedness, and intellectual communism. In case of elite departments, we suppose that criteria such as originality, creativity and diversity of research are highly valued (see Schäfer: Performance assessment in science and academia: effects of the RAE/REF on academic life).

However the majority of scholars at non-elite department must cope with their constraints in material and symbolic resources to a larger extent. Scarcity of resources, increasing competition for grants and the introduction of additional missions such as being responsible for economic growth and knowledge transfer to industry have an impact on scholars. They have to meet the demands of sponsors as well as the demands of the public, rendering them as assets in order to gain prestige and material resources while strengthening ties to companies. At the same time, researchers are trained to take the financial strain and power relations into account when conducting research. They must at least partially deviate from the principles universalism, organized skepticism, disinterestedness, and intellectual communism, leaving them with a weaker, competitive position for reputation and grants.


To accomplish the aims of our research, we use a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. To trace the long-term effects on department level, we use fixed- and random-effects regression models. Furthermore, we use methods of social network analysis to highlight the effects of academic capitalism on career opportunities, collaboration and competition in academia. Additionally, we use semi-structured interviews with researchers and university administrators to enhance our understanding of the proposed effects on daily routines on both scholars and administrators.

The survey adds to our methodological framework in the sense that it provides data needed for multilevel regression. This technique allows us to investigate the effects of academic capitalism on the level of the state-systems (e.g. University of California System), the departments, and individual researchers. 

The survey accompanies the research project Unintended Side-Effects of Performance-Measurements in Science is an online survey. It will take approximately 30 minutes to complete and consists of 45 questions in total. The questions are divided into six different topics and gives insights into the mechanisms affecting research careers, research autonomy, collegiality and competition, research diversity and academic values.

We are interested in the experiences of students, postdoctoral researchers and professors in the subjects Chemistry, Physics and Sociology. To do so, our survey is designed in such a manner that it allows us to aggregate individual responses on department level. After aggregation and anonymization, the departmental data will be matched with data that was collected by the National Science Foundation Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges and the IPEDS Salaries, Tenure, and Fringe Benefits Survey. By doing so, we hope to uncover the complex arrangement between structural effects at department level and individual level that are framed by political decisions and economic developments on the long run.

During the last two and a half years, we accomplished more than 20 publications regarding the unintended effects of performance measurements in science. A selection of these publications is presented below:

1. Münch, Richard (2014): Academic Capitalism. London, Routledge.

2. Münch, Richard (2015): Alle Macht den Zahlen! Zur Soziologie des Zitationsindexes. In: Soziale Welt  66(2), 149 – 160.

3. Münch, Richard (2015): Evaluation 2.0: von der wissenschaftlichen zur managerialen Qualitätssicherung? In: Bulletin 147/148, 22 – 28.

4. Münch, Richard (2016): Die Universität im akademischen Kapitalismus [The university within academic capitalism]. In: Bauer, Nina, Christina Besio, Maria Norkus and Grit Petschick (Hg.): Wissen – Organisation – Forschungspraxis. Der Makro – Meso – Mikro – Link in der Wissenschaft [Knowledge – Organization – Research Practice. The Macro – Meso – Micro – Link in academia]. VS-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 95 – 121.

5. Münch, Richard and Thomas Heinze (2016): Innovation in Science and Organizational Renewal. Historical and Sociological Perspectives. Palgrave.

6. Münch, Richard and Len Ole Schäfer (2014): Rankings, Diversity, and the Power of Renewal in Science. A Comparison between Germany, the UK and the US. In: European Journal of Education 49(1), 60 – 76.

7. Schäfer, Len Ole (2016): Performance assessment in science and academia: effects of the RAE/REF on academic life. Centre for Global Higher Education working paper series (no. 7).

8. Heiberger, Heiko and Oliver Wieczorek (2016): Choosing Collaboration Partners. How Scientific Success Depends on Network Positions. Working Paper.

9. Wieczorek, Oliver, Stephanie Beyer and Richard Münch (2016): Fief and Benefice Feudalism. Two Types of Academic Autonomy in US Chemistry. In Publication (Higher Education).

10. Wieczorek, Oliver and Len Ole Schäfer (2016): Verwaltungspraktiken – Konstruktion von Leistungsindikatoren am Beispiel des britischen Research Assessment Exercise. [The Effect of Management Practices on Performance Indicators: The Example of the British Research Assessment Exercise]. In: Bauer, Nina, Christina Besio, Maria Norkus and Grit Petschick (Hg.): Wissen – Organisation – Forschungspraxis. Der Makro – Meso – Mikro – Link in der Wissenschaft [Knowledge – Organization – Research Practice. The Macro – Meso – Micro – Link in academia]. VS-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 510 – 551.