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To manage or govern? Researching the legitimacy of NPM-based institutional reforms in Russian universities

Tatiana Khvatova (Institute of Industrial Economics and Management, Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University, St Petersburg, Russia)
Svetlana Dushina (Centre for Sociology of Science and Technology in Saint-Petersburg, Branch of the Institute of History of Science and Technology, Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg, Russia)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 6 March 2017




Global trends in higher education are calling now for public university reforms which aim to increase the competitiveness of the university on the world markets, enlarging its role in the economy and in society by making it more entrepreneurial, more efficient, and closer to practical life. In order to achieve these goals, universities should be managed in a different way. The principles of New Public Management (NPM), which are being actively introduced in Russian universities, substantially transform educational and scientific practices. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the growing crisis of NPM-based university institutional reforms in terms of legitimisation, to reveal which factors shape legitimacy, and to show why legitimacy as such cannot be achieved within the framework of NPM.


The productivity and efficiency of the NPM-based strategy are mainly defined by the attitudes of all actors, or stakeholders. As such, it is very important to investigate local responses on a workplace level, in order to understand how insiders – lecturers and researchers – view the structural changes taking place within Russian universities. In order to do so, an empirical research of lecturers in four national research universities (NRUs) in St Petersburg has been organised. Using a self-designed questionnaire, the authors assessed the academic perceptions and evaluations of certain changes which have taken place in Russian universities over the last few years. In all, 126 teachers of four St Petersburg NRUs took part in the survey, which was conducted between January and February 2015 and consisted of questions measuring resources of legitimacy and legitimacy markers.


Legitimacy markers were revealed such as acceptance of goals, positive perception of results and emotional state. A serious conflict between the existing cognitive culture of universities and the new managerialistic approach was diagnosed. The legitimacy of NPM-based reforms in Russian NRUs was proven to be low for the following reasons: the objectives of reforms are unclear or even unknown to employees; the results of the reforms are either not seen or negatively evaluated; and the reforms provoke stress and professional burnout. The following factors influencing the process of legitimisation were proven to be significant: the agreement of personnel with reforms and the changes they bring, positive perception of changes, opportunity to participate in decision making (engagement), and, to some extent, influence. Remuneration has only a slight effect on legitimacy.

Research limitations/implications

The findings of this study are not free from limitations. The data were collected within only four research universities in St Petersburg. Furthermore, the authors’ findings are based on self-reported data, which can be biased. Increasing the volume of the sample and the number of NRUs could be one solution. In the future, research could be developed by enhancing the sample, by making international comparisons, and by providing a more detailed questionnaire.

Practical implications

Higher education systems in many countries in the world are going through similar reforms and are facing similar issues: increasing competition for funds, students and teachers, massification and commercialisation of education, a new managerialistic approach to governance, research valorisation, and effective contracts. New managerial ideology is having a big impact on university culture and can cause passive resistance to reforms, along with disappointment, frustration and professional burnout. These are important issues which cannot be ignored if a successful “third generation” entrepreneurial university is to be built. This study provides important insights into the perceptions of reforms and requires us to pay more attention to university as a social and public value.


The research is original. It is interesting and new because it discusses the NPM-based reforms in higher education in the Russian Federation, a country which was earlier quite well-known for the quality of its education and richness of its university traditions, and empirically tests the factors influencing their legitimacy. Prior research on legitimacy applies the concept mainly in politics. Otherwise, legitimacy is still a concept which is difficult in terms of both theoretical interpretation and empirical validation. The results of the study have practical implications for providing and developing more effective governance in public organisations.



Khvatova, T. and Dushina, S. (2017), "To manage or govern? Researching the legitimacy of NPM-based institutional reforms in Russian universities", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 250-267.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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