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Thomas Durand is chaired professor of Strategic Management at Cnam in Paris where he heads the Management-Innovation-Prospective Department and the MBA.
How is research assessed in France?
The assessment of Management research in France varies according to the academic institutions.
1-In the classical university system, evaluation of research teams (or “laboratories”, or departments) is conducted by AERES, a public agency in charge of evaluation.
However individual researchers are evaluated by the committee of CNU in charge of management. CNU is the body (partly elected, partly appointed by the French ministry in charge of universities and research) that used to manage the promotion of university professors nationally. However, as universities have gained more autonomy, the career of management faculty can now be managed locally, while relying – or not- on CNU committees for the research assessment.
2-Grandes Ecoles (HEC, ESCP Europe, ESSEC, etc) are elite schools for management education and research. They stand apart from the university system. They do not call upon CNU nor AERES. They run their own internal assessment exercises. They tend to pay more than universities and can offer financial bonuses for starred publications. They primarily run in the race for rankings in the media.
3-Since the 1930’s, France developed large research centers apart from universities. That led to the emergence of CNRS (covering most of science, 27 000 people) as well as CEA (nuclear research), INRA (agronomy), INSERM (medical) INRIA (Automatics ad robotics) and about 15 other similar bodies – although somewhat smaller. Each of these had developed their own research assessment process for individuals while AERES entered in the loop for assessing research units. CNRS generated an assessment body called the committee for NRS, hence called CNRS as well. This body has a department for both Economics and management – where economists have the lead. This body, using the name of CNRS, became very influential, e.g. issuing the first list of journals in management that is still used as a reference in many places.
As it appeared that the disconnect that France had created between research (the production of knowledge) and teaching (the dissemination of knowledge) was counterproductive, most of these larges research bodies were lead to choose to fund research teams within universities and Grandes Ecoles. As a result, the research assessment processes they used did penetrate the world of universities and Grandes Ecoles. This applied to management research as well.
The result is a mix of overlapping assessment processes and bodies in France.
From your perspective, which are the main problems related to research assessment in France?
Over the last 10 to 15 years, Management research has been under heavy pressure to deliver more publications. This was a strong boost for the field in France. It had positive effects. Yet, increasingly the leading institutions in management research, typically the Grandes Ecoles, have been primarily concerned by their ranking in the media, not so much by the relevance of the research conducted and published by their faculty. That led to the de facto emergence of standards of quality that had more to do with the quantity of papers published in so-called starred journals, typically anglo-saxon, than with the quality and relevance of the new knowledge produced.
This trend led to favor main-stream research, papers more than books and manuals, English more than the native language, speed for more papers (PhD based on articles, not on a fully developed thesis), quantitative more than qualitative papers that take too long for the same “count”, etc.
The balance between teaching and research started leaning essentially on research, as if teaching was no longer a priority. A lot was also partly lost along the way: the social impact of research, the scholarly enquiry or the involvement in the institutional life of the university.
In a way the French academic world of management research and education, like many other similar communities of management professors in Europe, started a mad race to catch up with our American cousins.
How does the assessment process affect behavior of researchers?
The focus of management academics in France is now primarily on research – I should even say, sadly, on publications. Young colleagues are investing all their energy, intelligence and time in the race for starred publications. And we count numbers of stars instead of reading the content of the papers. Team spirit, academic debate and institutional commitment have been lost along the way. Some have used the word “mercenaries” to describe the new behavior of management academics.
What should we do to have better research in Europe?
We are trapped in a “lock-in” situation where the rankings impose their logic onto Deans, who in turn put pressure on faculty to publish in starred journals thus reinforcing mercenary behaviors. We need coordinated strategies to get out from the lock in.
Typically, if a group of influential Deans in Europe were to decide that books are rehabilitated as an important vehicle for academic work in management, then books would be considered again in research assessment. One Dean cannot do it on its own. But collectively, Deans can do it. The same apply to professors.
What should business schools do in this respect?
In our books on the “Future of business schools” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and “Redesigning management education and research” (Edward Elgar, 2011), Stephanie Dameron and I argue that European Business Schools should stop blindly running behind our American counterparts in a race to catch up.
We suggest that European BSchools would be better off offering the world differentiated contents in management education, building on some of the specificities of European culture, traditions in social sciences, public-private economic setting, etc. In fact, we advocate for a dual strategy: catching up and differentiating.
We further send a call for European management scholars to design and implement coordinated strategies to modify the institutional setting and the rules of the game that have been put onto us from the outside (and that we imported and accepted passively until now). We need to go back to more diversity in research standards, relevance, social impact, scholarly enquiry.
This can be done as long as we put our acts together.
- Dameron S. et Th. Durand (2011) « Redesigning Management Education and Research – Challenging Proposals from European Scholars », (Eds), Edward Elgar publishers
- Durand Thomas and Stéphanie Dameron (2011) « Where have all the Business Schools gone? » British Journal of Management, Sept 2011
- Durand Thomas and Stéphanie Dameron (2008), “The future of Business Schools: Scenarios and strategies for 2020“, (Eds) Palgrave Macmillan.