Monday, September 17, 2012

The role of connections in academia; the case of Spain

From VoxEu:
"Before 2002, Spanish public universities had a large degree of autonomy regarding hiring and promotion decisions. This system was associated with extensive inbreeding, generating public concerns about the potential existence of favouritism. In 2002, the government limited the autonomy of universities and introduced a system of centralised competitions known as habilitación. The new system required candidates to full and associate professor positions to qualify in a national competition held at the discipline level. To guarantee transparency, evaluators were selected out of the pool of eligible professors in the discipline using a random lottery.

The introduction of centralised competitions with random assignment of evaluators to committees per se does not seem to eliminate the problem of favouritism. If anything, it introduces an element of randomness relative to who benefits from connections and who gets ultimately promoted. It also favours candidates with many strong connections, such as candidates from large universities. Our work might be also interpreted as additional evidence in favour of a radical change in the way higher education is organised in continental Europe. The analysis of Aghion et al. (2010) suggests that a combination of competition and autonomy would make European universities more productive. According to this view, Europe needs to move from a system of rules to one of incentives, whereby it is in the interest of universities to appoint and promote the most productive individuals (Perotti 2002).
Our analysis does not provide an answer about which of these alternatives, more rules or incentives, would yield better outcomes. Nevertheless, it illustrates the limitations of a system of centralised competitions where evaluators (and universities) do not internalise the consequences of their decisions."

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