Compliance and Resistance: How Performance Measures Make and Unmake Universities

Kim Soin, Christian Huber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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How individuals comply with, and resist performance measures and metrics can be seen as a key concern in management and organization. Recent literature has advanced our understanding of compliance as a social practice which is often related to resistance. Yet, compliance is seen as something we equate with simply yielding to power without any agency. We address this theme with a study of the effects of managerialism on academic work. More specifically, we investigate the introduction of measures and controls to improve PhD completion times in a research-intensive UK university. Our findings show that despite most of our respondents voicing concerns about the reductionist nature of the target and the consequences for quality, the large majority of academics we talked to complied with the measure. We identify three compliance types that demonstrate compliance is an interpretative process. We make two principal contributions with this paper. First, we offer insights into why compliance deserves analytic attention as a social practice in its own right, as something that goes beyond mere consent. Second, we analyze the impact of managerialism on higher education through the lens of compliance. We use these insights to reflect on how compliance was linked to resistance and the effects of different compliance practices on academic work which ranged from shifting responsibilities to challenging academic integrity.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1130-1151
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 30 December 2021.


  • Compliance
  • Consent
  • Higher education
  • Managerialism
  • Resistance

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