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Excellence is Neoliberal??

VU International News and Reviews No. 124 November 20 2018

November 2018

In “Higher Education” (2018, 76), researchers from the Radboud University in Nijmegen have published an article on the influence of the concepts of “internationalisation” and “excellence” on the recruitment and selection of young researchers. In their article Selecting early-career researchers: the influence of discourses of internationalisation and excellence on formal and applied selection criteria in academia, they find that a majority of selection committee members consent with university-level notions of that the university should attract “excellent” young researchers and that international experience is a factor in this search for excellence.

They don’t like these words “internationalisation” and “excellence”: ‘Excellence has also become a ‘holy grail’, a norm or standard that all higher-education institutions should supposedly strive for.’ Apparently they see – without giving much substance to this assertion – “internationalisation” and “excellence” as expressions of a neoliberal approach to higher education & research and to universities. As they see a neoliberal approach to universities as negative, they apparently also see “internationalisation” and even “excellence” as belonging-to-neoliberalism-and therefore-bad.

What did they do? They analysed documents at one university, in two faculties: natural sciences and social sciences.

What did they find: selection committees attach value to “excellence” and to “international experience” as an indicator of excellence.

What did they conclude: the ‘neoliberal’ preference for “international experience” and “excellence” impacts the way universities recruit and select young researchers. As they see “excellence” as apparently something else than ´talented´, they fear that talented researchers may not be recruited because of the search for excellence.

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