A Changing Landscape
Edited by Andrea Bonaccorsi
Chapter 8: Is the university model an organizational necessity? Scale and agglomeration effects in science
In almost every country, universities are the most important places where basic research is conducted. A dominant organizational design has emerged here, according to which universities can be thought of as (usually) large agglomerations of relatively small individual research groups that are linked by an overarching, yet relatively weak, management level. To facilitate our argumentation we will call this the 'standard university model'. Acknowledging that this organizational structure is the result of historical and path-dependent processes, the question remains whether its development can also be explained in terms of economic pressures for efficiency. Or, in other words, is the university (set up as a large co-location of small research groups) an efficient organizational design? This is an important question for several reasons. First of all, the adequacy of the organizational structures is probably a strong determinant of the fitness of an organization in an evolutionary process of survival (Nelson and Winter, 1982; Hodgson, 1993). In this respect, this dominant organizational design may have emerged as the outcome of a continuous evolutionary process that eventually selected the best organizational structure for science, in line with Fisher's Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection (Mulder et al., 2001). Therefore, analysing the adequacy of the organizational structures of universities could pave the way for understanding (some of) the driving forces behind their organizational evolution.
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