Norway’s academic hiring processes are already remarkably open

A few years ago, Kate and Gregor Maxwell, a British academic couple now working at Norwegian universities, started applying for academic jobs in Scandinavia. The openness of the system surprised them, as Kate blogged earlier this week:

It was a great surprise to receive the first acknowledgment [of the job application] some weeks later. It was clearly a standard letter, but its contents caused considerable eyebrow-raising in our small Parisian flat. Not at the appointment of a specialist, independent committee (from multiple institutions) to objectively assess all of the applications, but at the list of names, addresses and dates of birth of all the applicants. All of them.

The same day as the anonymous recent recruit to Norwegian academia blogged this, professors Kristian Gundersen (UiO) and Ingar Kaldal (NTNU) were featured in Dagens Næringsliv criticising the Norwegian academic hiring system for not being open enough. They think too much weight is given to “personal qualities”, teaching skills and administrative experience, and that this means that we wouldn’t hire a genius or a Nobel prize winner in the Norwegian system today. I disagree: I think a lot of weight is in fact given to research quality and that teaching and administration are key in a university environment, and I see Janne Haaland Matlary argues the same thing in a response to Gundersen and Kaldal. But I was intrigued by Professor Kaldal’s claim (only on page 14 of the paper version for 19.02.2013 unfortunately, which you can read through Atekst if you have a library connection) that the external committee report (sakkyndiges rapport) for hiring academics in Norway used to be public, and not exempt from public disclosure as it is today (Is this true? I haven’t found confirmation but don’t really know where to look?) Kaldal argues that we should make the committee reports public again for full openness.

As the Maxwells discovered, Norwegian academic job reports already are sent out in full to all the applicants for the jobs. Norwegians may be surprised to realise that this is a remarkable level of openness, internationally, as Kate Maxwell noted in a blog post on The Professor is Inan international academic career advising blog earlier this week. When she and her husband first applied for jobs in Scandinavia, they were particularly impressed by the openness of the hiring process:

As more of these letters arrived, we realised that this was the norm. And then the committee reports began to appear. These included a detailed description of each candidate’s research and education to date, their proposed research, an evaluation of their work samples, and the committee’s judgment on whether or not they were fit for the stipendiat post. Finally, the committee ranked the candidates in order, signalling which they recommended for interview. As the months passed by, these reports gave a great insight for us outsiders – and presumably to all the candidates – as to what committees were looking for. A careful scanning of the merits of the top-ranked candidates (with the help of google translate if the assessment was not presented in English) meant that Gregor was able to become his own careers advisor. Soon he was moving up the ranks, from the middle to towards the top.

In her next post, describing their job hunt after their PhDs, and this time writing about jobs in Norway rather than Sweden where the first jobs were, the “absolute clarity of the system” is again what stands out:

There are several points of interest here, and not just the low applicant numbers (low, that is, by the standards we were used to from the UK, and from what we have heard about North America). First is the absolute clarity of the system: at all points the candidates are fully informed of each other and of the process. Secondly, the process is designed to be as fair as possible. That is the reason for the full disclosure of information. Naturally, the same names appeared on some of the lists – I got to know who else in my field was looking for jobs, and of course, in a small research community, we often came across each other at conferences. Such meetings were always, in my experience, amicable and open.

I’m definitely for increased transparency in academic processes, but perhaps we already have sufficient transparency and openness in the hiring process. If it’s true that committee reports were once completely public, I would be interested in learning more about how that worked and why the system was changed. Perhaps even more openness would be valuable, but certainly absolutely open evaluation reports as in published on the web would potentially be crushing for candidates who were unfavourably reviewed, and had that judgement on their permanent online record.

And one reason I love international colleagues is seeing these reminders both of what is good and what could be improved in our own system and culture.

21. February 2013 by Jill
Categories: Blogging, University politics | 9 comments

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