Framing the use of performance management in universities: the paradox of business disciplines

Noel Hyndman, Mariannunziata Liguori *

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: This paper explores how performance-management systems are understood and framed through the use of rhetoric and language within universities, where not-for-profit, charitable goals are (or should be) central. It addresses the issues of: how strategic rhetorical frames are used by university actors; and how these relate to actors’ primary frames and reactions to performance-management practices. The study focuses on the case of UK universities, taking into consideration both old and newer institutions.

Design/methodology/approach: This study adopts a case-study approach, relying on 28 interviews with key-academic actors involved in the design and implementation of university performance-management systems in four UK universities.

Findings: The research highlights the important effect of primary frames over the strategic frames that are mobilised to achieve desired outcomes or individual advantage. In Business disciplines, the consistency between actors’ primary frames and managerial and performance-management tools introduced into universities makes such disciplines a fertile ground for these practices to be embraced. This is not the case with Natural Sciences.

Practical implications: While framing a new practice consistently with existing/prevailing primary frames may be a winning strategy in the short term, in the long term, those tasked with introducing new practices should consider that the prevalence of a certain view of the world has the potential to hamper innovation and learning.

Originality/value: The paper contributes to advance our understanding of the interaction between individual primary and strategic frames, as well as academic staff’s reactions and interpretations of performance-management practices in universities as knowledge-intensive, not-for-profit organisations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1194-1219
Number of pages26
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number4
Early online date02 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 08 May 2023


  • universities
  • performance management
  • framing


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