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Human Resource Management in Higher Education

The role and instruments of human resource management

 Pei Min and Long Tran Dinh Thanh


The Role of Human Resources (HR)

Role of HR in general

Human Resource Management (HRM) is a significant function in a company, and great importance and value are being attached to it in modern management. Today, people are specially trained in this field to meet the increasing demand of HRM responsibility, which includes planning, organizing, staffing, etc. In this regard, HRM is playing and will continue to play a significant role in a company or an institution.

Objectives and Functions of HRM

A crucial component, HRM touches nearly every aspect of the running of an institution. It aims to create a motivated workforce that is able to complete assigned tasks with the proper amount of expertise, and to establish and maintain desirable working relationships among all the members of the organization and to maintain high employee morale. By providing training and development programs, HRM strengthens and appreciates the human assets continuously. It also creates facilities and opportunities for individual or group development so as to match it with the growth of the organization. To attract and maintain talented employees, HRM provides employees with adequate and equitable salary, other forms of welfare, and necessary measures and recognition for fulfillment of challenging tasks. To boost efficiency and positive competition, it introduces differentiated and competitive wages and incentive bonus. Besides, HRM is also responsible for the provision of fair, acceptable and efficient leadership and favorable entrepreneur culture, and the stability of employment. Today, especially in developing countries, HRM tries to create more employment opportunities to disadvantage groups like women and the middle-age to alleviate inequalities in distribution of income and wealth.

In a word, HRM involves creating a workplace that benefits the employees and leaders of a company, and dealing with hiring, benefits and payroll by helping a business or nonprofit organization to meet its general goals, and a favorable environment is created.


Role of HR in higher education

As Matthew Knight, Universities HR chair and head of human resources at the University of Leeds, points out writing for the Guardian Higher Educational Network, Universities are “people enterprises, the quality of the people working in the sector, the way they work with each other and what they achieve will, over time, mean the difference between institutional success and failure.” (Anyangwe, 2012) This means that HRM, which are responsible for recruiting and nurturing the human capital at universities, has an important role to play in the long-term success of their universities.

But in reality, the role of HR in higher education is yet to be brought into full play. The development of academic and administrative staff, for instance, is confronted with many challenges (University Bocconi, 2007):

  • In many countries an ageing cohort of academic staff requires more systematic succession planning and talent development within the institution;
  • Increased national and international competition for high quality staff;
  • More competitive funding, project management and inter-institutional collaboration require greater managerial and personal skills;
  • More autonomy and more proactive strategic profiling of the institution require improved leadership competence.


Instruments of human resource management

There are a lot of instruments or practices introduced to human resource management. They are: performance management, staff development, leadership development, reward management, communications, staff surveys, career/succession management, modernizing HR system, flexible working, workforce planning, competency frameworks, organizational development, well-being/positive culture, diversity, absence management, redundancy policy, etc. (Guest, 2007)

For HRM in higher education institutions, a number of instruments are in place for academic staff:

  • Formal training in how to teach for all staff appointed to their post

This training includes new recruitment training and retraining of incumbent staff, and it is one of the most common practices of HRM in universities. Institutions like Center for Faculty Development or Center for Teaching and Learning are established in some higher education institutions for staff in this regards. Usually, experienced professors or lecturers are invited to share their experience or deliver a demonstration. New recruitment training is always intensively held in a short period of time. In some universities, certain experienced professors are appointed to serve as “tutors” or “supervisors” to a number of new teachers. This HRM instrument standardizes teaching and safeguards its quality in some degree.

  • Regular appraisal of all staff

Regular appraisal aims to grant all staff members a right to a clear understanding of their department's expectations of them, and an opportunity for detailed discussion of their contribution to the achievement of departmental and institutional goals, to make them feel valued. This HRM instrument is designed to strengthen effective two-way communication and can help to identify training and development needs in the future. Academic staff will be reviewed either by the Head of Department or another senior member of the department. Besides, student feedback is employed as the main tool in many countries. Normally, overall appraisal of academic staff is conducted on a yearly basis, which is in line with incentive mechanism, such as promotion and yearly bonus. This HRM instrument is promoted and strengthened by quality assurance since 1990s.

  • All staff systematically informed about the performance of the university

It is important to have all staff informed of the situation of the university and the decision of the leaders, which not only creates transparency but also gives the staff a strong sense of belonging. This is done through an internal network, such as campus email, unified SMS from president’s office. This cultivates a culture that keeps the staff, whatever post they are in, feeling that they are always involved in the on-going of the HEIs.

  • Training for all newly appointed heads of departments

Similar to the formal training of academic staff, the training for newly appointed managerial leaders is also intensively held. A good professor does not necessarily make a good leader, so more and more universities separate academic staff from managerial staff. The training of this managerial staff is crucial to the future running of the whole department and the university.

  • Flexible pay to attract and retain staff

Flexible pay is viewed as incentives to attract and retain excellent staff and motivate all staff to update their knowledge and skills required in their posts. Flexible pay creates a positive competitive environment for all staff that pushes them to move forward in their career and finally benefits the university as a whole.

(Guest, 2007)


Performance Management

Higher education in many parts of the world such as Europe and Asia are experiencing process of substantial reforms. Performance management, as an instrument of HRM, has been an important factor in the innovation process. Performance management was once described as the “Achilles Heel” to manage human resources because it is the major process “through which through which work is accomplished and should therefore be a top priority for managers to review” (Naha Abu Mansor, Raka Chakraborty, Ke Yin, & Mahitapoglu, 2012). Performance management can be defined as a designated system to facilitate people to do their best of their capacity. (Heathfield, 2006). Moreover, according to her, performance management is “a whole work system that begins when a job is defined as needed. It ends when an employee leaves your organization.” Whenever performance management is mentioned, the number of accomplishments is often thought to be the most important factor to be considered. Actually, when supervise performance of a team and individual in organizations, "both inputs (behavior) and outputs (results) need to be considered and managed.” (Decramer, Christiaens, & Vanderstraeten, 2007). In other words, performance management is not merely about managing, rating or judging people based on their outcomes, but also observing problems occurring during working process, supporting and enabling people to better their performance. According to Heathfield (2006), a performance management system usually consists of the following actions.


  • Develop clear job descriptions.
  • Select appropriate people with an appropriate selection process.
  • Negotiate requirements and accomplishment-based performance standards, outcomes, and measures.
  • Provide effective orientation, education, and training.
  • Provide on-going coaching and feedback.
  • Conduct quarterly performance development discussions.
  • Design effective compensation and recognition systems that reward people for their contributions.
  • Provide promotional/career development opportunities for staff.
  • Assist with exit interviews to understand WHY valued employees leave the organization.



However, when it comes to implementing performance management in higher education institutes, the context may affect the implementation. “The purposes of performance management systems (PMS) are of three kinds: strategic, developmental, and administrative.” (Naha Abu Mansor, Raka Chakraborty, Ke Yin, & Mahitapoglu, 2012) and based on this idea, performance management system is supposed to connect employee activities with the organization’s goals. As a result, performance management systems may work as its best in organizations with clearly defined objectives. In complicated organizations with scattering objectives such as universities and colleges, PMS may not have many chances to make positive influence. (Naha Abu Mansor, Raka Chakraborty, Ke Yin, & Mahitapoglu, 2012).

Also, measuring performance, as part of PMS, can create “dysfunctional behavior in that achieving the required outcome can undermine other important areas of an organization’s work”. (Broadbent & Laughlin, 2009). A teacher, for example, instead of devoting an equal time for both research and teaching, they may spend more time for research activities if their performance will be assessed more on the outcome of their research rather than teaching. And students, in this case, would be the direct victims of PMS.


Workforce Planning

Another relatively significant instrument of HRM is workforce planning. However, it is not a “straightforward” but “still evolving” concept in the context of higher education. (Dowds, 2009).

As described by Nicola Dowds, workforce planning is “a systematic, data-based approach to identifying the optimum mix of skills and people needed” to create an effective and efficiency operation of the institution within a preset budget and organization’s strategic objectives. Workforce planning, in a course book issued by University of Ballarat, is defined as “a continuous process of shaping the staff profile” to guarantee that it has the ability to achieve the university’s current and future objectives. (University of Ballarat, 2013). In other words, workforce planning is “a set of procedures that an organization can implement to maintain the most efficient employee/management team possible, maximizing profits and ensuring long-term success.” (Rouse, 2013) Or, it can be summed up in “3 RIGHT”- right people, right place, right time.

Workforce planning is a vital solution and should be used more habitually in managing higher education institution. One of the reasons is that it makes managers to look toward the future, to forecast and deals with surprises, and to consider all the possibilities. (Sullivan, 2002). If key players such as deans, rector and HR managers plan ahead all the possible needs for future lecturers and administration staff, they can prevent problems such as panic hiring or layoff. He also states that workforce planning might be more precisely called “talent planning because it integrates the forecasting elements of each of the HR functions that relate to talent--recruiting, retention, redeployment, and leadership and employee development.”

Succession planning, one of the key component of workforce planning, is fairly useful to HE managers. “Succession planning is a process whereby an organization guarantees that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company.” (Heathfield, 2006). If key positions in both administration and academic staff such dean, rector, and senior professors are cautiously considered and handled in terms of planning succession, HE institutes will not have to experience much of any disruption in management crisis in the transition time or lack of staff to fulfil knowledge thirst from students.

Among these, the most common instruments being used are formal training on how to teach for staff, regular staff appraisals and computerized HR systems. (Guest, 2007) Besides, surveys are also done concerning the effectiveness of the instruments mentioned above. The result shows that recruitment and retention are selected as the most effective, followed by job evaluation and ability to attract and retain high quality staff, while performance management, managing poor performance and staff/succession planning are at the bottom of the list.

In conclusion, Human Resource Management is undoubtedly one of the “winning cards” in a company. Unless HRM is properly implemented and improved, operations such as planning, organizing and staffing cannot be completed efficiently. Apparently, university as an organization is not an exception when it comes to HRM. Normally, the success of an institution based on the staff’s level of performance, achievement and interaction with each other. There are a number of HRM measures which can be exploited in the context of higher education. However, some adjustments in implementation are probably needed in some instruments due to the difference in the nature of organization, goals and culture of higher education institutes.



Anyangwe, Eliza (2012). `The evolving role of university HR managers`, The Guardian, 23 May. Available from <http://www.theguardian.com> [23 May 2012].

Broadbent, J., & Laughlin, R. (2009). Controlling higher education. Are performance management systems effective in higher education?

Decramer, A., Christiaens, J., & Vanderstraeten, A. (2007). Individual Performance Management in Higher Education Institutions. Innsbruck.

Dowds, N. (2009). International Experiences of Human Resource Management.

Heathfield, S. M. (2006). about.com. Retrieved 1 4, 2013, from Human Resources: http://humanresources.about.com/od/glossaryp/g/perform_mgmt.htm

HR at universities mean the difference between institutional success and failure

2007 Human Resource Management and University Performance London leadership foundation for higher education

Naha Abu Mansor, a., Raka Chakraborty, A., Ke Yin, T., & Mahitapoglu, Z. (2012). Organizational Factors Influencing Performance Management. Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Asia Pacific.

Role of Human Resource Management

Rouse, M. (2013). Search Financial Application.

Sullivan, J. (2002). Why You Need Workforce Planning. Workforce.

University of Ballarat. (2013). Workforce Planning- Toolkit and Templates.

University, Bocconi (2007). Human Resource Development in Universities: Its role in leading and implementing change



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