Purpose: The article explores changes in the institutional autonomy and accountability resulting from university reforms carried out over a period of 28 years under the influence of the traditional public administration and new public management logic.
Design/methodology/approach: This qualitative study uses rich empirical material, which includes archival documents as well as 16 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with deans, professors, representatives of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and HEI experts. For analysis, we used the general inductive approach. Institutional logic has been used as the theoretical framework to analyze changes in resource allocation, autonomy, and accountability of HEIs.
Findings: Following the idea of reform as routine, our study shows that the implemented reforms have proven ineffective in comprehensively increasing the autonomy and accountability of HEIs and that they tend to turn into a routine. However, over the past 30 years, a certain increase in autonomy, combined with accountability shifts from input toward output control mechanisms can be observed. An important finding of this research is also the limited understanding of the concept of accountability by the top management of universities and by the ministry’s representatives. Moreover, this illustrates that accountability is understood only as a formal obligation to report to the funding agency and is treated as an integral part of the Polish HE landscape, increasing from reform to reform.
Originality/Value: This article explores the evolution of the Polish state funding systems of universities and analyzes the development from a stable traditional funding model – that was in place before the collapse of the communist system – to a complex multi-tier system and to recent attempts at reforming the HE field, aimed at increasing the autonomy and accountability of Polish universities. More efforts should be made by policymakers to create a sustainable balance between autonomy and accountability in the HE field.