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Swedish Student Aid Officials: changes of the occupational role in the era of New Public Management and Neo-liberal hegemony
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work. (Sovil)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5683-179X
2012 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The paper is based on empirical findings from an ongoing multi-research project on institutional talk financed by the Swedish Research council. In the project, telephone-based conversations between officials and “customers” about student aid, loans, and repayment is studied in relation to the institutional and organizational context. The project includes a parallel qualitative study of the organization and the development of the occupational role and identities of the officials handling these tasks. In this paper some developments of the occupational role of these officials will be discussed. These officials should be seen as Street Level Bureaucrats. They are experts, mostly academic graduates, taking decisions about distribution of public means to private persons thus enabling them to pursue higher education. As such they have to apply Swedish law and regulation in singular cases, which requires a certain individual autonomy and discretion to make judgments and take actions in adjustment to unique situations. In the paper I will hold that this discretion today is subject to a growing number of restrictions. The occupational role is in transition from one which should be exercised on the basis of values of being supportive to people with limited means, and making higher education possible in a spirit of creating equal opportunities, to one based on strict rule-following and values about efficiency and control of the expenditure of tax revenues. As a result of this development especially experienced officials may experience a conflict between internalized professional values and the policy of today. Further; an aspect of occupational culture of today seems to be a fear of making “wrong” decisions, as every step in a single-case is visible to both management and colleagues. Finally; there are signs of some differentiation in occupational identities between newer and more experienced officials and also between local sub-cultures in the organization. I will discuss this development in relation to increasing standardization and regulation in accordance with the managerial principles of New Public Management (NPM), but also in a broader sense how the dominating neo-liberal view of the state and the public sector changes the main focus of state activity from the general themes of the welfare state promoting citizens empowerment, development and growth back to older principles of the state as protector and upholder of law and order, forcing citizens to fulfil their obligations according to legislation. Paradoxical here is that one of the concepts in NPM, the “customer-perspective”, since long implemented in the work of the officials at the Swedish Board for Study Support, also to some degree may be felt by the officials as in clear contradiction with the growing control-side of the occupational role.             

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Sociology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-38700OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-38700DiVA: diva2:764003
Conference
The 6th Nordic Working Life Conference, Elsinore, Denmark, April 25-27, 2012
Available from: 2014-11-17 Created: 2014-11-17 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved

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