Digital bureaucratization of higher education

Nowadays, it is only possible to think that a higher-education teacher could teach and research by opening a computer and connecting to the digital sphere. Historically, however, this is a recent phenomenon. Computer users communicated via a mainframe computer (IBM Administrative Terminal System) for the first time in 1962 and sent the first e-mail a decade later.

However, for a long time, in the 1980s and later, the letter was the primary means of communication in the higher education sector. Scholars sent their contributions in ground mail letters to journals, received peer reviews, and handled all other internal and external communication in letters.

Today, computers are the everyday tools of academic scholars to maintain scientific communication. Increasingly, such essential operations as reviewing book exams, preparing work plans, or making travel plans, have been switched from human labor to computer-mediated operations, that is, to the work of digital systems. In teaching, the latest leaps are the internet-based systems that allow teaching and studying at a distance via Teams and Zoom.

University management believes that digital systems reduce the need for human labor, generating savings for the institution. With this excuse, it has fired both faculty and staff. Remaining teachers and researchers have felt that the digital systems designed to support their work have yet to do the trick. Digital systems have increased their overall workload and, in turn, reduced their teaching and studying time. Their stress levels have risen, and their felt meaningfulness of work lowered.

Contrary to what is said, the introduction of digital systems and conversion of various activities to the digital format has increased the amount of paperwork (see Graeber, 2015), i.e., time spent in digital systems.

Digital bureaucratization has reduced face-to-face interaction between people, and interaction chains have become longer. At the same time, teachers and staff members have distanced themselves from and become faceless to each other, thus suffering from alienation (Seelman, 1959).

Digital systems have changed from tools to ends and appeared in organizations like apparitions from a fog: few know their origin or reason for existence. Teachers and researchers only need to adapt to digital systems and become their pawns or submissive recipients.


Graeber, D. (2015). The Utopia of Rules.
Seeman, M. (1959). On The Meaning of Alienation. American Sociological Review 24(6), 783–791.

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