22 SES 09 D, Universities and Partnerships
In the 2000s, the Russian higher education (HE) sector underwent radical changes with the introduction of the Bologna reforms and New Public Management Principles. In addition to that, performance-based contracts were introduced. The economic and demographic changes resulted into restructurings and redundancies in HE institutions. A considerable amount of literature has been produced discussing the impact of these reforms. Surprisingly, few scholars have concerned themselves with the effects that these changes have had on young academics in social sciences who are often considered as one of the Russian HE sector’s most fragile actors. Literature from other countries showed that academics are often faced with contradicting incentives in the changing context of HE (Jansen 2010). There is a lack of research on this issue in Russia. The questions of this paper are (1) to find out how do young academics make sense of their teaching and research, as well as other academic activities in a changing university; (2) to identify the structures which support or constrain the academics in formulating professional development goals and taking desisions regarding their professional development.
The sociological account of agency applied here means that individual agency is considered in the context of the dynamics of structures in the academic labor market. Academics are co-constituents of those structures. Alternative practices promoted by policies question existing ones, that is, they challenge existing commitments and institutions that sustain them (Alkire 2002, 140). Institutional change is understood as the formation and legitimation of novel practices. Peripheral actors, as those who are disadvantaged by the institutionalized practices, are especially important as agents of change. When the rules of the field become uncertain, actors “tend to be more receptive to new perspectives and to engage in search processes to identify alternatives” (Fligstein 2001: 11). Proximate fields in this situation are “a readily available and generally trusted source for new ideas and practices” (Fligstein 2001: 11).
Self-reflexivity or reasoned action is characteristic of “skilful actors” (see Fligstein 2001); that is those actors who challenge the existing structures. In other words, agency is characteristic of those actors who can overcome them by reframing and recontextualizing themselves and their work.
The developmental perspective of the capability approach (CA) enriches the sociological one by the focus on extrinsic and entrinsic aspects of well-being in work and self-reflexivity of actors (Alkire 2002).
Meanings constitute categorical basis for action; categorical stabilities are structures of meanings in a particular context of interaction, they are the basis of individual decision-making (Beckert 2003).
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