ERG SES H 09, Professionalism and Education
In many parts of the world there has been an enormous interest, politically and administratively, by governments, bureaucracies, and businesses, in identifying, codifying, and applying professional standards to teachers (Hargreaves & Goodson, 1996, p.1). With the New Public Management permeating into higher education since the 1990s, professionalism for university academics has been concretised into quality assurance, performance appraisal, outcomes, standards, innovation, funding, public management, ranking, and accreditation, all of which are happening on a global scale (Mårtensson, Roxå, & Stensaker, 2014; Field, 2015). In professionalism theories, this phenomenon is referred to as the construction of ‘managerialism professionalism’ and ‘organisational professionalism’, which, with its professionalisation technologies, has been analysed as being underpinned by a managerialism politics that clashes with the ethos of ‘occupational professionalism’ (Whitty, 2008; Evetts, 2009).
This paper focuses on the notion ‘organisational professionalism’ as it is constructed by contemporary discourses of higher education management. It investigates how professionalism is established and operationalised in a specific local site, which is a university in Vietnam, and studies the orientation of its institutional policies and management practices towards faculty development. In this way, by looking at both ‘regulations and instrumentalities’ (Freidson, 2001, p.136), the study provides an empirical analysis that showcases the different political forces involving in the making of professionalism.
As such, the study approaches ‘professionalism’ from a critical perspective and treats the notion as a value-embedded concept. A particular set of occupational traits and attributes never come out of a vacuum. That whether they are considered being of ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ quality and value always involves the concerns of how ‘good’ and ‘satisfactory’ are defined, and to whose standards, which in turn are motive-driven. In this way, the construction of professionalism appears to involve not only the participation of occupational groups but also the engagement of different actors, for example individual clients, authority, or the society. Indeed, professionalism, with its own logic, is viewed as having a relationship with other forces, including bureaucracy and the market (Freidson, 2001). The ideology of professionalism, formed by occupation practitioners, therefore, needs to interact with that of bureaucratic control (managerialism), and that of market control (consumerism) (Freidson, 2001, p.106). ‘Professionalism’ thus should be read ‘both as a mode of social coordination and as shorthand for a (shifting and contested) set of occupational virtues’ (Gewirtz et al., 2009, p.4).
With this conceptual positioning, the paper further empirically explores the relationship between different forces in the establishment and maintenance of ‘professionalism’ visible in a local institutional site. The perspective that sees professionalism as a socially constructed notion allows the study to consider this concept beyond an ‘institutional parochialism’ and within larger sociocultural context frames (Robertson & Dale, 2008). As such, the study contributes to the growing area of profession research by providing better insights into the forces that compel ‘professionalism’. Also, with the fact that Vietnam, similar to many other countries, has been undergoing rigorous higher education reforms and that quality assurance is high on its agenda, a globalisation perspective can also be adopted in reading the study’s implications, following the current trend in researching education which goes beyond the traditional binary of global/local of ‘methodological nationalism’ (Robertson & Dale, 2008).
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