22 SES 12 C, Contextualizing and Problematizing Academic Work in Today’s Universities: An International Perspective 1
In a higher education context characterised by increased regulation, technologisation and globalisation, it has become difficult to define, capture and value academic work. Academics’ own sense of identity is affected by this lack of boundedness, and the complexity of the roles they enact in practice in their interactions with students, faculty, managers, and academic administrators. Whilst the Humboldtian legacy of the autonomous teacher-scholar-researcher still looms high in the academic psyche (Henkel 2005), the nature of academic work has changed significantly (Fenwick 2003; Musselin 2007; Fanghanel 2012), as have the terms of employment for academics (Finkelstein 2007; Gappa, Austin et al. 2007), particularly in the UK and other European countries, and in the US and Australia. One could rightly say that the constant in higher education is change and variability. In spite of the much discussed efforts to impose transparency, comparability and streamlining of practices and outputs, one very tangible outcome of the liberal forms of governance now anchored in universities worldwide, is the degree of fragmentation within the HE sector, the significant variations between different groups of academics (Bennion and Locke 2010), and the resulting erosion of the notion of academic territory (Gordon and Whitchurch 2007; Whitchurch 2008; Macfarlane 2011). Whilst it is fair to say that management of the academic function, and the performativity regimes that enable it, are particularly prevalent in the West, universities in other parts of the world have adopted similar governance approaches. As a result, this model threatens to reduce the academic endeavour to one where metrics, rankings and evaluations prevail. This symposium examines and problematizes these issues. The turbulence of academic environments and the work intensification effects are acknowledged; the increased complexity and fluidity of academic roles too; several papers also point to the role of agency, and the complex process of identity constructions.
Based on empirical data collected in diverse countries and institutions, this symposium will examine the tensions created by the working regimes resulting from the liberalisation of higher education governance, and the responses of those working within higher education. The authors contributing to this symposium adopt different theoretical approaches to examine this agenda; the methods are qualitative and broadly relying on interview data. They focus on academics in very different contexts with specific angles of analysis. The cases of researchers and new lecturers (McAlpine), mainstream academics (Teelken, Fanghanel), and academic-related professionals (Gornall & Salisbury) are examined. So are those of academics having to operate in a highly turbulent context (Guzman), or under the effects of internationalizing policies (Korhonen & Weil). By capturing academic work at the macro (institutional, structural, political), meso (departmental, team, subject-related) and micro (individual academics) levels of practice, the presenters in this panel provide insights into the tensions in the academic environment, and the complex play of structure and agency in determining academics’ responses and positioning. The outcome is a ‘rich description’ of the academic field which contributes to elucidating with nuances the impact of liberalism on academic identities and practices.
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