22 SES 10 C, Policy, Management and Governance in Higher Education
Academic identity and its recent transformations in the context of neoliberal globalisation is the focus of considerable current debate in the higher education sector. Harris (2006) highlighted the issue in her 2006 paper “rethinking academic identities in neo-liberal times” discussing key areas of tension including the balance between research and teaching; the possible impacts on short and longer term outcomes and the potentially different perspectives and priorities of newer and older academic institutions.
One key challenge that has emerged for academics is achieving balance between research, teaching and other service related work. Jauhianen, Jauhianen and Laiho (2009) highlight this difficulty noting that “the esteem of the academic community … is still firmly based on research, but everyday life is more and more dominated by teaching, planning administration and administrative developments”. With the increasing focus on accountability, the task of workload management is, for many academics, exacerbated by the management focus on the more quantifiable elements of workload. Arguably, this has further shifted the emphasis of academic work toward the more easily measurable and manageable teaching activities, while retaining an expectation of high research performance.
The greater management focus seen in the higher education sector also opens it to risks of unintended consequences. The literature around the impact of the recent RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) provides one example, with findings indicating a greater emphasis on shorter term, less creative or risk-averse research. For example, the trend towards crude performance indicators privileging the gross number of publications as the measure of research achievement has resulted in pressure for more papers with less emphasis on quality and even for less collaborative activities (Elton, 2000). As Elton concludes:
Could we finish with a system that is unchanged in what ought to be changed and changed in what ought to be unchanged? (Elton, 2000, p279)
Is there a misalignment between the emerging assumption that academic work is adequately described by simplistic workload models[C1] ? Will such an approach deliver the desired quality research and teaching outcomes? And are these tensions similar across all disciplines or, as suggested by Harris (2006) more common for educational researchers who are perhaps more marginalized or isolated than other social scientists.
In exploring academics’ views on their identity, is there a case for re-claiming the quiet time that has in the past been an element of academic work that could be perceived as essential for quality outcomes?
This paper argues against the implicit view that generic time/study or workload models can effectively measure academic activity and the associated impacts on academic work and productivity. Where an aspect of activity is subject to measurement there is a risk that the unmeasurable is left out of consideration. With workload models this often means limited consideration given to research and creativity with limited recognition also of the growing administrative responsibilities academics face. Drawing on qualitative data from a survey of Australian academics we explore the themes that give definition to an emerging dissatisfaction with current approaches to managing academics and academic workload.
Elton, L. (2000). The UK Research Assessment Exercise: unintended consequences. Higher Education Quarterly, 54 (3), 274-283. Harris, S. (2005). Rethinking academic identities in neo-liberal times. Teaching in Higher Education, 10(4), 421-433. Jauhiainen, A., Jauhiainen, A. & Laiho, A. ( 2009). The dilemmas of the ‘efficiency university’ policy and the everyday life of university teachers. Teaching in Higher Education, 14(4), 417-428.
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