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30 October 2017 Sophie Harris, Assistant Director of Human Resources – Organisational Effectiveness
Sophie Harris, deputy director of HR at SOAS, University of London considers the changing structure and composition of the academic workforce in UK and US universities. Her reflections follow a study visit to the USA as part of her UHR-CUPA Bursary prize.
While in the US, I was surprised to discover the extent of the similarities between the American higher education system and our own.
Like in the UK, the composition of the American academic workforce has fundamentally shifted over the past several decades. Where full-time academic staff were once the norm, the large-scale employment of adjunct professors (our hourly paid, associate or visiting lecturers) is now commonplace.
Higher education never stands still. There has been structural and policy change for decades. And we are no different to other sectors. Employment everywhere has changed: a global economy, governments retreating from public funding, the marketisation of public services, and an increase in women in the labour market have all contributed to huge shifts in employment practices.
Academic roles have shifted over the years but not in a way that is thoughtful or strategic, or aligned with the changing nature of academia. This has generated a mismatch between who the faculty are and the employment policies and practices in place.
The current model of academic employment means that:
Adrianna Kezar spoke at the CUPA conference in San Diego about her research on the changing faculty.
Her research envisions a greater diversity of roles in the future, and suggests building these around some key elements of a new academic model incorporating:
With the introduction of the TEF, together with the increasingly competitive world that academia is being pushed into, a model with these components seems as relevant to the UK as it does in the US.
There are also some important themes arising here in relation to female academic progression that I have also touched upon in my other posts.
I’ve previously described the imbalance between the work that academics are expected to carry out, and that which they are rewarded for and that strategies that promote collegiality and mutual support networks can help female academic staff succeed. I’ve also described how vague promotion criteria can be off-putting to female staff and discourage them from applying.
It seems that there is a real opportunity here for universities to engage with the changing model of higher eduction and translate this into a model of academic employment that reflects the new world that we are operating in. A model that more clearly links activity to reward and better reflects individual and institutional priorities would surely lead both our institutions and our faculty to greater success.
Author: Sophie Harris, SOAS University of London
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