Red sky in the morning, academics take warning: the (re) construction of academics at one post-92 university

This source preferred by Clive Hunt

Authors: Hunt, C.

Following the appointment of a new vice-chancellor to Midway University (the alias used for a post-92 university) a modernisation project was introduced aimed at maximising the institutions’ research standing so that academic staff whose highest qualification was a doctorate would become a significant majority.

Among the many external forces that have impacted upon institutions, league tables have been the dynamic for many of the key performance indicators to which universities across the world, including those in the UK, are now responding. As the quality of a university’s research outputs is often recognised as a measure of institutional prestige, following a research agenda is seen by universities as being beneficial in raising their profile and their attractiveness to home and overseas students as well as that of employers and external funding bodies.

For the individual institutional actors, the university’s lecturers, this modernisation project demanded a change in their working practices from one which had previously focused on teaching related activities to a situation where an emphasis was to be place upon research. Actors recognised a change in the institutional discourse where lecturers were considered to be either teachers or academics and that the work of an academic was privileged over that of a teacher in relation to promotion and possible threat of redundancy.

This research sets out to study and examine how university teachers at one post-92 institution understood and responded to the modernisation project to acquire research skills. As a case study situated within a technology based school, the research presented is based upon a qualitative study and is founded upon two rounds of semi-structured interviews with lecturers as well as a detailed analysis of formal institutional documentation and wider policy texts.

Two theoretical resources, ‘new’ institutionalism and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, were used in combination to explain how the modernisation project was embedded as well as understanding the rules and components of interaction experienced by the institutional actors in their pursuit of gaining research skills.

This study provides an insight into a path-breaking strategic plan that was enacted within a historically dependent setting. The study muses on the dialectics of institutional path dependency and the path breaking effect of a modernisation project that was stimulated by new managerialism. This research adds to a body of literature that reflects on innovation and change in institutions where the origins and structures have been historically determined and are thus deeply set.

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