19 March 2019

Achieving a balance – policy and practice in motivating the academic workforce

A new working paper by Dr Giulio Marini, Professor William Locke and Dr Celia Whitchurch reviews the literature on the topic of the academic workforce, uncovering a variable landscape in relation to both policy and practice.

Published in the context of CGHE research project 3.2 – The future higher education workforce in locally and globally engaged HEIs – it undertakes an in-depth review of journals dedicated to higher education studies, and other academic journals where contributions to the field may occur.

The main findings of the literature review centre on two aspects of academic life: the personal agency of the individuals who work in academia, and the organisation of work and careers within academia.

In relation to the first aspect, the British higher education system is shown to be a collection of heterogeneous employers within which individuals may find different opportunities, not only in terms of career pathways, but also in terms of varying degrees of flexibility and autonomy.

For the second, organisational aspect, the literature review reveals that ‘human resource management’, a term that is contested in a higher education environment, is seen as having a stronger profile than hitherto. However, it also suggests that managing people in higher education is more complex than organisational policies and procedures alone might imply, and that the picture is therefore more nuanced. Furthermore, it is clear that, although academic staff may complain about changing conditions, the attractions of an academic career remain.