Project 3.2

The future higher education workforce in locally and globally engaged HEIs

The aim of this project is to review, over a four year period, the implications of a diversifying academic workforce for individuals and institutions, and, in particular, the ways in which challenges and opportunities are being addressed.

Project team

  • William Locke, University of Melbourne
  • Celia Whitchurch, UCL Institute of Education
  • Giulio Marini, UCL Institute of Education


The project will address key themes arising out of an academic workforce which is diversifying in many respects. These include:

  • multiple entry points to higher education employment;
  • a changing balance between full-time, part-time and contingent staff;
  • and the focus of individuals on teaching and/or research and/or knowledge exchange, as well as on other institutional commitments such as public engagement, employability, and regional development.

This shift from understanding academics as a homogeneous profession has implications for individual career trajectories, motivations and incentives; and for the way that staff are managed within their institutions.

The study will build on findings from recent projects funded by the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) (Locke, Whitchurch, Smith and Mazenod 2016; Whitchurch and Gordon 2017) and the ESRC (Locke, Freeman and Rose 2016), locating these in global, regional and institutional contexts.

The findings from the Locke and Whitchurch studies demonstrate that there are both temporal and spatial implications of this diversification that are not always recognised by institutions, who therefore may not fully optimise possibilities for their staff or for themselves.

This project will explore some of the tensions and dissonances arising from a possible mismatch between staff aspirations and institutional structures and processes, as well as gaps in perception, to consider ways in which a diversifying workforce might continue to be incentivised, to ensure that the academic profession continues to be attractive to talented staff.

It will undertake the first stages of a longitudinal study, at the same time as exploring spatial relationships and movements: for instance, between disciplines; across teaching, research, hybrid and emergent roles; through institutional partnerships and consortia; and between higher education and other sectors.

Research questions

  1. In what ways are academic roles and identities diversifying?
  2. What are the implications for individuals and institutions, locally and globally?
  3. What tensions and/or synergies arise from this diversification, for instance between individual aspirations and institutional missions, structures and processes?
  4. How are such tensions being managed and resolved in optimal ways for individuals and institutions?