Academic identity in a performative and marketised environment: a comparative case study

Pearson, Robert William (2015) Academic identity in a performative and marketised environment: a comparative case study. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis reports a study of academic identity in two English universities of different type and status during the period 2012 to 2013. It explores the effects on academic identity of policy developments which have reconfigured the relationship between academics, students and government since the late 1970s. These developments have resulted in a change to the university working environment from one in which academics enjoyed relative autonomy in their academic practice, to one in which work is increasingly directed by externally imposed performative and marketised priorities. The most recent policy developments were introduced by the 2010 UK Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition Government and included major changes to the funding of university education in England. This has resulted in the withdrawal of government funding for non-laboratory based disciplines, the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000 per annum, and the transferal of the burden of funding from the state to students.

Within this context this thesis aims to provide insights into the impact of performative and marketised policies on academic identity. In-depth interviews were conducted with twenty academics in the arts and humanities disciplines at two contrasting English universities: a ‘new’ university, which was a teaching-intensive and locally focussed Post-1992 institution; and an ‘old’ university, which was a research-intensive and globally focussed Pre-1992 institution. These universities were chosen because they represented contrasting types of English university in a stratified system.

Anthony Giddens’ theories of structuration and identity formation have been adopted as a theoretical framework to underpin the research design and subsequent analysis. His theory of structuration has been used because it allows investigation of the relationship between structure and agency in academic identity formation in the contemporary university.

Several themes emerged from the interview data, highlighting common threads as well as divergences between the academics in the two different universities. It was found that all the academics are able to construct positive narratives of academic identity within the performative and marketised environment. These findings challenge a body of literature which presents a pessimistic view of the opportunities for academic identity formation in the contemporary environment. However, this positive identity is sensitive to environmental influences, with a key point of divergence for the two groups of academics being the freedom and opportunity to engage in scholarly research at their respective universities. Within this policy environment some academics in the teaching-intensive university were therefore faced with the choice of adapting their academic identity or of fostering a feeling of inauthenticity. These findings have important implications for universities and government in terms of the implications for academic practice, the relationship between academics and students, and conceptions of the purposes of higher education.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: McLean, Monica
Thompson, Paul
Keywords: College teachers, Economic conditions, Rating of, Higher education and state, Great Britain
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher education
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 30612
Depositing User: Pearson, Robert
Date Deposited: 09 Mar 2016 10:00
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2016 12:06

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