Occupational identity and organisational change among university management teachers
by Dr Ardha Danieli and Dr Alan B. Thomas
Paper presented at Higher Education Close Up, an international conference from 6 8 July 1998 at University of Central Lancashire, Preston. This conference is jointly hosted by the Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University and the Department of Education Studies, University of Central Lancashire and is supported by the Society for Research into Higher Education
Aytoun BuildingBooth Street WestManchester M1 3GHM15 6PBThe British higher education system is currently undergoing a significant transformation encompassing changes in funding mechanisms, the scope of access, modes of organising and delivering tuition, research priorities, and institutional structures of management and control. Such developments, it has been proposed, signal the emergence of the New Higher Education and, in turn, the ‘new academic’.
Within the university system, business and management education has become a major component both at the undergraduate, postgraduate and post experience levels. As a result, university management teachers have come to constitute a significant but little studied sector of the academic labour force. Occupying a field of research and teaching (management and business studies) in an institutional environment (business schools and management departments) which are themselves experiencing substantial pressures for change, management teachers can be seen to be particularly exposed to novel circumstances and challenges which are potentially significant for the management of their occupational identities. To what extent are we witnessing the emergence of the New Management Education and the ‘new management academic?’
Drawing on data collected by means of a small scale interview study of management teachers in university business schools and management departments, this paper explores their occupational self perceptions and their responses to the changing environment of their work. Eschewing pronouncements of institutional spokespersons and policy makers, management teachers’ views are presented in their own voices. Unlike America, where courses in business and management for both undergraduates and postgraduates had become well established in the universities before World War Two, it was only in the 1960s that management education took firm root in the British system of higher education (Locke, 1989; Thomas, 1980). Since then there has been a remarkable growth in provisions in this field, such that today business and management studies has become a major area of tuition in Britain’s universities1, bringing with it the emergence of a new cadre of academics, the management teachers2,.
So far as we are aware, management teachers, as one occupational segment within the academic ‘profession’, have been little studied3, despite the fact that they can be seen as a key group, deeply involved through both their teaching and research activities in servicing the ‘needs’ of the enterprise economy. Considered as those who generate knowledge of management and organisations at the highest level, and who distribute it to those who are, or who seem likely to be, taking up managerial roles within the occupational system, management teachers today might well be regarded not as peripheral, but as central actors in the spectrum of higher education. From this point of view, who management teachers are, what they do, and how they see themselves and their roles might thus be seen to be valid and worthwhile matters for investigation.
Such questions seem to us to be all the more timely in view of the substantial changes which are taking place both within the university system as a whole and, more specifically, within that part of it devoted to management education. The changes wrought upon the universities in funding mechanisms, the creation of the ‘new’ universities, mechanisms for assessing research output, widening access, the restructuring of institutions and curricula will be all too familiar to most university staffs. Yet their significance remains a matter for debate. For some, such changes herald the emergence of the New Higher Education, in which traditional occupational structures are being radically transformed in the direction of de professionalisation or proletarianisation, so producing the ‘new’ instrumental, career obsessed academic willing, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or reluctance, to play the new numbers game (Parker and Jary, 1995; Smyth, 1995) For others, such assessments are, perhaps, premature and overly pessimistic (Prichard and Willmott, 1997). University management teachers constitute one source of evidence on these matters.
Moreover, these teachers might provide a particularly valuable source of insight into the effects of institutional change. For it might be expected that management teachers, by virtue of their interaction with managerial audiences in the course of their day to day working lives, are particularly exposed to the ‘managerialist’ pressures which are evident in the broader context of higher education. Management education, we suggest, is one field of higher education that has been peculiarly open to transformational thrusts, expressed in part through various critical national reports (Constable and McCormick, 1987; ESRC, 1994; Handy, 1987; Institute of Management, 1994), scholarly critiques (French and Grey, 1996; Watson, 1993; Willmott, 1994), broad brush surveys (Locke, 1996; Thomas, 1997) and the less overt and rarely recorded workings of the market. So, for example, the drive to reorientate the relationship between teachers and students in the form of providers and customers (cf. Burrell, 1997:188) seems likely to be felt all the more acutely on the part of those who are required to ‘customise’ the curriculum for powerful corporate clients, and who may find corporate representatives literally sitting at the back of the class; for those who are told that they ‘must listen to employers’ when designing courses; for those who are enjoined to be ‘flexible’ about what they teach, when they teach, where they teach, and how they teach; for those who are encouraged to let research agendas be ‘informed’ by the needs of business. Some management teachers may well find themselves hoisted by their own or others’ managerialist petards.
For us, these issues crystallise around the concept of ‘occupational identity’4,. Arguments concerning the effects of institutional change on academics subjectivity are concerned, in effect, with how individuals conceive of themselves in their occupational roles and the ways in which these self conceptions are or are not changing. For management teachers, the issue of identity is potentially problematic because the management ‘territory’ (Becher, 1989) is both diverse, ill defined and subject to considerable change in terms of its disciplinary definitions and boundaries. As an ‘unconventional’, mutlidisciplinary field (ESRC,1994), management studies has been characterised as a “fragmented adhocracy” (Whitley, 1984). Moreover, as management education has expanded across a diverse set of institutions and disciplines, this fragmentation seems likely to have been accentuated (see Danieli and Thomas, 1997). Coupled with changes in the broader institutional environment of higher education, management teachers may thus be faced with growing problems of establishing their occupational identities, both in their own eyes and those of others.
Our research strategy has been to conduct semi structured interviews with management teachers working in university business schools or management departments, designed to explore how they came to Air Max enter management education, who and what they teach, their research activities, their conceptions of their roles, and their experiences of recent changes in their work. So far we have Air Max conducted interviews with ten management academics. Transcriptions of the taped interviews, which typically lasted for at least one hour, provide the main empirical basis for what follows.
Although we obviously cannot claim that our sample is statistically representative, it does include both men and women, older and younger, more and less experienced, teaching a variety of management subjects to both undergraduate, postgraduate and post experience students, both in ‘new’ and ‘old’ universities, and drawn from the ranks from teaching fellow to professor. However, in the light of Macfarlane’s (1997a;1997b) surveys of teachers of undergraduate Business Studies, which found significant differences in their conceptions of the degree according to their area of teaching specialisation, it is important to note that our interviewees were drawn mainly from the fields of ‘management’ and ‘organisational/ behavioural’ studies. 5, We have thus attempted to examine university teachers’ experiences and perceptions of management education on a small scale and ‘close up’ perhaps even too close for comfort! 6,
The New Higher Education?
One aspect of the New Higher Education is the changed nature of academics’ work. Unsurprisingly perhaps, when our respondents were asked to identify any changes that were affecting their day to day to work, they raised three broad issues: an increase in student numbers and courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and post experience levels, an increasing emphasis on research, and, as a result of both, an increase in administration:
At the same time as we’ve been encouraging a research culture, there has also been a huge increase in the number of students and courses that people have to teach and supervise, so there’s always a conflict there. . In my department, which only provides postgraduate and post experience courses, we’ve developed four new masters courses over the last four years. We’ve developed more certificate level courses and we have massively increased the numbers on our faculty doctoral programme compared to five years ago. (Anna)
The expansion of management education (ESRC, 1994; IM, 1994) has not seen a concomitant increase of management teachers relative to the increase in student numbers:
I remember when I first started teaching [in the 1960s], in those days staff/student ratios were about one to seven. Do you know what they are now in my department? One to twenty two! . Ghastly isn’t it, absolutely ghastly. Do you know in the autumn term I had five weeks in which I was doing nineteen hours teaching! Terrible amount, absolutely terrible amount. And when you think that I only came into academic life in order not to be a teacher it is a horrible ironic twist of fate. (Katherine)
Increased numbers of students and courses whilst increasing class contact time, has also led to increases in the less visible aspects of work: the marking of course work and exam papers, the supervision of students required to conduct research as part of their studies, and, of course, administration. Administration is, however, used as to ensure that management teachers who e Air Max ither have an insufficient number of teaching hours or who are not deemed to be sufficiently research active are seen to be taking an equal share of work:
I think it’s [admin.] probably one of those things that most people don’t really volunteer for and get sort of lumbered with it. [but] this year . I knew that I was actually light on hours, you know we have hours allocation for teaching and research and we have to achieve an overall hours allocation and I knew that I was light on that and I knew that if I didn’t sort of find something that I could live with I would definitely be dumped with something I could not live with. So I volunteered for some administration.(Pat)
The increasing emphasis on research in both ‘old’ and ‘new’ universities resulting from the abolition of the binary divide, together with imposition of the RAE as a means of evaluating and measuring research output, has effectively made research a necessary feature of the work of all academics. Once upon a time academics who were not research active were an accepted feature of university departments (Halsey and Trow, 1971). In today’s rather less forgiving times, those who are not research active, are obliged to take on tasks which are not perceived to be of high status:
[In order] not to be research active and still have respect, you have to take on an awful lot of admin. duties. In some places it has Air Max become the thing that we will keep our best researchers free of admin. and the people who are non research active, they have got to do the head of department job. In this institution the head of department is something you get lumbered with, it’s not something you want to do. (Katherine)