Higher Education

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 41–58 | Cite as

Academic dissatisfaction, managerial change and neo-liberalism

  • Nick Fredman
  • James Doughney


This paper examines perceptions by academics of their work in the Australian state of Victoria, and places such perceptions within the context of international and Australian debates on the academic profession. A 2010 survey conducted by the National Tertiary Education Union in Victoria was analysed in light of the literature on academic work satisfaction and on corporatised managerial practice (“managerialism”). The analysis is also placed in the context of neo-liberalism, defined as a more marketised provision combined with increased pro-market state regulation. Factor analysis was used to reduce 18 items we hypothesised as drivers of work satisfaction to four factors: managerial culture, workloads, work status and self-perceived productivity. Regression models show the relative effects of these factors on two items measuring work satisfaction. This analysis is complemented by discursive analysis of open-ended responses. We found that satisfaction among academics was low and decreasing compared to a previous survey, and that management culture was the most important driver. Concern with workloads also drove dissatisfaction, although academics seem happy to be more productive if they have control over their work and develop in their jobs. Work status had little effect. In the open-ended responses the more dissatisfied academics tended to contrast a marketised present to a collegial past. While respondents seem to conflate all recent managerial change with marketisation, we pose a crucial question: whether the need for more professional management needs to be congruent with marketising policy directions.


Management Managerialism Neo-liberalism Australia Work satisfaction 



The authors wish to thank the industry partners and participating colleagues and institutions in the Australian Research Council Linkage Project, Work and Social Cohesion Under Globalisation, of which this paper is a part. Particular thanks are due to the Victorian Division of the NTEU, a project partner, for making available the data for this paper. Its communications and campaigns officer Alex White deserves special mention. The second-named author discloses an interest as the immediate past honorary president of the NTEU in Victoria. The authors acknowledge the assistance of Richard Gough, Victoria University, in formulating the conceptual direction of this paper. We also thank Leo Goedegebuure, University of Melbourne, and two anonymous reviewers, all of whom made very useful comments on earlier drafts of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LH Martin Institute of Higher Education Leadership and ManagementUniversity of MelbourneCarltonAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Strategic Economic StudiesVictoria UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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