Higher Education

, Volume 74, Issue 5, pp 897–913 | Cite as

Academic work and performativity

  • John KennyEmail author


Neoliberal reforms in higher education have resulted in corporate managerial practices in universities and a drive for efficiency and productivity in teaching and research. As a result, there has been an intensification of academic work, increased stress for academics and an emphasis on accountability and performativity in universities. This paper critically examines these developments in institutions and draws on evidence from universities across the sector and a detailed case study in one university to identify the impacts of these changes on academic work. Given its ubiquity and the link of academic productivity to institutional experience, the paper argues that assumptions underpinning academic performance management need to be rethought to recognise the fundamentally intrinsic motivational nature of academic work. The paper explores the effects of performance management on individual academics as a case study in one institution and proposes a re-design of academic performance management to improve productivity based on the evidence.


Higher education Performance management Performativity Academic work Neoliberialism 


  1. Altbach, P.G., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L.E. (2009). Trends in global higher education: tracking an academic revolution. A report prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, G. (2006). Carving out time and space in the managerial university. Journal of Organisational Change Management, 19(5), 578–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. ARC (2015). Australian Research Council. Discovery Projects: Selection Report for Funding Commencing in 2015. Australian Government: Canberra.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, R. (2000). University knowledge in an age of super complexity. High Educ, 40, 409–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnett, R. (2012). Learning for an unknown future. High Educ Res Dev, 31(1), 65–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barnett, R., & Middlehurst, R. (1993). The lost profession. High Educ Eur, 18(2), 110–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bellamy, S., Morley, C., & Watty, K. (2003). Why business academics remain in Australian universities despite deteriorating working conditions and reduced job satisfaction: an intellectual puzzle. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 25, 13–28. doi: 10.1080/13600800305740.
  8. Bexley, E., James, R., & Arkoudis, S. (2011), The Australian academic profession in transition: addressing the challenge of reconceptualising academic work and regenerating the academic workforce. Report for Dept of Education, Employment and workplace relations. Centre for the Study of Higher Education: The University of Melbourne. ISBN:978–0–642-78054-6Google Scholar
  9. Blackmore, P., & Kandiko, C. B. (2011). Motivation in academic life: a prestige economy. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 16(4), 399–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bolden, R., Gosling, J., O’Brien, A., Peters, K., Ryan, M., & Haslam, A. (2012). Academic leadership: changing conceptions, identities and experiences in UK higher education. London: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.Google Scholar
  11. Burgess, T. F., Lewis, H. A., & Mobbs, T. (2003). Academic workload planning revisited. High Educ, 46(2), 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cannizzo, F., & Osbaldiston, N. (2015). Academic work/life balance: a brief quantitative analysis of the Australian experience. Journal of Sociology, 1–17. doi: 10.1177/1440783315600803.
  13. Chapman, B. (2001). The higher education finance debate: Current issues and suggestions for reform. The Australian Review of Public Affairs. (Accessed Nov 28, 2016).
  14. Coates, H., & Goedegebuure, L. (2010). The real academic revolution. Melbourne: LH Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research methods in education (7th ed.). Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Connell, R. (2015). The knowledge economy and university workers. Aust Univ Rev, 57(2), 91–95.Google Scholar
  17. Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research; planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc..Google Scholar
  18. Currie, J., & Eveline, J. (2011). E-technology and work/life balance for academics with young children. High Educ, 62(4), 533–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Franco-Santos, M., Rivera, P., & Bourne, M. (2014). Performance management in UK higher education institutions: the need for a hybrid approach. Report for Research and Development Series. London: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education Cranfield. School of management. ISBN978-1-906627-58-4.Google Scholar
  20. Fredman, N., & Doughney, J. (2012). Academic dissatisfaction, managerial change and neo-liberalism. High Educ, 64, 41–58. doi: 10.1007/s10734-011-9479-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Furlong, J. (2013). Globalisation, neo-liberalism and the reform of teacher education in England. Educ Forum, 77(1), 28–50. doi: 10.1080/00131725.2013.739017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gill, R. (2014). Academics, cultural workers and critical labour studies. Journal of Cultural Economy, 7(1), 12–30. doi: 10.1080/17530350.2013.861763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giroux, H. A. (2002). Neoliberalism, corporate culture, and the promise of higher education: the university as a democratic public sphere. Harv Educ Rev, 72(2), 425–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Henkel (2007). Academic identities and policy change in higher education. London: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  25. HERDC (2015). Higher Education Research Data Collection, Australian Government. Information available online at
  26. Houston, D., Meyer, L. H., & Paewai, S. (2006). Academic staff workloads and job satisfaction: expectations and values in academe. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 28(1), 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kenny, J.D. (2009). Managing a modern university: is it time for a rethink? Higher Education Research and Development, 28(6), 629–642. doi: 10.1080/07294360903206934.
  28. Kenny, J. & Fluck, A. (2014). The effectiveness of academic workload models in an institution: a staff perspective. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 36(6), 585–602. doi: 10.1080/1360080X.2014.957889.
  29. Kenway, J., Bullen, E., & Robb, S. (2004). The knowledge economy, the techno-preneur and the problematic future of the university. Policy Futures in Education, 2(2), 330–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kwok, J.T. (2013). Impact of ERA research assessment on university behaviour and their staff. NTEU National Policy and Research Unit. Melbourne: National tertiary Education Union. ISBN 978–0–9806500-6-8 accessed online from
  31. Langford, P. H. (2010). Benchmarking work practices and outcomes in Australian universities using an employee survey. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 32(1), 41–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lyons, M., & Ingersoll, L. (2010). Regulated autonomy or autonomous regulation? Collective bargaining and academic workloads in Australian universities. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 32(2), 137–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lyotard, J-F. (1979). The postmodern condition. Manchester University Press, 1984. Accessed online from:
  34. Marginson, S., & Considine, M. (2000). The enterprise university: power, governance and reinvention in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Mitchell, M. (2015). The university model is a victim of its own success. Australian Universities’ Review, 57 (2), 87–90. Accessed online from
  36. Morris, L. (2011). From collegial engagement to performance management: The changing academic landscape in Australia. Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of a doctor of philosophy (PhD), Victoria University, School of Management and Information Systems, July.Google Scholar
  37. NTEU (2013). The UTAS academic-serving the interests of the university? A report prepared by Tasmanian Division of the Nation Tertiary Education Union. Available online from
  38. Pink, D. (2010). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate books.Google Scholar
  39. Roberts, P. (2013). Academic dystopia: knowledge, performativity, and tertiary education. Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 35(1), 27–43. doi: 10.1080/10714413.2013.753757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robertson, M., & Germov, J. (2015). Bringing the budget back into academic work allocation models: a management perspective. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 37(5), 507–518. doi: 10.1080/1360080X.2015.1079398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ryan, S. (2012). Academic Zombies: a failure of resistance or a means of survival. Australian Universities’ Review, 54(2), 3–11. Accessed online from
  42. Turner, G., and Brass, K. (2014). Mapping the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in Australia. Australian Academy of the Humanities, Canberra. Accessed online from:
  43. Woelert, P., & Yates, L. (2014). Too little and too much trust: performance measurement in. Australian higher education. Critical Studies in Education. doi: 10.1080/17508487.2014.943776.Google Scholar
  44. Zeichner, K., & Noffke, S. (2001). Practitioner research. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (pp. 298–330). Washington: AERA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationLauncestonAustralia

Personalised recommendations