Academics and Higher Education Expansion

  • Maria YudkevichEmail author
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High Education Faculty Member Academic Freedom Academic Career Temporary Contract 
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Many people associate the massification of higher education, which has become an inherent part to the educational landscape of many countries in the past decades (Schofer and Meyer 2005), primarily with the increase in enrolment rates. Indeed, according to Ulrich Teichler, “the term ‘mass higher education’ was traditionally employed to describe the growth of enrolment beyond the level of academic reproduction and training for a small number of occupations requiring this education for demanding professions and privileged social positions” (Teichler 1998, P. 19). At the same time, the impact of the massification goes beyond a mere growth in the number of young people with a higher education diploma. Massification has a significant effect on the academic profession, its substance, and, of course, the people who represent universities’ academic core.

What are the underlying factors behind this effect, and what does it mean in practice?

First of all, student numbers are growing. Faculty is expanding too but at a slower pace (Coates et al. 2009). As a result, university expenditures per student are often going down, while the students per teacher ratio and faculty members’ workload are increasing. All these induce a forced shift toward such educational technologies that allow faculty to work with numerous students simultaneously: lectures for large student groups, standardized tests, and use of online elements. Faculty members are confronted with the challenge of mass teaching, which is replacing individual approach in education.

Secondly, the growth in student numbers is not only important from a quantitative point of view. Universities encounter students with a completely new social status, different motivations (usually far from a desire to build an academic career), and varying entry levels (Beerkens-Soo and Vossensteyn 2009). Faculty members have to explore new methods of working with such a heterogeneous and less well-prepared student audience.

Student needs regarding higher education, which many of them treat as an investment that should yield returns on the labor market, are changing too. They have a more market-oriented view on the competencies they are gaining. Students, as well as other stakeholders, are increasingly seen as customers whose interests in universities have to take into account (Kwiek 2009; Schmidtlein and Berdahl 2011). On the whole, the academic system is switching from internal accountability to external (Van Valey 2001).

Thirdly, it is becoming clear that the diversity of demand on behalf of those entering the higher education system inevitably defines the diversification of higher education institutions (Guri-Rosenblit et al. 2007). Various types of HEIs emerge; they have different mandates and serve different market segments. New HEIs aimed at delivering professional training that matches labor market needs emerge in addition to traditional research universities. Therefore, the conditions and scope of work of faculty employed at HEIs of different types vary dramatically too (on changing working conditions in academic in comparative perspectives, see Altbach et al. 2012; Altbach et al. 2013).

Consequently, there is a shift away from the traditional research-focused tenure model, which implies that each faculty member does both research and teaching and takes part in university governance too. Varying working conditions and a substantial expansion in the scope of work lead to the fact that an academic career can nowadays be associated with an array of contract types. However, they share one key feature: that is, they are losing the fundamental elements of a traditional academic contract, such as guaranteed regular employment, right to academic freedom, and right to peer evaluation of one’s professional performance. There are temporary contracts emerging (Gumport et al. 1997; Finkelstein et al. 2016) – contracts aimed at a particular aspect of academic work and structurally and substantively similar to wage worker contracts.

There is a desacralization of the academic profession going on. It is no longer domain of the elites, its borders are becoming blurred, and the distance between members of the academic guild and traditional wage workers is getting smaller. This comes with a partial loss of autonomy (Altbach 2011; Shimank 2005). University academics’ professional status is weakening (Kwiek 2009). As Ulrich Teichler puts it, “higher education is in the grip of a strong feeling of loss of social exclusiveness. Academic careers lose their glamour in terms of social status, income, superior knowledge and professional self-control” (Teichler 2001, P. 5). The fact that different faculty groups are employed under different types of contracts leads to further stratification of the academic profession, which carries important negative implications (Kwiek 2009). For example, faculty working on a temporary contract and adjunct professors usually get a smaller remuneration, are confronted with a higher workload, and are less loyal to their university. They have a less clear understanding of its institutional goals and are to a smaller degree integrated into university life. Since they are treated like wage workers, they take only modest part in the processes of academic governance. Therefore, the faculty no longer represents a homogeneous group of academics who share the same values, equally invest their interests and efforts in university life, and enjoy the same guarantees.

Growing academic stratification between faculty members and differentiation of HEIs causes more competition on the elite research universities’ labor market. In the US universities, for example, the share of young tenured faculty is constantly going down (including both entry tenure-track positions and real tenured positions), which is increasingly stressful for young academics (Altbach 2011; Altbach 2015).

The decline of the professional status of university faculty coincides with the processes of authority shift from the academic community to professional administrators (Whitchurch and Gordon 2010) and the emergence of new forms of control over academic activities (Musselin 2007). The existing system of faculty evaluation and remuneration, which implies a holistic approach to academic work, is no longer valid in the situation of fragmented academic activities (Mcfarlane 2011). Fragmentation comes along with the formalization of monitoring systems and the introduction of peculiar reporting formats. Peer evaluation is no longer secondary to academic work; instead it is becoming a separate process that requires both faculties’ and administrators’ efforts and time. Faculty members view external reporting as an infringement of academic freedom, which causes extra stress: faculties, who used to “own” the university, are becoming just employees who are subordinate to professional administrators and have to implement the latter’s decisions.

Thus, the massification of higher education implies a whole range of consequences for the academic profession, most of which are caused by structural changes on the higher education market. To sum up, we can quote Marek Kwiek: “Massified educational systems (and corresponding an increasingly massified academic profession) unavoidably lead towards various new forms of differentiation, diversification and stratification” (Kwiek 2009, P. 116).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Research University Higher School of EconomicsMoscowRussia