This working paper reviews the literature on the academic workforce, undertaking an in-depth review of journals dedicated to higher education studies, and other academic journals where contributions to the field occur.
It is published two years after the start of CGHE research project 3.2, The future higher education workforce in locally and globally engaged HEIs.
More than 200 publications were identified, including journal articles and monographs between 2013 and 2017, searching by keywords such as “career”, “gender + academia”, “labour market”, “division of labour”, “working conditions”, “mobility”, “casualization”, “mentorship”, etc. (all ‘& “higher education”’ where the journal was not dedicated to the field).
The aim of the literature review is to highlight trends in the international literature, covering theoretical approaches, policy perspectives and empirical work. The analysis also considers the traditional disciplines relevant to the topic of the academic workforce, including economics, management, sociology, social psychology and public administration.
The authors were interested in understanding which perspectives, approaches and methods are most used by researchers in the field, and which less so, and to detect possible gaps to be filled, emerging trends that have not yet been fully explained, and new perspectives on familiar issues.
The main findings of the review can be expressed as two interrelated aspects of academic work and careers informing the interpretation of the primary data collected for the project so far. These are the personal agency of the individuals who work in academia (the individual career aspect), and the organisation of work and careers within academia (the organisational aspect).
For the first aspect, it appears that, currently, the British higher education system is a collection of heterogeneous employers within which individuals may find different opportunities, not only in terms of career pathways or tracks (e.g. linked to traditional teaching-plus-research, teaching-only and research-only), but also in terms of varying degrees of flexibility and autonomy.
For the second, organisational aspect, the literature review reveals that ‘human resource management’, a term that is contested in a higher education environment, is seen as having a stronger profile than hitherto. However, it also suggests that managing people in higher education is more complex than organisational policies and procedures alone might imply, and that the picture is, therefore, more nuanced,
Overall, the review suggests that despite an apparent division of labour between teaching and research activity, evidenced by, for instance, teaching-only and research-only roles in some institutions, in practice the interpretation of policy at middle management level has helped to modulate these trends.