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The Society for Research into Higher Education


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Are higher education managers becoming more professional and if so, how?

by Susan Harris-Huemmert, Julia Rathke, Anna Gerchen and Susi Poli

How well are HEIs being managed? Who are those in charge? Can we really be confident in their abilities? At a time in which the HE sector appears more complex and diverse, how sure can we be that those at the top are ‘professional’? How are they being prepared (or actively prepare themselves) for these positions, and if they get to the top, are they themselves making sure that staff members, too, are being ‘professionalised’? Especially in terms of new areas of employment within the HE sector, how are these staff members qualifying themselves? These seem pertinent questions and the ongoing lack of empirical work into HE governance reveals that there are considerable gaps in our knowledge. To address this, we bring together empirical data from ongoing research projects in the UK, Germany and Italy, which, from various angles and viewpoints, explore how professionalism within the HE sector is being developed to meet present and future needs and challenges.

A current German research project, financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) – KaWuM – is examining the career trajectories and qualification requirements of so-called higher education or science managers (www.kawum-online.de). Qualitative work has been undertaken to explore in depth the viewpoints and experiences of this particular group of staff, who work at the interface between research, teaching and administration (Whitchurch, 2010). A sample of 32 qualitative interviews has been drawn upon here from the project by Susan Harris-Huemmert and Julia Rathke, who examine the roles of German HE leaders from two vantage points. Firstly how do they prepare for and become more professional as institutional heads, and secondly: how do these leaders ensure that their academic or administrative staff members are also being professionally trained and developed? (Thoenig and Paradeise, 2016: 320). Interviews were conducted with both formal (presidents/rectors/chancellors/VPs) and informal leaders (science managers) and analysed in MaxQDa according to Kuckartz (2018). Findings suggest that formal HE leaders are encountering ever more complex management tasks, with little management training or ‘other’ work experience outside academia. They mainly learn by doing and often lack the time and/or motivation for professional training. It appears that formal HE leaders are seldom professionalised, although management tasks are their main responsibility. However, they are relying increasingly on professionalised science managers and their expertise, who can advance their professionalisation via personnel development.

In her work from within the BerBeo project, which also stems from the same BMBF funding thread as the above-named KaWuM project, Anna Gerchen is examining how the influence of New Public Management, academic reforms and increasing competition between universities have changed the demands on recruitment processes in German HE, in particular those regarding professorial appointments. Professorships in Germany are characterised by a particularly high degree of autonomy and prestige (Hamann, 2019). Almost all full professors are civil servants and hold tenured, safeguarded lifetime employment. This emphasises the importance of professorial personnel selection for which German universities use highly formalised procedures. To professionalise these procedures, Germany’s Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) called for the creation of officers for professorial appointments to take responsibility for the “proper and smooth running of the procedure” (WR, 2005, p5). Following this recommendation and the subsequent legal revisions, many German universities have introduced officers for professorial appointment procedures – non-professorial staff members appointed specifically for quality assurance and decision-making support. These appointment managers – as shown on the basis of a quantitative survey (Gerchen, 2021) – are predominantly female, relatively young, highly educated and from the social sciences; in particular they show a background in administrative science or in law. Informing and advising the university management is reported by 94% of the respondents to be central to their work. This shows that the purpose of supporting the university management in appointment matters, as stated by the Council of Science and Humanities, actually represents the core function of this new position in practice.

In her research Susi Poli turns the lens towards Italy and a number of other countries to investigate the role of research managers (RMAs), as one of the most hybrid or blended groups that can be found in today’s HEIs among staff in professional services. She asks to what extent these managers are qualified for this specific role, even in relation to qualifications, training, and any sort of network provided by their professional associations. Is what they have, and do, enough? Or is there much more than that coming up in the RMAs’ community, even as creators of new discourses in today’s HE management? She draws on Barnett’s notion of supercomplexity, in which he suggests the re-creation of discourse on competences, qualifications, and professional frameworks (Barnett, 2008: 191). In this new age, research managers should be “pioneers or the creators of these new discourses” (Barnett, 2008: 206). Susi’s work includes an analysis of professional networks and supporting bodies in countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Norway, the US, Portugal, Japan, South Africa (Romano et al, 2021). She concludes that there is a growing awareness of the identity and purpose of research managers and that the literature is now paying more attention to this staff group.

In sum, it appears that there is a developing international trend towards greater professionalism within the HE sector, including the work of formal and informal leaders in various capacities. Networks reveal an increasing level of support, but it appears that professional development per se is still very much in the hands of the individual, and is not the result of any particularly well-structured system. This is a question the sector needs to ask itself, reflecting what Thoenig and Paradeise stated in 2016: “If knowledge gaps remain, this may be to the detriment of the strategic capacity of the whole institution”. Our question should therefore be whether we can afford to allow such knowledge gaps, or whether we as a sector can do more, to fill them.

Susan Harris-Huemmert is Professor of International Education Leadership and Management at Ludwigsburg University of Education. Following her doctoral research at the University of Oxford on the topic of evaluation practice in Germany, she has researched and published internationally on topics such as higher education systems and their governance, quality management and the management of campus infrastructure. Contact: susan.harris-huemmert@ph-ludwigsburg.de

Julia Rathke is research assistant at the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer in the project “KaWuM – Career Paths and Qualification Requirements in Science and Higher Education Management” since August 2019. In January 2021 she took over charge of the joint coordination and management of the project team KaWuM Central Coordination and Interviews from Prof. Dr. Susan Harris-Huemmert. Contact: rathke@uni-speyer.de; www.kawum-online.de 

Anna Gerchen is a researcher at the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) in the research area ‘Governance in Higher Education and Science’. With a background in communication science, sociology and gender studies she currently works on the field of quality assurance and appointment procedures at universities. Contact: gerchen[at]dzhw.eu

Susi Poli is Professional Development Lead in the Education Division at Bologna University, after several years spent as research manager in Italy and abroad. She holds a MBA in HE Management and an EdD in HE from the Institute of Education and her research interests primarily cover research management, staff development, and women’s leadership in HE. Contact here: susi.poli@unibo.it

References

Barnett, R (2008) ‘Critical professionalism in an age of supercomplexity’ in B. Cunningham (ed) Exploring professionalism London: Bedford Way Press pp190-208.

Gerchen, A (in press) Berufungsmanager*innen an deutschen Universitäten. Profilmerkmale eines neuen Stellentypus. Hochschulmanagement 4(16)

Kuckartz, U. (2018) Qualitative Inhaltanalyse. Methoden, Praxis, Computerunterstützung.4th ed. Basel & Weinheim: BeltzJuventa


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Digital critical pedagogies: five emergent themes

by Faiza Hyder and Mona Sakr

In this blog we explore the nature of Digital Critical Pedagogies – an emergent field of investigation that considers what happens to critical pedagogies in the context of digital learning environments. We present findings from the first strand of a research project that looks at ‘on the ground’ realities of DCP at Middlesex University. We report five themes that emerged from the first project strand, a collaborative literature review:  digitally mediated dialogues; creating ‘safe space’ online; interweaving public pedagogies; digital inclusion; and pedagogical risk-taking. These themes represent useful and practical starting points for advancing DCP practices in higher education.

What are Digital Critical Pedagogies?

Critical Pedagogies are a commitment to learning and teaching that centre on meaningful dialogues with and between learners.  In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks (1994) presents dialogue as the key way to connect learning in the classroom with ‘real life’ experiences in ways that prompt further inquiry and insight, and are a step towards self-actualisation. What happens to these connections when we attempt to cultivate them in digital learning environments, through forums or Zoom meetings or social media exchanges? This is the question underpinning the emerging field of Digital Critical Pedagogies (DCP): explorations in developing critical pedagogies in the context of digital encounters.

Our Research at Middlesex University

Our research explores the aspirations and realities of DCP at Middlesex University, which like the rest of the higher education sector has made seismic shifts over the course of the pandemic towards digitally mediated learning. We harbour a strong commitment to critical pedagogies and have wondered collectively about the nature of these critical pedagogies in the context of digital learning that can look and feel markedly different.

Our project was designed to develop a better understanding of the platforms and practices that facilitate effective digital critical pedagogies. It is about enabling those working ‘on the ground’ to collaborative in solving problems in response to challenges we face as a university community. It has been supported through funding from the University’s Centre of Academic Practice Enhancement. There are three stages to the project: a collaborative literature review; interview study; and a design workshop to develop recommendations that we can take forward as an institution to realise our commitment to DCP.

The first of these stages, the literature review, was co-produced with an advisory group of 12 Middlesex University academics from across the university’s disciplines. From the literature review five themes emerged which are best conceptualised as areas of special consideration when exploring and designing DCP. They represent elements of practice to reflect on carefully and develop further as part of the practice of DCP. They are:

  1. Digitally mediated dialogues
  2. Creating ‘safe space’ online
  3. Interweaving with public pedagogies
  4. Digital Inclusion
  5. Pedagogical risk-taking

Digitally mediated dialogues

While open dialogues have a special role to play in all critical pedagogies, dialogues are not a neutral social justice mechanism leaving everyone in them feeling empowered. Dialogues ride on power differentials and inequalities whether they take place in physical or digital spaces (Bali, 2014). In digital spaces, we need to be aware of the way that even the most basic of parameters (such as internet connectivity) shape who can have a voice within dialogue, and we cannot underestimate the importance of this as a consideration in digital critical pedagogies.

Creating ‘safe space’ online

Managing a ‘safe space’ for dialogue online is complex. Part of how we think about the safe space in digital critical pedagogies relates back to the previous theme of dialogue, in that how presence is mediated will impact on the capacity to create a ‘safe space’ for dialogue. Boler (2015) warned that in too much online learning and teaching we end up with ‘drive by difference’ rather than deep and meaningful engagements with diversity. When we divorce ourselves from our physical presence – from our facial expressions, body orientation, gesture and so on – the ways in which we can collaboratively construct a safe space for dialogue change. A teacher cannot ‘read the room’ in the way that they might do when they are in a physical classroom. They cannot see who feels uncomfortable or they might not appreciate the vulnerability that a learner is showing by sharing a particular story or perspective. Boler (2015) suggests that embodied multimodal communication is a key component of enabling spaces for genuine and open dialogue, so the question becomes: is it possible to do the necessary communicative work in an online space?

Interweaving with public pedagogies

Public pedagogies are processes of learning that take place in what Hill (2018) calls ‘digital counterpublics’. These are online spaces, often associated with grassroots movements (such as Black Lives Matter) or marginalised groups finding their voice, which are online space in which there are. Hill (2018), Ringrose (2018) and Castillo-Montoya et al (2019) all focus on navigating public pedagogies as part of a digital critical pedagogical approach. They investigate what happens when we open up learning and teaching spaces to engage with wider social movements across the world. In this case, the public pedagogies come first and the classroom pedagogies follow.

Digital inclusion

The literature suggests the need for an expanded vision of digital inclusion and that fostering this expanded digital inclusion is key to digital critical pedagogies. Prata-Linhares et al (2020) document access and use of digital technologies as part of education during the pandemic and the social distancing measures put in place. Seale and Dutton (2012) conceptualise digital inclusion not just as access and use but also in terms of participation, equity and empowerment. This means that it is just whether or not you have access to the physical resources, but also about whether you are empowered to engage digitally as part of your own personal identity and self-expression. Too often, digital inclusion initiatives are having to justify their own existence through showing that they are getting individuals online in order to engage in education or employment, rather than it being about the authentic empowerment of an individual or group.

Pedagogical Risk Taking

The review highlights the need for pedagogical risk-taking as part of the project of articulating and experimenting with digital critical pedagogies. A commitment to risk-taking is already part of the critical pedagogy described by hooks. Pedersen et al (2018) describe a shift to hybrid (rather than digital or online) pedagogies, because the term ‘hybrid’ emphasises the extent to which the pedagogies are always on the cusp of becoming, they are more ‘not quite there’ than ‘there’.

Pedagogical risk-taking involves exposure and this can be intimidating. Communities of practice offer an important way to enable this pedagogical risk-taking so that it is collaborative and supportive and that everyone feels that there is necessary room to fail (as well as succeed).

Anderson (2020), in discussing the digital pedagogy pivot we have seen in response to COVID19, suggests that communities of practice are essential to support collaboration, practice sharing, practice development. Putting communities of practice at the centre of digital critical pedagogies is an active way of pushing back against the discourse of ‘inevitable de-humanisation’ that characterises some writing on digital critical pedagogies (Morris and Stommel, 2018; Boler, 2015).

Next Steps

Across all of the literature, a recurring gap is the voice of learners. Although a few of the articles did carry out interviews with learners, the dominant voice in articulating and understanding digital critical pedagogies is undeniably that of the teacher. There is an urgent need for research that bridges the gap between learner and teacher.

We need careful observational research to identify which learners are heard in different types of digitally mediated communication used in learning and teaching, and to explore some of the following questions:

  • We need to think about these safe spaces. What does a ‘safe space’ look and feel like in the context of digital critical pedagogies? How do we know if we are in a safe space (as opposed to a sanitised space) for dialogue?
  • What are the benefits of interweaving with public pedagogies as part of digital critical pedagogies? We need to know far more about the learners’ experiences when they engage with public pedagogies and the ways that this interweaving can be written into learning, teaching and assessment.

Finally, we think of the themes identified from the review as not so much ‘knowledge’ but as points for reflection on practice. We hope to bring the finding to life for both Middlesex academics and further afield and are currently putting together a collaborative innovation workshop with teaching academics at the university to develop concrete recommendations about how DCP can be more systematically advanced in the university and in higher education more broadly.

Faiza Hyder has worked as a Primary School teacher for over ten years in various London boroughs including Barnet and Islington. She recently graduated with distinction as a Master’s student at Middlesex University. Faiza currently works as a researcher for ACT (Association for Citizenship Teaching). Her additional research interests include EAL (English as an Additional Language), Immigration and motherhood in migration. Twitter @HyderFaiza

Dr Mona Sakr is Senior Lecturer in Education and Early Childhood. She researches creative, digital and playful pedagogies in a range of educational contexts, from early childhood education to higher education. In relation to higher education, she has published on the use of social media as part of developing critical pedagogies and the use of creative methods (e.g. drawings) for developing insights into learner experience and student feedback. Twitter@DrMonaSakr

References (not embedded via URLs):

hooks, b (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of FreedomNew York: Routledge.

Morris, SM and Stommel, J (2019) An Urgency of Teachers: The Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy. Accessed 20.12.2021: https://criticaldigitalpedagogy. pressbooks.com/.


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What comes next after Covid 19 in re-setting doctoral education?

by Rosemary Deem

Like many other aspects of higher education teaching, supervising and research worldwide, doctoral education in higher education institutions (HEIs) has been massively affected by the pandemic. The effects include campus closures and lost experimental and fieldwork data, rapid transition to online supervision and viva defences, cancelled or online conferences hampering networking, lack of wellbeing, study progress being hampered by lack of suitable non-campus work spaces, home schooling children and poor or no internet connectivity (Else, 2021 ; European University Association Council for Doctoral Education, 2020 ; Jackman et al, 2021; Levine et al, 2021). As we are still in the throes of the pandemic at the time of writing, it is difficult to know whether some of the changes made in haste to doctoral education, such as remote supervision and examinations, will be permanent or not. Some adaptations, such as online seminars and conferences and a move away from physical international mobility to blended or virtual mobility, will probably continue, as they permit international participation without high costs or environmental damage. The legacy for doctoral researchers caught up in the Coronavirus chaos will certainly live on for quite a while, although hopefully over time the shock of the impact of lockdowns, working from home and universities being very selective over who gets an extension or extra funding may gradually fade.  However, for those with their eye on future academic jobs, the precarity regime of HE posts remains sadly intact in many HE systems (Deem, 2021b). The availability of jobs outside academe has also been affected by the pandemic, as countries struggle to manage politics, promote public health and provide support for the business, public and third sectors.

The experience of doing a doctorate in times of Covid-19 has brought both good and less good elements, from acquiring more resilience and online learning skills to experiencing poverty, poor mental health and having a lack of motivation to finish writing a thesis.  Some supervisors have also struggled to support their doctoral researchers alongside other students and their own research, particularly where HEIs have indicated that doctoral education is not a pandemic priority, a short sighted view sometimes brought about by difficult HEI financial situations and recruitment uncertainty. Despite the avalanche of articles about the Covid-related impact on doctoral education and doctoral researchers submitted to journals during 2020 and 2021, there are still many things we  know less about, such as: how part-time doctoral researchers have fared compared with full-time candidates; how STEM and Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences candidates compare in the obstacles they face; or how the doctoral research experiences of women and people of colour differ from those of men or white doctoral candidates. There has been relatively little investigation about how supervisors have been affected by remote supervision and the pandemic (UK Council for Graduate Education, 2021) compared with the literature on the effects on students. It is also hard to tell at this point whether the percentage of doctoral theses referred for further work, or even failed, has changed, as many of those due to submit in 2020-21 have deferred or interrupted their studies and have not yet been examined. There has been some advice offered to institutions on this (Houston & Halliday, 2021 ) but in quite a few countries, national regulations on doctoral study don’t make flexibility in doctoral submission and examination very easy.

We are also beginning to see some big differences in the coping strategies of HEIs. It appears that countries with high degrees of marketisation in their HE systems, and with a significant dependence on international students for income, have not fared particularly well under Covid (Drayton and Waltmann, 2020b ; Le, 2021; Marinoni, Hillijge, and Jensen, 2020 ; Startz, 2020 ), whereas countries with low degrees of marketisation or with previous experience of campus lockdowns, such as in the SARS epidemic, did better (Jung, Horta, & Postiglione, 2020). Furthermore, doctoral education was already in something of a crisis before Covid, with a long running critique of its failings, ranging across: so-called ‘overproduction’ of doctoral graduates relative to academic jobs (Nerad, 2020); completion and dropout rates; access to doctoral programmes for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds; and quality of doctorates and future employment prospects. The state of mental health amongst doctoral researchers is also now a common concern in many contexts (Deem, 2020a; Hazell et al, 2020; Levecque et al, 2017).  However, tackling all these challenges is not straightforward and there is a tendency to tackle each problem on its own in a single HE system or HEI, without thinking how each different challenge relates to all the others.  

What is needed post-pandemic (assuming the world gets there) is a concerted attempt to undertake, certainly at the institutional level, a more holistic approach, but also an approach which relates to the grassroots as well as institutional hierarchies. Such an approach has already been found to be effective in relation to schemes for increasing the numbers of women who get promoted to full professor (Morley, 2013). This initiative focuses first on looking at and fully supporting the people involved (doctoral researchers and supervisors) whilst ensuring their diversity and wide access to doctoral education for those who could benefit from it. Organisational factors are also important, such as valuing doctoral candidates’ academic and social contribution for its own sake, not as a source of cheap research and teaching labour, making doctoral researchers more visible and more important in their institutions, and ensuring organisational processes and procedures reflect this,. Joined-up change also means taking on board issues related to the kinds of knowledge that are valued in doctoral theses: whether that knowledge is from the global north or south; whether it is interdisciplinary or framed in a single discipline; which language or culture it relates to; and encouraging knowledge which values methodological or empirical foci as much as theoretical knowledge, irrespective of whether or not knowledge has immediate economic or social impact. Such an approach, aligned to a clear strategy and implementation process, could in time transform how doctoral education operates, to everyone’s benefit. This is not a change programme for the faint-hearted but unless something like this is adopted, long after the pandemic is over we will still be talking about doctoral crises and the challenges to be addressed, whilst failing to take a more holistic lens to transforming doctoral education than has so far been the norm in many HE systems and HEIs.  We owe it to our current and future doctoral researchers to attempt to develop a more humanistic and more equality-based approach to doctoral study after the rigours of the Corona virus outbreak.    

SRHE Fellow Rosemary Deem OBE is Emerita Professor of Higher Education Management and Doctoral School Senior Research Fellow, Royal Holloway (University of London), UK. She was the first woman to chair the UK Council for Graduate Education and was a member of three UK Research Assessment Exercise Sub-Panels on Education (1996, 2001, 2008).  An Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences since 2006, she is a co-editor of Higher Education (Springer) since 2013, a member of the Peer Review College of the European Science Foundation and a co-convenor of the Higher Education Network in the European Educational Research Association

References (not embedded via URLs)

Deem, R (2020a) ‘Rethinking doctoral education: university purposes, academic cultures, mental health and the public good’ in Cardoso, S, Tavares, O, Sin, C and Carvalho, T (eds), Structural and Institutional Transformations in doctoral education: social, political and student expectations (pp. 13-42). Cham, Switzerland Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature

Deem, R (2021b) ‘The early stage academic and the contemporary university: communities of practice meet managerialism?’ in Sarrico, C, Rosa de Pires, MJ and Carvalho, T (eds), Handbook on Managing Academics Cheltenham Edward Elgar

Marinoni, G., Hillijge, V. t. L., & Jensen, T. (2020 ). The Impact of Covid on higher education around the world:  IAU Global Survey Paris International Association of Universities

Morley, L. (2013). Women and Higher Education Leadership: Absences and Aspirations.

Nerad, M. (2020). Doctoral Education Worldwide:  Three decades of change In M. M. Yudkevich, P. G. Altbach, & H. de Wit (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Doctoral Education Worldwide: A Global Perspective (pp. 33-52). London and Thousand Oaks, California Sage.