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Redesigning the Higher Education Workforce: A New Architecture

Redesigning the Higher Education Workforce: A New Architecture

19 April 2017, by Liz Baré & Dr Emmaline Bexley

Below is an excerpt from the authors' chapter in Visions for Australian Tertiary Education, published by the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

 

The profound shifts that have shaped Australian higher education over the past two decades are well documented. At the heart of these has been the rapid increase in participation, both in terms of a greater number and diversity of Australian students, and the remarkable rise in international student numbers: from just over 40 thousand in the mid 1990s, to over 350 thousand today, or around one quarter of total university enrolments. The increased size and diversity of the student cohort has required more sophisticated approaches to teaching and learning, including advances in various forms of e-learning, while the market effects of competition between institutions for both domestic and international students has created a service orientation in the way institutions are managed and in the amenities and co-curricula activities provided. Despite this growth and added complexity, staffing structures have changed little. Indeed, raw numbers of ‘tenured’ academic staff have barely shifted. Increased student load, uncertain funding streams based heavily on fee-paying international (and domestic postgraduate) students, and a more complex operating environment have instead been managed with academic classification and reward structures little changed since the 1950s when higher education was elite, student numbers were small, intakes and funding were predictable and administration based on a clerical support workforce.

Academic structures now encompass very high numbers of casual teaching staff and a large, highly professionalised non-academic staff. We suggest it is time to question whether the current structures are able to support the new work environment in a way that is fit for purpose. In this chapter, we describe how the present workforce architecture has come to be, look at emerging work roles for academic and professional staff and ask, ‘If a new workforce architecture were designed from scratch to fit the emerging landscape, what would it look like?’ And more importantly, ‘What do we need to do to get there?’

Ideally, the 21st century requires a university workforce that is highly adaptable, supported by work-role structures that are flexible, and that enable rapid responses to change, both in knowledge and the nature of the disciplines, and to broader societal requirements. These needs are well recognised. The recent study of the Australian higher education workforce of the future, undertaken for the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) states, “We identified ….the three key future workforce attributes - agility and flexibility, professionalisation and specialisation - that we believe all university workforces will need to exhibit.” PwC recommends building on the current architecture by: equipping staff for the digital age; improving and measuring teaching; placing greater emphasis on leadership; designing new more flexible roles; better recognising
vocational experience; and, eliminating some of the demarcation of duties and rewards between academic and professional roles.

Yet while there has been much written on the impact of the current architecture on the Australian university workforce, especially in relation to the impact of casualisation, the gendered nature of senior academic roles, the fragile employment status of early career academics and the implications of this for the future of the academic workforce, little has been written on the industrial architecture itself.

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Liz Baré is Honorary Senior Fellow at the LH Martin Institute. Dr Emmaline Bexley is Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

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