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Impact of change on university academics

Broadbent, Carolyn 2002 , 'Impact of change on university academics', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Government initiatives in Australia in the late 1980s led to unprecedented change
within the higher education sector, resulting in numerous college mergers and
amalgamations as necessary prerequisites for entry into the post-binary Unified
National System. Consequently, the Australian Catholic University was formed in
1991 through the amalgamation of four colleges or institutes of education that
spanned three states and a territory. Concurrently, pressures to increase economic
efficiency in higher education resulted in the modification of the role of
universities, extensive cultural reorientation, and changes to academics' work that
impacted on their health, well-being and level of satisfaction. This thesis
investigates the nature and impact of change on sixty-nine academics situated
across the campuses of the new University during this period of significant
restructuring and throughout its first five years of operation.
The research is positioned within an interpretive theoretical framework that draws
on the traditions of symbolic interactionism in understanding human action.
Predominantly qualitative methods of inquiry and data collection are utilised to
investigate academics' perceptions of: the broad changes within higher education;
the organisational changes created by the formation of the new University; the
changing nature of their work; and, the approaches they adopted to cope with the
changes. Some simple quantitative measures are used to strengthen and extend
the analysis. Theoretical considerations relevant to the research are drawn from
the authoritative literatures of organisational change and management, higher
education and stress and coping.
The results of this study support the view that the organisational changes brought
about by a radical restructuring of the higher education sector in Australia did
impact dramatically on the personal and professional lives of academics at that
time, with those academics situated towards the lower levels of the new
University more adversely affected. Virtually all academics interviewed had
modified their work behaviour significantly from their former role; academics
strongly oriented towards research more readily welcomed the changes, while
those with a strong preference for teaching felt less valued and under pressure to
develop a research profile, upgrade qualifications and publish. There were
noticeable differences between academics' level of understanding of the changes.
It was also notable that: (1) the personal impact was felt strongly in a negative
way by 62% of academics; (2) only 39% of academics interviewed expressed
positive feelings towards the changes overall; (3) 72% expressed the view that
they were now working harder than ever before, when they had already been
overworked. Three broad groupings of coping strategies were discernible from
the analysis: Proactive, Reactive and Counter-active.
Findings from the research support the importance of personal beliefs and values
as contributing factors in determining academics' level of acceptance of the
changes, and preferences regarding perceptions of the nature and future direction
of the University. While a strong commitment to the formation of the new
University was evident across all academic levels, considerable differences
existed regarding its nature, role and future direction. This thesis argues that the
complexity of organisational change necessitates an understanding of the
paradoxical tensions or contradictions that are inherent in any change process and
these need to be considered in relation to the differing perspectives held by
organisational members. Eight contradictory tensions emerged from the analysis:
pragmatism vs independent vision; centralised control vs local autonomy;
academic freedom vs Catholic conservatism; teaching and learning vs research
and scholarship; equality of women vs patriarchal control; consolidation vs
diversity; autocratic managerialism vs democratic collegiality; and academic
workloads vs maintenance of quality.
It is therefore argued that in the implementation of organisational change there
exists a need to properly address the tensions and ambiguities that arise between
the personal goals and expectations of individuals as professionals, and those held
by management. Greater opportunities for academics across all levels within the
organisation to participate in the decision-making process and play a proactive
role in shaping the direction of the developing institution would have facilitated
more effective organisational change within this newly created University.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Broadbent, Carolyn
Keywords: Australian Catholic University, College teachers, College teachers, College teachers, Educational change
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2002 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2002. Includes bibliographical references

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