Professional Knowledge Workers: Tensions and Binaries

Professional Knowledge Workers: Tensions and Binaries

Andrea Simpson (La Trobe University, Australia) and Tanya Fitzgerald (La Trobe University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6202-5.ch003
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Abstract

The pressures of fiscal constraints, increased competition, and rapidly developing information technology have resulted in the modern university adopting business models of operation. As a consequence, teaching and learning have become products and students have become consumers. The net effect of these changes has been the expansion of specialist administrative and management work in universities: work that is undertaken by both professional staff and manager-academics. Arguably, it is these managerial practices that now drive the research and knowledge functions of the university, rather than the other way around. Typically, professional staff members, also known as “general,” “non-academic,” or “administrative” staff, now comprise the majority of the modern university workforce across Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The changing roles and importance of these professional staff members is explored by describing their number, function, roles, and gender breakdown across higher education providers. In this chapter, the authors examine the growing influence of professional staff in the university's binary organizational structure of the “non-academic” versus the academic. The tensions this binary system creates in the perceptions of the relative status of one type of work and workers in higher education over another are interrogated with particular regard to staff diversity. The blurring of the binary is highlighted as academics move into managerial roles and the work of professional staff cuts across academic and administrative domains.
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Background

The Australian and United Kingdom higher education systems share a number of similarities. In both countries, higher education institutions are independent, self-governing bodies active in teaching, research and scholarship. There exists a mix of public and privately funded organizations, although the majority are at least partly funded by government.

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