The Temporal Disciplining of Doctoral Research in the Neoliberal Academy: Winners and Losers in the Timely Completion

The Temporal Disciplining of Doctoral Research in the Neoliberal Academy: Winners and Losers in the Timely Completion

Deanna Grant-Smith (Queensland University of Technology, Australia) and Abbe Winter (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7379-2.ch011
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The neoliberal agenda in higher education has led to expectations and targets of market-likeness in student enrolment and completion demographics through the widening participation agenda. However, the reality is that disadvantaged groups such as students with a disability and Indigenous students are still underrepresented, particularly in advanced research degrees. This disadvantage is compounded by the temporal disciplining imposed by bureaucratically-defined completion deadlines. Taking Australia as a paradigmatic case, this chapter explores the temporal disciplining of doctoral research in the broader context of neoTaylorism and the projectification of research. It argues that a care-inspired slowness is needed to counterbalance the harms created by the managerialist push for ‘timely' completion.
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A doctorate is the highest degree awarded in academia. It is the minimum standard for entry into an academic career and continues to attract a degree of status and prestige for holders. As a result, there have been calls to address historical underrepresentation (McGee, et al. 2016) and to increase diversity in doctoral candidates beyond the typical profile of “a high-achieving young male from a privileged background” (Skakni, 2018a, p.197). Paradoxically, this shift has occurred within a climate of managerialism in higher education and a backdrop of change in the purpose of the PhD from one of intellectual development and growth and the development of new knowledge toward viewing the PhD as a tool for enhancing employability (Barnacle, Schmidt & Cuthbert, 2019; Cuthbert & Molla, 2015a; Mowbray & Halse, 2010; Molla & Cuthbert, 2019). This is achieved through the projectification of research as limited in time, scope, and content (Ylijoki, 2016; Torka, 2018), an “overweening preoccupation with efficiency” (Gronn, 1982, p.18), and “context of pressurised performativity” (Green & Bowden, 2012, p.66).

It has been argued that capitalism depends on how people use and conceptualize time (Walker, 2009). In the neoliberal university “[t]ime is disciplined by various workload models, procedures, processes, policies, practices and tools. The underpinning assumption is that time is quantifiable, standardised and linear—imply that measuring time is not only possible and desirable but is an essential part of what makes the neoliberal university ‘tick’” (Gannon & Taylor, 2020, p.2). It is therefore not surprising that doctoral research has attracted measurement. There is a basic project management tenet that quality, cost, and time are three sides of an equilateral triangle, and that emphasis on one or more of these will necessarily impact the others (Azar, Militaru & Mattar, 2016; Bowen et al., 2012; Kuutila et al., 2020), however, what is typically missing from this understanding is a recognition of the negative consequences on the wellbeing of those involved in the project, when any of these parameters shift. Indeed, Jones and Cheuk (2021) argue that outside of the specific realms of equity policies, research policy may contribute to the erasure of difference by simply ignoring its existence.

In this chapter, Australia is taken as a paradigmatic case (Pavlich, 2010) of this phenomenon because it exposes the structural violence inherent in the intersection of two key policy platforms: the Widening Participation agenda, which seeks to increase the participation of targeted equity group members in higher education, and the policy push for timely completions. The chapter commences by considering the application and impact of the widening participation agenda in doctoral education in Australia and the extent to which this has been met for doctoral completions. It then describes the current policy environment for doctoral completion and the impact of funding arrangements and ideological framing of the ‘problem’ of timely completion. It then exposes the potential conflict between the desire to deliver a graduate profile that reflects the diversity of the population and the push for timely completion which does not provide for accommodation of this diversity. In addition to exploring the impacts on doctoral students, we also consider the potential impacts on academic supervisors who are caught in the middle of trying to support their students and trying to meet and manage institutional performance expectations. However, rather than focusing on the need to provide counselling, mental health, and other support services (which we do not dispute are also required), this chapter instead focuses on how the systems created by universities are complicit in creating this harm. In doing so we are not calling for additional interventions post-harm but instead, challenge the systems that cause harm and argues that a care-inspired slowness is needed to counterbalance the harms created by the managerialist push for ‘timely’ completion.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Managerialism: A belief that the methods of professional managers are valuable, and sees society as constructed by the actions of organizations.

PhD: The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is usually the highest academic qualification in a field, usually achieved through extensive research on a specific topic.

Doctoral Degree: Includes Doctoral of Philosophy (PhD) and professional doctorates (e.g., Doctor of Education).

Timely Completion: The expectation that a doctoral degree will be completed within a predetermined period as determined by the government, university, or other funding body. In Australia completing a doctorate by research within three years is considered timely completion.

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