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Professional identities and commodification in higher education

Wall, Tony (2013) Professional identities and commodification in higher education. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Higher education in the UK has been moving towards an increasingly demand driven model, encouraged to better serve and grow the economy through becoming more attuned to what the marketplace needs and wants, and then supplying educational commodities that better meet these demands. New educational commodities have emerged to replace lost income, such as the university accreditation of learning associated with training courses delivered by commercial training organisations. This involves university academics reconceptualising training activity into academic content and then enabling professionals in the training organisation and the university to navigate the demands placed on them in this space. Yet this is widely reported to be a problematic sphere of professional activity, with ‘cultural’ and ‘communicative’ issues still without resolution. These issues and the tackling of them, as experienced by this study’s researcher, formed the initial motivation for this study. This study investigates the academic’s professional struggles and tensions in encountering and mediating the widely differing demands of the two sectors, with a view to offer fresh insight into this troubled space. Qualitative data from an academic’s daily practice are analysed from a professional interested perspective to elucidate and better understand these tensions. This thesis demonstrates that, problematically, the academic variously identifies with and understands his practice from both perspectives, and in doing so, activates different and sometimes competing expectations of how he thinks he should act in a situation. In identifying in such ways, the academic practically becomes a custodian of the regulative apparatus that simultaneously polices his own practice. Through documenting how such diverse perspectives meet and materialise in academic practice, the thesis addresses the more fully theoretical concern with how such expectations, from particular ideological positions, operate through the engine of conceptualising and regulating professionalism in academic locations. In turn, this provides a critical platform from which to better understand the changing parameters of academic practice, that is, what university study becomes when its pursuit is increasingly a function of economically oriented demands. In this way, the thesis addresses how the professionalism of certain university academics involved in ‘business and community engagement’ is being understood and rethought to meet evolving funding parameters, and how the very notion of academic study is changing to meet these new expectations.

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