Professional values in a UK higher education institution : a thematic evaluation

Jacques, Kevin

September 2015

Thesis or dissertation

© 2015 Kevin Jacques. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis explores the perceptions of academic staff in one department of a UK university to establish the extent to which professional values are compatible with current pressures. Drawing on contemporary literature, the meanings of professionalism in an HE context are described. An evaluation of the global, national and institutional contexts under which academics operate are presented through literature review and by evaluation of key policy documents in the institution. Together these provide the context of external and internal pressures on academic engagement.

Interviews were conducted to present an understanding of the perceptions of academic staff. These interviews were analysed using thematic analysis by an inductive, data-driven approach which through codification of themes provide a framework for the presentation of the professional values of staff. The final analysis presents a cross-referencing of individual professional values against the espoused values of the institution in which the individuals operate.

The results of the literature reviews demonstrate that academics operate in a culture of social and financial accountability driven by New Public Management policies which have significantly increased the marketization of higher education and promoted the commodification and consumerisation of HE. The evidence further suggests that the institution under consideration operates by utilising predominantly competitive evaluative mechanisms to influence practice that is largely directed to enhancing reputation and marketability as espoused by various university league tables.

The final evaluation suggests significant areas of conflict between professional values and the current pressures on academic engagement and concludes that academic staff have reshaped their values through engagement in increasingly competitive activity that they use to provide personal utility in preference to institutional utility. The results conclude that performativity mechanisms used by the institution to measure departments and individuals have come to be seen as an opportunistic means for the sometimes deceptive demonstration of excellence and competence.

Centre for Educational Studies, The University of Hull
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