Background and Concept

As experts point out, the academic profession is exposed to a rapidly changing context and constantly has to reposition itself. The increasing role of systematic knowledge in the modern society ensures a growth of resources for academic work, but academics are bound to loose an exceptional position as well in the process of massification of higher education. The growing expectation that higher education turns out to be visibly relevant provides new opportunities, but is concurrently perceived as a constraint and increased pressure of adaptation to external demands.

The establishment of multiple systems of evaluation, the growing power of institutional management and the varied mechanisms of incentives and sanctions imply opportunities for quality enhancement of academic work, but often are viewed as discouraging the search for unconventional solutions. The “unity of teaching and research” – the feature of academic work which often is viewed as crucial for the identity of the academic professions – is by no means stable: Trends of specialisation in research challenge the coordination of teaching and research, and the increasing vertical diversification of higher education seems to reduce the proportion of academics who easily can realize a balance between teaching and research.

The context of academic work undergoes rapid changes in various respects. Internationalisation, new technologies and changing organisational frameworks for academic careers are often named in this respect. Under these circumstances, scholars consider the option for an academic career both as an attractive as well as a too uncertain choice. The increasing call for a “professionalization” of the academic profession and the widening opportunities of academics to be trained in teaching skills, research management, etc. might have contributed to improved academic work, but concern grow that academics are distracted from their core functions. Thus, altogether, the academic profession is ambivalent in terms of chances and challenges.

We note a multitude of claims about changes as regards the motives, the views and the activities of the academic profession. But there are ample opportunities to turn away from these speculations and to take account the actually available information. Recently, some comparative studies have been undertaken that might help to an evidence-based understanding of the views and the activities of the academic profession. Moreover, many studies on academic work which are internationally of interest have been undertaken recently in Germany – the hosting country of this conference.

The International Conference “Changing Conditions and Changing Approaches of Academic Work” aims at providing the opportunity to make the findings of major comparative research projects on the professions internationally known and to discuss them with a broad spectrum of experts in this area. This will also provide an opportunity to make research undertaken on the German scene internationally known.

The International Centre for Higher Education Research of the University of Kassel (INCHER-Kassel) – with substantial support by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) – took the initiative to invite to this conference. It is hoped that this conference will not only deepen the understanding of the views and actions of the core profession of higher education, but to enhance the dialogue on higher education issues between higher education researchers and actors in the higher education system on the future of higher education.

The conference will address notably five initiatives of research or respective thematic areas: 

  • First, an international group of scholars will provide an overview on the major findings of “The Changing Academic Professions (CAP)”, the largest survey ever undertaken on the perceived working situation, the views and activities of academics from almost 20 countries, thereby taking into consideration major contextual changes, such as increasing expectations of relevant academic work, internationalisation and growing managerial power.

  • Second, for the first time, results of a similar survey of “The Academic Profession in Europe” (EUROAC). Both studies together provide an overview on altogether 12 European countries will be publicly presented.

  • Third, the results of about a dozen of analyses on changes of teaching at German higher education institutions will be presented. Corresponding projects had been supported by the BMBF in the framework of a research promotion programme on Professionalization of Teaching in Higher Education.

  • Fourth, the conference is timely for reporting the results of a major survey undertaken by INCHER-Kassel that shows how the German academic profession assesses the changes of teaching and learning in higher education experienced in the first decade of the 21st century on a global, a European and on a national scale.

  • Fifth, various scholars from different parts of the world will report how “Higher Education Professionals” (student counsellors, international officers, quality managers, etc.) have become a more important component of university life in recent years and how this affects the role of academics.

Key experts of higher education are invited, too, to comment these results and to discuss possible futures of the academic profession.

Many known scholars in this area have already agreed to contribute to the conference or have been recently asked to do so: Timo Aarrevaara (Helsinki, Finland); Akira Arimoto (Hiroshima, Japan); John Brennan (London, United Kingdom); William Cummings (Washington, U.S.); Jürgen Enders (Enschede, The Netherlands); Martin Finkelstein (Seton Hall, U.S.); Jesús Galaz-Fontes (Baja California, Mexiko); Gaele Goastellec (Lausanne, Switzerland); Barbara Kehm (Kassel, Germany); Georg Krücken (Kassel, Germany); Marek Kwiek (Poznan, Poland); Monica Marquina (Buenos Aires, Argentina); Lynn Meek (Melbourne, Australia); Christine Musselin (Paris, France); Hans Pechar (Wien, Austria); Michele Rostan (Pavia, Italy); Hong Shen (Wuhan, China); Jung Cheol Shin (Seoul, Korea); Ulrich Teichler (Kassel, Germany); Jussi Välimaa (Jyväskylä, Finland).

The five thematic or project areas of the Conference will be addressed in plenary meetings. Two parallel workshops arranged throughout the conference will provide further information. The draft programme will be made available to the participants upon regist-ration. Subsequent modifications of the programmes will be announced via internet.

Most of the plenary meetings and workshops are reserved for the speakers representing the above named projects. There is room, however, for additional presentations. Participants intending to present a paper are invited to send an abstract to the organizers by – if possible - 1 March 2012.

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