Reconceptualising and evaluating the academic role in the sciences

Pauline Ross, Hamish Coates, Philip Poronnik

Abstract


Background and context
Higher education and academics are under pressure to transform. Key pressures include the rise of performance based funding in both research and teaching, disruptive technologies changing both pedagogy and curricula, and stronger controls regulating quality and standards in a way which was previously thought untenable. Academics, appointed because of research track record are becoming increasingly less relevant in this reconfiguring higher education context. It is reasonable to contend that the current conceptualisation of the academic role and career structure based on research no longer meets the operational needs of the current higher education environment. The academic role which has been remarkably stretchable needs to change and differentiate. Such differentiation frees academics to structure more freely their careers allowing conceptions of academic roles which move flexibly between research, teaching and administration. The lack of differentiation in the academic role is being felt acutely by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines (STEM) where the pervasive emphasis has been on research. Declining enrolments and perceived falling standards of STEM graduates, both nationally and internationally, raise concerns about the future pipeline of STEM graduates and a public who are well disposed towards science. Although various projects have been launched in an attempt to evaluate the academic role, most of these dichotomise the academic career into either research or teaching.

Purpose of the study
This study will report on the conceptions of the academic role from a range of senior leaders in higher education. It will present perspectives of science academics about the changing nature of the academic role including education focused positions as part of the outcomes of a National Teaching Fellowship funded by the Office for Learning and Teaching.

Results and Conclusions
While we have metrics which evaluate research in terms of journal rankings and grant successes, and criteria and standards which separately evaluate teaching, we have limited metrics which holistically evaluate the academic role and build the flexibility we need for the future. This presentation will showcase metrics to more holistically and flexibility evaluate the academic role in STEM. We need flexibility in the academic role if we are to ensure Australia has excellent researchers and academic teachers of STEM in the future.

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