Reconfiguring Academic Identities: the Experience of Business Facing Academics in a UK University
The university sector at the beginning of the 21st Century is shifting in response to national and global changes in the role and purpose of Higher Education. Some universities, including the University of Hertfordshire, have chosen to focus attention on engagement with business and commerce. This practice based research examines the experience of academics in relation to the new challenges posed by this strategic development. There are three threads of investigation; interviews, examination of key concepts and the practitioner dimension. Drawing on a qualitative and constructivist approach, individual interviews with a range of business facing academics explore their experience of engaging with new activities. My perspective, as a manager of business facing academics, provides an important thread and situates the work firmly in the practice context. The implicit expectations arising from strategic positioning as a business facing university are examined. A conceptual framework is established with a focus on the nature of business facing activity, including its relationship with traditional forms of teaching and research, learning through work in the Higher Education setting and the idea of an enabling local context. The research found that amongst those undertaking business facing activity, academic identity is a fluid and multi-faceted construct reconfigured through experience and learning in the workplace; by its nature not easily defined, labelled or bounded. The challenge for universities is to nurture and sustain individuals in the creation and use of academic identities, in order to meet the undoubted challenges to come. This requires a forward looking, inclusive and innovative stance, resisting the temptation to judge current academic identities by the established notions of the past. Management of academics involved in business facing activity requires a more flexible, trusting and individual approach than is traditionally seen in universities.