Research Output

The Changing Nature of Academic Work in the UK.

  Although, seemingly involved in a perpetual process of ‘evolution’ universities, and those that work within them, have been subject to unprecedented change over the past twenty years or so. The ongoing erosion of welfare states with the concomitant decline of public funding and imposition of market forces and managerialism are emblematic of neo-liberal ideology which has driven government policy towards higher education, in the UK and much of the western world since the 1980s. In addition, worldwide pressures to democratise access to universities combined with an increasingly globalised higher education market mean that today’s practices and expectations in the academy hardly compare with what they were only two decades ago.
Although the impact of such changes upon academic labour has attracted some attention from scholars, academic labour remains relatively mysterious. Studies examining changes in academic work and more broadly the academic labour process have variously suggested a proletarianisation of academics, increasing casualisation and diversification of the academic workforce resulting in a ‘narrowed’ conception and experience of academic work performed in an increasingly managed environment. However, most examinations of the academic labour process have been qualitative studies based upon comparatively small samples and have typically been unable to adequately differentiate between the nature and experience of different types of academic work.

Drawing on data collected from a survey of all academic staff working in Scottish HEIs, resulting in 1373 responses, this paper advances our understanding through presenting a more nuanced examination of academic labour. This paper argues that far from sharing a homogenous experience of work pressures such as managerialism, internationalisation and work intensification have uneven and often contradictory effects on academic labour. The paper distinguishes between those who have exploited opportunities arising from changes in the academy and those who are most likely to be adversely affected.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    10 July 2016

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education


Ellis, V. (2016, July). The Changing Nature of Academic Work in the UK. Presented at 3rd ISA Forum of Scoiology - The Future We Want: global sociology and the struggles for a better world, Vienna, Austria



Academic labour; academy; universities; Higher Education;

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