Beyond Morality? Neoliberal Policies in Higher Education and Agency of Young Academics

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
234 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Natalia Karmaeva, National Research University - Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation
This paper analyzes moral way of acting in the academic labor market as acting with internal consistency (Kant, Sen). The paper draws conclusions regarding how moral action is pursued in two the academic labor markets both affected by neo-liberal policies but characterized by either high (Germany) or low (Russia) prominence of professional institutions. Based on qualitative problem-centered interviews (16 from each country), the analysis also shows that a more penetrable boundary between academia and the economy promotes rational action, i.e. moral (Kant; Silva-Leander 2011), however, the meaning of academic work is altered: both the framing of particular activities (such as teaching and research) and the understanding of the relation between work and life.

Neoliberal policies in education result in straitened financial circumstances, less opportunities for the younger scholars to find stable appointments, changing governance structures that promote accountability and efficiency. Global competition for better positions in international rankings makes research productivity central for assessing universities and individual academics.

This questions existing professional regulation mechanism in different countries and produces different action orientations in the academic labour market, especially for young academics. In Germany, institutions of the academic profession have been traditionally strong, and the ideal of a Humboldtian university (the ‘Humboldt myth” (Ash) are still influential. Russian academia has been dominated by the state throughout the 20th century, and since the 1990s experienced low regulated marketization of higher education.

The study analyses “moral action” defined as internally consistent, rational action, drawing on the Capability approach, Kantian theory and an analysis of agency as sensemaking in two different contexts. The goal is to evaluate the academic labour market structures as supporting or constraining moral action, and to identify how academics alter shared professional values systems in the process of meaning making of their work.

Following Sen (1992), consciousness of the marginalized groups can be manipulated to the extent that they “accept the legitimacy of the unequal order”. From this perspective, self-reflection, such as meaning-making of work, is important. Agency is defined as capacity to aspire, the “ability to express preferences and make choices that are associated with leading a good life” Appudarai’s (2001). From the developmental perspective, morality is not only about altering means in accordance to some goals/beliefs, but also about changing categorical basis for action and initiating new action series (Silva-Leander, 2011).

How do academics act and the structural possibilities for moral action are analyzed in how academics make sense of their work in identity negotiation (Meisenbach, 2008; Archer, 2000; Gonzales, 2014).

Meaningfulness is derived from self-concordance and shared value systems. It was found, that in case of strong professional values (Humboldtian myth) in Germany, academics postpone career decisions, as their ideal do not meet the realities of the academic labour market. In case of those who are employed in different contexts, including non-academic, the understanding of work is shifting, e.g. “implicit research” (through counseling other research projects), but the understanding of the relation between work and life is often shifting from “calling” to “job” (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997).