Early Career Academics In the Social Sciences and Arts in an Age of Austerity

Project: Research-related funding

Project Details


This project explores longitudinally and biographically over a period of 8 to 9 years, how early career academics who begun their first academic post within three years of the 2010 cut of direct government funding, in the UK fare. This time was of particular interest as it was speculated that this might be a landmark period in terms of how these disciplines and academics were positioned within university. INTRODUCTION

The study is small-scale comparative longitudinal study of new academics in two universities in the UK - one ‘old’ (8 academics) , rich and ‘research intensive’, the other ‘new’ (6 academics) , poorer and teaching intensive. It is widely acknowledged that times are turbulent and unpredictable in the university environment. Some argue that an ‘audit culture’ has permeated universities, which threatens the intrinsic value of the core academic work of producing and reproducing a discipline or knowledge. And now there is a new fee regime which changes funding for Arts and Social Sciences and reduction of funds available to carry out research. It is, therefore, a productive moment to chart academic work and identity through the eyes of new academics who are required to ‘work’ these shifts and fulfil the core university functions of teaching and research.

1. How do new academics conceptualise and value their work? Do these constructions and values shift over-time. If so how and why?
2. How do individual academics directly mediate departmental/school/faculty arrangements and indirectly the institutional context and national policy about their work? Does this change over time?
3. Are there variations in the development of academic identities over 8/9 years that can be characterised and explained?

Layman's description

The project explores whether the experience and behavior of academics and academic labour is changing for those working in the social sciences and humanities The project is following 15 academics over a period of nine years to see if the way that academics conceptualise, plan and experience their careers is changing. The research design allows us to compare the careers of those who started in universities of different status. It also allows us to compare the experiences of these 15 academics with those from previous qualitative and quantitative studies. We are interested in whether any changes are influencing the production of knowledge in these disciplines, the types of individuals academics are and the environment of the university.

Key findings

• With one exception, the academics were brought up in from families who valued education highly one way or another, and most were identified as especially clever at primary school (often associated with early reading) ;
• Most were discontinuous from their backgrounds either by being in a different country or by being from a family whose other members had not been to university.
• Research was seen as a personal/political project (research and writing about matters that are very important to the academic) or was rather differently inflected as an intellectual project (research and writing about interesting matters).
• For most, academic work was experienced as intense and without boundaries (50 hours a week was the average claim- 40 was unusual). And there were strenuous attempts to ‘dovetail’ concerns (for example, in particular related to family)

• Working in conditions that feel supportive makes a substantial difference to confidence in early career.
• Autonomy and control of work were highly valued, pay and promotion less so.
• Some (5) regarded academic work as a huge privilege.

A further feminist analysis also found that the ten female academics utilised strategies that were implicitly and explicitly feminist in their orientation. Also that individuals academics behaviour illustrated more than one of those which Margaret Archer associated with different types of reflexives. They could be communicative reflexives., for example, making decisions as to where to work or what to do based on discussions with families and putting their families first. The same person could also take on the behaviour of the autonomous reflexive within their work life, making decisions independently without referring or consulting with others.
Short title£10,000
Effective start/end date1/01/1031/12/19


  • Early Career Academics
  • Margaret ARcher
  • Biographical
  • Longitudinal
  • Social Sciences
  • Arts
  • feminist

RCUK Research Areas

  • Education