What do you really need to know? The importance of the third space in developing institutional CPD frameworks

Marr, Elizabeth and Forsyth, Rachel (2011). What do you really need to know? The importance of the third space in developing institutional CPD frameworks. In: Changing Practice – Changing Times, Higher Education Academy Annual Conference, 05-06 Jul 2011, Nottingham.

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This paper argues for a collaborative approach between administrative and academic staff in the development and delivery of institutional CPD programmes in order to reduce the risk of diminution of quality and standards in higher education and to ensure equality of opportunity in career development.

The rate of change in UK higher education has accelerated considerably in the last decade. Within this context, the ‘doing’ of higher education work has become much more diverse, encompassing not just teaching, research, student support and administration but enterprise, civic engagement, new business development and community outreach. The management of the university has thus also become more complex, with the emergence of what Celia Whitchurch terms ‘third space’ professionals (Whitchurch, 2008) consequent on the blurring of boundaries between academic and administrative staff. It is becoming increasingly common for professional administrators with no academic background to take up management roles in universities. Indeed, according to Breakwell and Tytherleigh (2009) 19% of pre-1992 VCs and 6.5% of post 92 VCs have come from other public or private sectors. With the broadening of the university prospectus we are also seeing more academic appointments made to professional practitioners (eg lawyers, engineers, PR professionals). Thus the academic apprenticeship route of postgraduate student to research assistant, part time tutor, lecturer, departmental head and beyond is no longer typical.

Drawing on our recently published book on Academic Identity, we argue that institutional academic CPD frameworks have tended to focus on the direct business of learning and teaching, both theoretical and practical, but the essential contextual knowledge about institutional processes and procedures and sectoral direction and drivers tend to be left to the individual academic to uncover. In other words, the ‘how to’ is well covered but the ‘why’ is neglected. Through our experience of developing, and teaching on, a postgraduate course in Academic Practice we became acutely aware of the way in which this lack of knowledge disadvantages academics seeking to develop a management career in higher education.

This disadvantage, we contend, is aggravated when structural knowledge is held by professional administrators with no experience of teaching or research. Thus, rather than a third space, the erosion of the binary divide between academic and administrative work may actually be leading towards a de-professionalisation of academic work with potentially disastrous results for quality and standards in UK HE..

We therefore propose a collaborative approach to institutional CPD frameworks in which both academic and administrative staff participate, where sectoral context and higher education management are given equal status with the scholarship of learning and teaching and the full range of academic and administrative activity is incorporated into a single scheme for all staff, regardless of provenance.

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