Mapping Australian Education Research: Preliminary findings from a national survey of researchers

Year: 2019

Author: Brennan, Marie, Zipin, Lew, Woods, Annette, McPherson, Amy, Rudolph, Sophie, Barron, Rosie, Rogers, Bev

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The work of academics has undergone significant changes in recent years in Australia, as in much of the world (Bennett et al, 2013; Blackmore et al. 2010; Fischman et al. 2018; Thornton 2014). In a context of fiscal constraints, many university managements have restructured workforce positions and their relations. Effects include greater casualisation, widespread introduction of teaching-only positions, corresponding decline in teaching-and-research academics, and intensified non-research workload. These shifts have disturbed many academics and become foci for resistance, especially in education programs (Seddon 2015; Brennan & Zipin 2019; Zipin & Brennan 2019). Recent studies emphasise narrowing options for early-career academics to pursue research pathways (Rowlands & Gale 2017; Manathunga & Bottrell 2019; Richardson & Heffernan 2019). It is thus timely to map how changes to academic work are affecting education research.

This paper derives from an AARE Working Party project to document how Australian education academics experience work conditions in relation to research opportunity and growth. A national online survey gathered data from a variety of education academics, including: higher degree students; early-, mid- and late-career; and casual, contract, independent and adjunct. Administered during May/June 2019, the survey draws on previous instruments developed for international research projects, especially Teichler and colleagues (2013) study of changes in academic work from an international comparative perspective that included Australia. Teichler et al.'s questionnaire was also used in the USA (Fischman et al. 2018) to study education faculty perspectives on academic work and use of knowledge. This study has adapted the survey to clarify specific aspects of the Australian scene. Future use of the Teichler et al. framework will enable comparisons with earlier time periods and multiple nations, including Australia, the USA and Europe.

The paper presents findings from the survey, including content analysis and preliminary options for wider analysis, in the context of current Australian higher education policy, previous Australian practice, and international findings on academic education research work. The paper will indicate major areas of concern for Australian education research, including conditions that education academics see as supporting or constraining research growth, especially among early career researchers. Implications for education research futures will be discussed, including potentials for an inter-generational academic politics that pursues: workload justice; keeping teaching and research connected (against trends that separate them); and broadening the numbers and range of education academics with time and opportunity to grow as researchers.