Year: 1990

Author: Neumann, Ruth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Throughout the Western world in the 1980s universities and academics have come under government scrutiny as never before. Australian universities have not been exempt as several Federal government reviews and especially the Dawkins White Paper testify. Unfortunately, despite the pressing need for empirical data to inform decision making, the process remains highly politicised. In Australia particularly, there has been little systematic study of the development of universities, their manner of operation and the values and beliefs held by academics. This paper reports selected findings from a study on the nature of academic work with a particular emphasis on the research role. These findings come from the interview component of the study and discuss the perceptions that senior academic administrators hold on 'research' and 'scholarship'. The selection of interview participants was based on an indication from the literature that intellectual authority resides in senior academics (Clark, 1983) and that different disciplines espouse different values and cultures (Becher, 1987). Thus, thirty-three senior academic administrators, from vice-chancellors to heads of department, spanning the humanities, sciences, social sciences and professional areas were interviewed on four broad areas relating to the research role within academic work. The interviews were semi-structured and were designed to be flexible, providing opportunity for academics to speak freely and raise matters they considered to be important. Methodological issues relating to the design of the study are detailed in Neumann (1990a). According to the literature, the word 'research' can be used in a multiplicity of ways (for a discussion of this see for example Neumann, 1990b, 1989). Thus, because of the possibility of many different interpretations of the word 'research', every participant was asked for their definition of 'research'. Clarification and explanation was sought also on the term 'scholarship' which is often used in conjunction with 'research'. Participants were also asked how applicable they saw their definitions of 'research' and 'scholarship' to be across the various disciplinary areas.