University Of Tasmania
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Impact of change on university academics

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posted on 2023-05-27, 07:39 authored by Broadbent, Carolyn
Government initiatives in Australia in the late 1980s led to unprecedented change within the higher education sector, resulting in numerous college mergers and amalgamations as necessary prerequisites for entry into the post-binary Unified National System. Consequently, the Australian Catholic University was formed in 1991 through the amalgamation of four colleges or institutes of education that spanned three states and a territory. Concurrently, pressures to increase economic efficiency in higher education resulted in the modification of the role of universities, extensive cultural reorientation, and changes to academics' work that impacted on their health, well-being and level of satisfaction. This thesis investigates the nature and impact of change on sixty-nine academics situated across the campuses of the new University during this period of significant restructuring and throughout its first five years of operation. The research is positioned within an interpretive theoretical framework that draws on the traditions of symbolic interactionism in understanding human action. Predominantly qualitative methods of inquiry and data collection are utilised to investigate academics' perceptions of: the broad changes within higher education; the organisational changes created by the formation of the new University; the changing nature of their work; and, the approaches they adopted to cope with the changes. Some simple quantitative measures are used to strengthen and extend the analysis. Theoretical considerations relevant to the research are drawn from the authoritative literatures of organisational change and management, higher education and stress and coping. The results of this study support the view that the organisational changes brought about by a radical restructuring of the higher education sector in Australia did impact dramatically on the personal and professional lives of academics at that time, with those academics situated towards the lower levels of the new University more adversely affected. Virtually all academics interviewed had modified their work behaviour significantly from their former role; academics strongly oriented towards research more readily welcomed the changes, while those with a strong preference for teaching felt less valued and under pressure to develop a research profile, upgrade qualifications and publish. There were noticeable differences between academics' level of understanding of the changes. It was also notable that: (1) the personal impact was felt strongly in a negative way by 62% of academics; (2) only 39% of academics interviewed expressed positive feelings towards the changes overall; (3) 72% expressed the view that they were now working harder than ever before, when they had already been overworked. Three broad groupings of coping strategies were discernible from the analysis: Proactive, Reactive and Counter-active. Findings from the research support the importance of personal beliefs and values as contributing factors in determining academics' level of acceptance of the changes, and preferences regarding perceptions of the nature and future direction of the University. While a strong commitment to the formation of the new University was evident across all academic levels, considerable differences existed regarding its nature, role and future direction. This thesis argues that the complexity of organisational change necessitates an understanding of the paradoxical tensions or contradictions that are inherent in any change process and these need to be considered in relation to the differing perspectives held by organisational members. Eight contradictory tensions emerged from the analysis: pragmatism vs independent vision; centralised control vs local autonomy; academic freedom vs Catholic conservatism; teaching and learning vs research and scholarship; equality of women vs patriarchal control; consolidation vs diversity; autocratic managerialism vs democratic collegiality; and academic workloads vs maintenance of quality. It is therefore argued that in the implementation of organisational change there exists a need to properly address the tensions and ambiguities that arise between the personal goals and expectations of individuals as professionals, and those held by management. Greater opportunities for academics across all levels within the organisation to participate in the decision-making process and play a proactive role in shaping the direction of the developing institution would have facilitated more effective organisational change within this newly created University.


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Copyright 2002 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2002. Includes bibliographical references

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