A European Perspective on Academic Careers. The declining desirability of the faculty position

A European Perspective on Academic Careers. The declining desirability of the faculty position
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  Jeroen HuismanEgbert de WeertJeroen Bartelse This research was funded by the Dutch Advisory Council for Science and TechnologyPolicy (AWT) and carried out by the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies(CHEPS) of the University of Twente,the Netherlands. Several foreign colleagues par-ticipated in the CHEPS project by delivering national studies of the United Kingdom,Sweden,Finland,Flanders,and Germany. We are grateful for the contributions by BeateBaldauf (Institute for Employment Research,University of Warwick,United Kingdom),Jurgen Enders (Center for Research on Higher Education and Work,University of Kas-sel,Germany),and Lillemor Kim (Swedish Institute for Studies in Education and Re-search,Stockholm,Sweden). Because of limited space we have excluded the countrystudies for Flanders and Finland.  Jeroen Huisman,Egbert de Weert,and Jeroen Bartelse are researchers at the Center  for Higher Education Policy Studies,Faculty of Public Administration and Public Policyof the University of Twente,the Netherlands.The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 73,No. 1 (January/February 2002)Copyright ©2002 by The Ohio State University  Introduction Internationally,the fault lines of an uncertain acad-emic career are becoming increasingly apparent. Despite extensivepreparation,young academics confront restricted opportunities to be-come regular members of the academic community. Many of them areon a temporary contract,often with poor working conditions and uncer-tainties about reappointments. A long academic career seems unobtain-able,which can lead to a negative image for academic employment.Those who opt for an academic career run the risk of moving from onecontract to another without the opportunity to establish a particular re-search program. Finkelstein,Seal,and Schuster (1998) found that alarge segment of the new academic generation in the United States haveentered into “temporary”positions not part of the traditional academiccareer ladder. Academic Careers from a European Perspective The Declining Desirability of the Faculty Position  Farnham (1999a) and Altbach (2000) have shown that this phenome-non is not limited to the United States. In some countries,the transitionfrom elite to mass higher education has occurred in a time of substantialdecline in government funding and changes in resource allocation meth-ods. Funding has not kept up with rising student numbers. This trend hasled to significant retrenchments,privatization,debates about fees,a de-cline in academic salaries relative to average earnings in other employ-ment sectors,and heightened perceptions of uncertainty among acade-mics (Welch,1998).Universities have reacted to these developments by realizing changesin the balances of tenured,permanent,fixed-term,and part-time ap-pointments. A larger proportion of temporary personnel relative totenured personnel would increase the adaptive power of universities to-ward varying external circumstances such as changing student numbers,budget cuts,and other financial variables. In most European countriesuniversities have placed younger staff in the nontenure-track appoint-ments. Although in the United States many of the staff on temporarycontracts focus on teaching,in European countries individuals on fixed-term contracts often focus on research.These limited career prospects within academe have raised questionsabout the attractiveness of an academic career. Recent reports in theUnited Kingdom (UK) and the Netherlands warn that recruitment andretention of academic staff is worsening by the year,and that the numberof students pursuing the doctorate is decreasing. Some European coun-tries have created new institutional forms for the early socialization of faculty members. Others have made major adjustments to the doctoraldegree. Some recent proposals focus on enhancing the career prospectsof junior researchers.The widely held belief in the United States is that the faculty positionis attractive and prestigious enough to encourage a sufficient supply of future faculty members irrespective of the current poor labor market. Re-search by Baldwin and Chronister (2000) and by Gappa and Leslie(1993) support this view. They found that many nontenure-track staff andpart-time faculty members,respectively,aspired to full-time faculty posi-tions despite less-than-happy experiences in nontenure-track positions.This perspective is not universal. In particular,we challenge thepremise that academic positions in Europe are so desirable that labormarket supply will “naturally”take care of the projected future facultyshortages. Indeed,we argue that European countries must carefullyscrutinize the pre- and early career stages of potential faculty membersand make important changes or their universities will face severe facultyshortages.142 The Journal of Higher Education  In this article we first provide an overview of the academic trainingsystem in four selected European countries:the United Kingdom (UK),Germany,the Netherlands,and Sweden. These countries vary consider-ably in their organization of scientific careers in universities and re-search institutes. Next we examine the training system for potential aca-demics (structure,admission,funding),the status of young scientistswith a special focus on women,and factors affecting academic staff re-cruitment and retention. In the final section we reflect on the potentialside effects of current career environments and the key policy challengesfor the recruitment and retention of new academic staff.  Data and Methods Data for this article were derived from an international comparativestudy of academic careers in Western Europe. The Dutch AdvisoryCouncil for Science and Technology Policy commissioned the study. Itsmain objective was to investigate the issue of academic careers in anumber of Western European countries (Finland,Germany,Sweden,United Kingdom,and the Netherlands) and to observe the present-daystate of the art and developments in the Netherlands from a comparativeperspective. Country experts were approached and asked to delivercountry reports,utilizing an outline drafted by the project coordinators.We asked an expert in each selected country to describe and analyze,quantitatively and qualitatively,doctoral education (e.g.,number of PhDstudents and graduates,financial aspects,transfer to post-PhD period)and academic employment (e.g.,rank structure,salaries,career perspec-tives) in the context of their higher education systems. These project co-ordinators used national data sources,reports,and archives to provide acomparative analysis. For this article we used these reports for a com-parative analysis across European countries and between Europe and theUnited States. United KingdomThe Training System Traditionally,postgraduate study in the UK is an inseparable featureof a seamless educational path flowing from undergraduate,to graduate,to postgraduate studies. Postgraduate education is an important sourceof revenue for higher education institutions,which have been grantedsubstantial autonomy in setting fees for postgraduate students. Prospec-tive PhD recipients either take a one-year master’s degree after the bach-elor’s degree or enroll in a three-year doctoral program directly after  Academic Careers in Europe 143  completing the bachelor’s degree. In the social sciences and humanities,students most often take the former route. Part-time students are grantednearly double the time of full-time students to complete PhD require-ments.By the end of the 1980s the traditional one-on-one model of doctoralpreparation where a student worked almost exclusively with a majorprofessor through completion of the dissertation had been replaced inthe UK by a curriculum incorporating formal research training. Re-search training courses were made part of the PhD to increase comple-tion rates. Since the mid 1990s some institutions have considered mak-ing compulsory a master of research prior to pursuing doctoral studies,but opinions on this initiative differ by discipline. In the UK,the ulti-mate aim of the PhD is to make an srcinal contribution to knowledge asevidenced by submitting a thesis of between 70,000 and 100,000 words.The submission is followed by a final oral examination.Formal qualifications and a thesis outline are the most important cri-teria for admission into a PhD program,supplemented by interviews toestimate the candidate’s motivation. PhD students applying to researchcouncils for funding must demonstrate even higher levels of perfor-mance,including top grades in a good honors first degree.The financial situation for doctoral students differs by type of enroll-ment (full-time versus part-time),and by discipline and status (being aresearch council student or not). In contrast to some European countries,most PhD students in the UK are not university employees. PhD stu-dents—like other postgraduate students—pay study fees. Recent data onPhD students in science and technology (OST,1999) indicate that re-search councils are the most important sponsor of doctoral work (35%of the funding),followed by other public sources (26%). One-fifth of allPhD students pay their tuition fees. For part-time students this propor-tion is much higher,almost 50%.PhD students funded by research councils receive a grant for a three-year period. This grant is less than 40% of the mean starting salary forgraduates,implying that the PhD track is not a very attractive financialoption. The situation is better for the relatively few students funded byspecific trusts (e.g.,the Welcome Trust promoting biomedical research),but much less favorable for part-time students,who only recently weremade eligible for research council support.In the past two years universities in the UK awarded some 10,000 to11,000 doctorates,about one-third to overseas students. This total repre-sents an increase from 7,500 in 1995–95. On average students take morethan three years to complete their doctoral programs. Almost all—80%to 90%—of doctoral students complete the degree. The average age of 144 The Journal of Higher Education  PhD recipients is well below the age of thirty. In 1998–99 PhD degreesrepresented 3.2% of all degrees awarded in higher education in the UK.Despite the increasing number of degrees awarded in the past four years,recently the number of PhD students has decreased (OST,1999). The at-tractiveness of other employment possibilities seems particularly impor-tant in this trend. Position of Young Scientists Although the PhD has become an almost necessary entry ticket to theacademic career in British universities,it is less prevalent in the formerpolytechnics. Studies monitoring the positions acquired by PhD recipi-ents show that the percentage working in universities decreases consid-erably over time. In contrast,private sector employment has increased.Entering academics encounter several barriers to a successful career.Academic committees make promotion decisions based on guidelinescreated by national organizations (e.g.,CUCO,1997). Particularly im-portant is the Research Assessment Exercise,which has increased theimportance of research productivity in assessing faculty performance. Inaddition to status,faculty research productivity is tied to the amount of government money awarded to each university.Besides quality of work,promotions depend largely on the financialconstraints of the institution. These constraints can make institutionalleaders cautious (Fulton,2000). Also,promotion is inextricably boundto the rank structure of lecturer,senior lecturer,and professor at univer-sities,and to lecturer,senior lecturer,principal lecturer,and professor atthe former polytechnics. Although salaries depend in part on nationalnegotiations,institutions retain some flexibility,particularly for higherranks. The historical division among universities,particularly betweenthe traditional universities and the former polytechnics,is still reflectedby considerable salary differences between old and new universities.Women are substantially underrepresented among the professoriate inthe UK as are members of ethnic minorities and the disabled commu-nity. The percentage of female students receiving a first degree is 54%;at the PhD level this percentage drops to 37. Only 10% of the professo-riate are female. In addition,women occupy less secure positions,in-cluding contract staff and part-time positions,and earn less than theirmale colleagues,even if grade and mode of employment are the same(Bett,1999).The Bett Committee,following up the work of the 1997 National In-quiry into Higher Education (Dearing Committee),noted that pay in theacademic sector has fallen behind equivalent positions in industry. Apay-gap of between 10% and 30% is common (Bett,1999). Several stud-  Academic Careers in Europe 145
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