Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
PIENAAR, Cobus. Is the academic work role still sustainable?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.2, pp. 251-267. ISSN 2224-7912.
Literature indicates that the academic work role and, by implication, academics suffer tremendous pressure and that this role will probably be difficult to maintain and sustain in future. This is the result of numerous external and internal influences within and outside of higher education. The internal and external aspects impacting on higher education should, however, not be regarded in isolation, since there is a systemic interdependence between these aspects which collectively form and dominate the current higher education environment. External aspects which currently influence the academic work role and will continue to do so in future, include globalisation and the increased application of advanced information technology and technology within all aspects of higher education. Literature also indicates a shift in higher education from institutions that were primarily the domain of the elite to institutions that strive to admit a greater variety and larger numbers of students who do not necessarily possess the required academic foundation. The increasing competition among institutions in order to ensure survival and financial sustainability contributes to the fact that - like all other organisations - higher education institutions (and by implication academics) continually have to pay attention to the changing needs and requirements of their primary clients, namely the labour sector, students, and governments. Maintaining and ensuring ongoing quality are currently high on the agenda of higher education and most higher education institutions. Implementing and ensuring quality in higher education institutions relate to and address all aspects of higher education, including curriculum development, teaching and research - all of which must be managed by academics. The academic work role is, however, not only influenced by external realities, but also by various internal realities. One of the primary aims of any higher education institution is making available and establishing high quality teaching and learning experiences for its students. Academic staff members are primarily responsible for establishing and managing these aspects and learning environments. However, the way in which teaching and learning takes place is influenced by numerous aspects, including higher student numbers as a result of, among other things, greater accessibility and the incorporation of technology (as previously mentioned). Literature indicates that research, which is one of the core tasks of any academic, may be under pressure as a result of, among other things, the absence of resources and structures. In addition academics complain about a lack of time to do research because other tasks have to be undertaken concurrently. Yet research is regarded as the most important criterion whereby academics obtain stature and promotion. In addition to teaching and research responsibilities, the work pressure of academics is increased due to further responsibilities in the form of increased community service, and administration and entrepreneurial activities. Although administrative responsibilities form a part of the non-core activities of academics, they require additional time and inputs in an already complex work environment. In order to address the preceding dilemmas resulting from the internal and external realities, part-time teaching staff members are appointed to decrease the teaching load of full-time appointed academic personnel. Although temporary teaching staff members are utilised, full-time academics still bear the supervisory responsibilities and carry the administrative load associated with this type of appointment by higher education institutions. Higher education institutions - more so than any other organisation - depend on the intellectual abilities and the commitment of academic staff. The intellectual and creative abilities of this group largely determine the existence and sustainability of higher education institutions. The preceding changes and realities contribute to the academic work role being one of the most stressful careers, while simultaneously also influencing the work satisfaction of academics. There are indications in the literature that this will most probably increase in future and that the work role will escalate and be more demanding in the midst of an already complex task. If the academic work role is not reviewed it may lead to a variety of negative outcomes for a variety of stakeholders. These include the academic profession, academics, higher education institutions, and higher education in general, as well as all the other role-players who directly benefit from higher education, as already mentioned in the literature.
Keywords : Higher education institutions; higher education; academics; stress; work pressure; academic career; work satisfaction; academic work role.