Lost in Translation? Non-STEM Academics in the 'Entrepreneurial' University
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This study set out to explore the ways in which non-STEM academics, working within UK universities that had positioned themselves publicly as ‘entrepreneurial’ institutions, interpret and negotiate the related concepts of the entrepreneurial academic and university. The entrepreneurial university concept has become a ubiquitous theme in higher education and policy literatures in recent decades, having been described variously as an ‘idea for its time’ (Shattock, 2010) and the ‘end-point of the evolution of the idea of the university’ (Barnett, 2010, p.i). This research set out to interrogate some of the key ways in which this institutional form, and the corresponding concept of the entrepreneurial academic, have been discursively constructed by advocates in the UK and beyond. Further to this, the study aimed to collect narratives of experience from non-STEM academics employed by self-described ‘entrepreneurial’ universities, both to enquire into how they interpreted the ‘entrepreneurial paradigm’, and to invite them to report on how they felt that their university’s assumption of an enterprise mission had, or had not, influenced its organisational ‘culture’ and their subjectively experienced academic work-lives.
The researcher’s interest in the relationship between enterprise discourse and the organisational ‘culture’ of universities stemmed from the apparent consensus within the scholarly and policy literature about the need for universities to develop an integrated ‘entrepreneurial culture’ (Clark, 1998, p.7)(Gibb, 2006b, p.2)(Rae, Gee and Moon, 2009) by pursuing a policy of ‘organisational culture change’, with culture here denoting ‘the realm of ideas, beliefs, and asserted values’ (Kwiek, 2008, p.115) which inhere within institutions. To this end, a series of semi-structured, interpretive interviews were carried out with participants from a range of non-STEM disciplines, working in a variety of university types in the UK. The researcher then employed a discourse-analytic method to delineate some of the ‘discursive repertoires’ that participants used to account for their professional practices, and report on their experiences in - and understandings of - the entrepreneurial university. What emerged from this analysis was a complex picture of ‘enterprise discourse’ within the contemporary university setting, as well as a general tendency amongst participants to adopt a position of ontological scepticism where the issue of ‘university culture’ was concerned. Further to this, it was determined that the ‘inclusive’ interpretation of entrepreneurialism typically employed by advocates for the paradigm had not generally been taken up by participants, for whom it was, for the most part, a phenomenon associated variously with ‘managerialism’, ‘market values’, ‘the business agenda’, ‘income generation’, ‘money making’, and the figure of the ‘individual, lone, romantic, heroic capitalist’. Additionally, where subjects were conversant in broader, more ‘social’ conceptions of academic entrepreneurialism, they typically reported that it was rarely articulated in the internal communications of their respective universities.
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