Academics’ ways of working - urgent changes needed?


In these times of austerity, all businesses need to review the costs of activities against projected income and universities, as global businesses, are no exception. Well managed universities will be asking ask hard questions of their systems and staff , and most importantly, this is a time to ask hard questions about academics’ ways of working:

  • are academics’ ways of working more akin to those of the 19th century than the 21st century?
  • how might emerging technologies be used to increase the impact, quality and cost effectiveness of the work of academic?


Much of the knowledge once only easily accessed by academics through their access to books and libraries is now in the public domain and available almost anywhere anytime through the internet. Publication of new knowledge was a slow process controlled by a few. Academics weren’t usually expected to provide research evidence to inform decisions about how society and its institutions might function.


The business of knowledge production and publication once the province of academics has changed radically in the last twenty years but for the most part it seems, academics’ ways of working have not adapted to the new international environment.


Perhaps a prime area for the adoption of new ways of working is social science research where it is not uncommon for staff to be lone researchers and for PhD students to work on isolated projects. The outcome of such work is rarely generalisable at the national and international level and so cannot easily be used to inform national decisions about such important areas as education. New technologies can now be used to connect up researchers with similar interests so they can scale up small scale research to levels at which it becomes nationally and internationally significant – but to do this, the expectations of what constitutes accepted academic practice need to change.


A group of UK staff from different universities has made a commitment to test out such new ways of working. We are using existing staff research time already paid for by the taxpayer, and partnerships with schools and other organisations, to collaborate in order to scale up promising small scale research rather than continue to undertake small scale studies. We will be talking at the IMHE conference about an online environment to support this work cloned from the successful UK online communities of practice for local government  which now has over 1500 communities working in the 700 areas for which local government is responsible. (The embryonic site is on . In working in this way, co-researchers in schools and university staff including researchers around the world, will be able to collaborate to share and build knowledge, cost-effectively.


Anyone interested in working in this way or indeed wanting to join with us on this journey of doing more with less, please feel free to contact me on or or indeed via the Education Communiities site as above.


Note: Further information about the author is on