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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


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12 Critical reflections from a practitioner perspective

From the perspective of a practitioner the previous initial analysis framework can shed some light on the questions posed at the start of this paper.

Is there systems convergence?

Within the contemporary tertiary education and training policy agendas there seems to be some convergence in terms of agreement relating to specific strategies and the expected outcomes from the implementation of these strategies. Such as the policy drive towards the knowledge society, the challenges that globalisation poses and developing criteria to manage and insecure the return on investment. The policy agendas show signs of convergence, but whether this convergence is evident at implementation and systems level is not clear. Some items like human capital, quality assurance and qualifications frameworks seem to have a significant convergence rate in terms of priorities and positioning in policy narratives. There also seems to be policy agreement that tertiary education and training needs to become more relevant to the world of work, in terms of the content of programmes and the delivery process[17].

Particular emphasis is placed on developing partnerships and collaborations between tertiary education and training and enterprise, specifically in terms of research and development and innovation. The policy narratives show agreement in terms of the role of the learner, with emphasis placed on learners engaging in both lifelong and life wide learning in order to enhance their employability. Worker–learners are encouraged to develop a new mind set in terms of work practices and to become more flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of enterprise.

Different policy narratives seek to gain a measurable outcome at systems level on the financial investments made. Some policies seek to reform the tertiary education and training sector in order to make it more effective, efficient and accountable. This is a form of systems’ restructuring, a central consideration to this process is the reform of the academic contract. The academic contract is being reformed with the assistance of advanced Human Resource Management (HRM) policies and procedures. The tenured track is under threat with the increased number and variety of part-time contract workers and new forms of researchers or ‘post-Doc’ workers. Contracts of employments are now time defined (12 months, 2–3 years) or linked into external project funding streams. These new types of casual academic contracted workers are subject to covert HRM control mechanisms at contract renewal time. If the new type workers’ performance is not deemed to be acceptable then their contract is not renewed. The new type of workers experience considerable anxiety relating to several issues such as contract renewal, carrying out additional duties, pension provisions and factors to do with the external environment such as obtaining loans from lending agencies due to the temporary nature of their employment contract. Within this new worker cohort collegiality is replaced by competitive compliance in the hope of gaining a renewal of contract or tenured position in competition with other new casual workers. It is questionable whether this practice of recruiting casual labour for the sake of short-term financial savings will make a lasting contribution to the development of the academic missions and culture of HEIs and the respective discipline domains.

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