HIEST seminar 18 June 2024: Sara Diogo

The Politics of Precarity In Academia - How it Threatens Academic Freedom?

In RUU E314 Isa; to attend online please register here.

Presentation summary:
In Portugal, as well as in other EU countries, these doctorates have been mainly integrated into the higher education system with short-term contracts to develop tasks within research projects (Ylijoki 2016; Herzog & Yaka 2019). This association with research projects along with their precarious working conditions turned them into invisible workers inside Higher Education Institutions (HEI), questioning the sustainability of the system (Carvalho et al. 2002). Such changing dynamics in higher education and research systems, induced by knowledge society policies and framed by managerialism and neoliberalism, has been leading to the worsening of the working conditions within academia(Siekkinen et al. 2022). As such, the increase in the invisible mass of short-term and/or part-time academics at the margins of the university expresses the Uberisation of academic work (Carvalho et al. 2002; Siekkinen et al. 2022), (in)visible in precarious employment in academia.

Among the major problems brought up by casualization and precarious employment, e.g., a mental health “epidemic” in academia (Herzog & Yaka 2019), precarious work and funding curtail academic freedom as academic freedom does not exist in a vacuum, but within a specific institutional setting, namely HEIs (Maassen et al. 2022). In fact, the erosion of the tenure figure associated with tenuous or non-existent contractual relationships, quite often completely dependent and subordinated to power relations and to the research interests of senior academics and/or PhD candidates’ or postdoc’s supervisors, pose a serious threat to academic freedom and research openness (Carvalho & Diogo 2018a). In addition to this, performance assessment exercises and evaluation of academic work tend constrain academic freedom, twisting research interests. Therefore, this connection between academic freedom and its institutional setting is very important, considering that the institutional setting has the responsibility for creating and guarding the conditions under which academic freedom can be exercised as best possible (Masssen et al. 2022. II). Moreover, such responsibility cannot validly lie outside academia, since there is no other space in society where academic freedom can be exercised and guarded in an effective and meaningful way (ibidem). In turn, or in parallel, the reconfiguration of welfare state roles has been leading to a tendency to limit the role of the state to a supervision status (Neave 2012), and to increase the autonomy of HEIs. However, these tendencies are accompanied by new mechanisms of control, questioning academics’ traditional professional autonomy (Carvalho & Diogo 2018b).

Comparative studies focusing on academics’ perceptions of professional autonomy in different national contexts and in their different professional stages are scarce, but the few existing studies reveal similar trends in Portugal and in Finland (Aarrevaara & Dobson 2013; Diogo 2016; Carvalho & Diogo 2018). This is striking, considering the differences between both countries. Bearing this in mind, it is thus our purpose to explore how precarity and casualisation has affected academic and research freedom in Portugal and in Finland and how gender influences these phenomena.

Presenter: Sara Diogo (sara.diogo@ua.pt)

Presenter background: Cotutelle PhD between JYU and UA (University of Aveiro, Portugal) on Higher Education Studies.

Presenter info: