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Invisible forces: The contribution of universities’ proffessional staff to knowledge production within the academic ecosystem

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - InviFo (Invisible forces: The contribution of universities’ proffessional staff to knowledge production within the academic ecosystem)

Reporting period: 2022-09-01 to 2023-08-31

The objective of this project is to understand and improve the contribution of professional staff of universities to academic knowledge production. Professional staff does not teach or do research, but is involved in organizing these tasks. Despite this body of staff now making up 20- 50% of university employees, this study is the first to consider its contribution to knowledge production. Insights into this major but still poorly understood type of employees of universities contributes to more efficient and effective use of these public resources. The relevance and urgency of this project are that the European Commission will allocate approximately €40 billion to universities in Horizon Europe. The project investigates the expertise of professional staff, the way it concentrates and uses its expertise, the power that it exercises through it and the effects of its power on academic knowledge production.
The fellow conducted a literature review, a survey and ethnographic interviews. Highlights of these studies include:
- A novel definition of professional staff (‘degree holding university employees who are primarily responsible for developing, maintaining and changing the social, digital and physical infrastructures that enable education, research and knowledge exchange’) that avoids commonly used othering and pejorative terms, such as ‘non-academic’ and ‘support’, and enables an organizational field level perspective on this group of employees
- A review of the state of the art and a research agenda that focuses on understanding how professional staff contribute to academic knowledge development.
- An algorithm to classify professional staff, which can be used to study large volumes of data about professional staff.
- Professional staff, on average, hold stronger professional logics than market logics, suggesting that their logics are more in line with those of academics than previously anticipated
- Professional staff’s logics correlate with the actors that they interact with. For example, the more a member of professional staff interacts with companies, the stronger their market logic will be.
- Professional staff’s logic do not translate to organizational level logics, suggesting that the assumption of professional staff introducing market logics into universities might not be justified.
- Professional staff play a role in maintaining science’s legitimacy as a major developer of knowledge, by making sure that academics and universities as organizations meet the expectations and requirements of society (for example, that academics work according to safety compliance regulations, and that issues such as diversity and inclusion receive attention). This contributes to maintaining resources for academic knowledge production
- Professional staff play a role in enabling (effective) conversions of resources in the research cycle, for example by making sure that results are effectively disseminated to societal actors beyond science and by ensuring that funds can be converted into people by understanding financial cycles of a school.
These results have been disseminated via conference presentations and manuscripts that have been submitted, or are soon to be submitted for publication, by academic journals. Additionally, an algorithm has been published open access and a presentation has been given for an academic publisher.
See highlights of results. The main progress beyond the state of art is an understanding of the role of professional staff beyond that of the organization (university), which helps to provide a perspective that counters the perspective of 'administrative bloat.' The potential of this perspective is that it can help to improve the relationship between academics and professional staff, which the literature often reports as being complicated. Additionally, this perspective may help professional staff to advocate for more attention in university strategies and (career) policies.
Influence of professional staff on resource conversions in universities