Universities and the aging academic workforce: where is the leadership?

Ruth Neumann, Jacqui Larkin

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Universities in Western developed countries are on the cusp of a human resource crisis with 40-60% of academics in OECD countries older than 55 years of age. This comes at a time when students numbers and ongoing demand for higher education are high but competitive funding from national governments coupled with managerialist and corporatist governance have kept the academic workforce lean. This paper presents findings from an Australian case study of university management, policy and leadership in relation to their academic staff. The findings from interviews with senior management in some universities show contradictory, ambivalent, even discriminatory attitudes toward older academics. Documentary analysis reveals an institutional human resource management policy vacuum with a dearth of strategies and ideas despite the predicted staffing crisis in Western countries. There is a disconnect between the senior and middle management levels within universities with short term ever-changing budgetary instability to faculties and departments. Senior management prevaricates between viewing its academic workforce as professionals or employees. It is argued that these tensions are exacerbated in a competitive performance-based government funding climate and that senior leadership struggles between the values of the traditional collegial governance structures and the corporate governance introduced during the 1990s.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 2011 Barcelona European Academic Conference
Subtitle of host publicationprogram & proceedings
Place of PublicationColorado
PublisherThe Clute Institute
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventBarcelona European Academic Conference 2011 - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 6 Jun 20119 Jun 2011


ConferenceBarcelona European Academic Conference 2011
CityBarcelona, Spain

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s). Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • universities
  • leadership
  • human resource management and policy
  • ageing workforce


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