What’s in a name? The rise of the practitioner academic and time to reconsider standardised induction support
Fuelled by rapid growth in degree apprenticeships and the number of public services requiring mandatory higher education (HE) qualifications, there is a significant and ongoing rise in the number of experience-rich professionals moving into full- or part-time academic roles. Yet, what does not seem to be addressed is how academics from a professional background are referred to and, critically, the impact this has on their induction support within institutions.
Two prominent terms that usually refer to joint post-holders are ‘dual professionals’ (Andalo, 2011) and ‘pracademic’ (Nalbandian, 1994; Posner, 2009). Similar terms are ‘inbetweeners’, ‘practitioner-academics’, ‘practitioner-teacher’, ‘practice-based professional practitioner’ and ‘practice-based academic’. There are also discipline-specific terms such as ‘lecturer practitioner’ in nursing and ‘second-order practitioners’ (Murray, 2002) in teaching; while ‘second-career academics’ refers to those who now entirely work as academics. To confound matters, the term ‘academic professional’ relates to apprenticeships for new academics and makes no distinction as to their background.
These terms highlight a non-homogeneous group of academics spanning a range of professions and contract types. Yet this variation in nomenclature can obscure this diverse workforce entering HE. My doctoral research (Kitchener, 2021) captured the experiences of 16 full-time academics from professional backgrounds from multiple UK-based higher education institutions. The findings revealed that this unique career transition into an academic role was not fully recognised, tending towards a ‘one size fits all’ mode of induction.
‘The unique career transition into an academic role is not being fully recognised and is tending towards a “one size fits all” mode of induction.’
One of the fundamental issues could be this range of nomenclature. What is required is a collective term that highlights this distinctive route into an academic post. This term does not need to differentiate between the type of contract (for instance dual professional, lecturer practitioner, inbetweeners, practice-based professional practitioner), or the professional background (such as second-order practitioners). While the term ‘pracademic’, postulated by Nalbandian (1994) and widely associated with Posner (2009), fits into neither of these categories, it seems somewhat inelegant as a contracted form. However, the term ‘practitioner academics’ foregrounds a generic professional status and merges the two roles thoughtfully.
Now, categorising academics could be seen as divisive, yet it is this lack of a consistent term and, moreover, the lack of recognition for the diversity of backgrounds, that may have contributed to practitioner academics experiencing this unique change from their professional practice to an academic role as a challenge (Simendinger et al., 2000; Dickelmann, 2004; Blenkinsopp & Stalker, 2004, Kitchener, 2021).
With the greater number of HE programmes now vocational and applied subjects, the sector is in a position where professional academics are vital. My research (Kitchener, 2021) recommends further provision to support effective inductions – for example, assigning a mentor with a similar background to provide support and guidance tailored to the lived experience of professional academics; maintaining an academic handbook to highlight the HE context, the academic role, and as a resource to aid understanding of tacit knowledge and acronyms; and access to academic literacy resources to help dust off or develop skills that will, in turn, help support students. Relatedly, induction facilitators should be mindful of any assumptions they may make about prior knowledge and experiences. These recommendations can help progress a more inclusive induction for better transition experiences.
Andalo, D. (2011, March 21). The rise of dual profession lecturers. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2011/mar/21/part-time-lecturers-dual-profession.
Blenkinsopp, J., & Stalker, B. (2004). Identity work in the transition from manager to management academic. Management Decision, 42(3/4), 418–429. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251740410518903
Kitchener, M. (2021). Supporting academics’ full-time transition from professional practice to university. A qualitative study. [Unpublished EdD thesis]. Oxford Brookes University.
Murray, J. (2002). Between the chalkface and the ivory towers? Institute of Education University of London. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/83900.pdf.
Nalbandian, J. (1994). Reflections of a ‘pracademic’ on the logic of politics and administration. Public Administration Review, 54, 531–536. https://doi.org/10.2307/976672
Posner, P. (2009). The pracademic: An agenda for re-engaging practitioners and academics. Public Budgeting and Finance, 29(1), 22–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5850.2009.00921.x
Simendinger, E., Puia, G., Kraft, K., & Jasperson, M. (2000). The career transition from practitioner to academic. Career Development International, 5(2), 106–111. https://doi.org/10.1108/13620430010318990