The academic profession in the Third World: a comparative study.

Author:van der Walt, Johannes L.


Higher education, and by implication the academic profession as a core component thereof, fulfils an important function in twenty-first century society in terms of the establishment of a knowledge society. In Third World countries, it is furthermore typically assigned the function of catapulting these societies from their present peripheral, marginalized positions in the world to becoming fully-fledged members of the twenty-first century global society (1). Academics' work and participation in this process are directed by the value- systems and value-orientations to which they subscribe both as individuals and collectively as a professional group. An individual's behavior is, to a large extent, determined by his/her value-orientation. A person acts, takes decisions, judges and exercises discipline in accordance with his/her personal hierarchy of values. (2) Without knowledge of and insight into a person's values, one can hardly claim to know that person, even after having studied his/her personality (3).

This article offers, on the one hand, a theoretical description and critical reflection on the values of academics in five "Third World countries: Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia and Mainland China. On the other, it offers and discusses the results of an empirical survey that was done for determining the extent to which academics' professional working conditions are in accordance with their collective value system. It commences with a conceptual-theoretical framework built around: a) the concept of "values;" b) the constellation of values in which Third World academics find themselves; and c) the key concept "fulfilling profession" with the values attached to it. This is followed by an outline of the empirical investigation. The article concludes with a discussion of the results, some conclusions and recommendations.


Value orientation

After an extensive literature survey, Hattingh (4) concludes that Kluckhohn's (1951) definition of values is still the most frequently used by researchers. The latter defines values as follows: "values ... mean something similar to conceptions of the desirable that influence the way people select action and evaluate events". (5) This definition is still valid today, despite the current value crisis. (6) Hattingh (7) distinguishes between external and internal determinants of values. Internal determinants of values pertain to the uniqueness of every individual and the stages of his/her moral development (cf. Kohlberg's theory of the stages in the moral development of human beings). An individual's family, cultural group, peer group, community, school attended, educational background and society are all external value determinants.

All values, including those held by academics (in the Third World), are rooted in ethical value systems. As Andrew (8) correctly avers, to inquire about a person's values is to pitch the inquiry at a more lofty level than to ask about his or her understanding of the good things in life. An inquirer might keep on questioning until s/he received some proper answers, such as for instance, the advancement of knowledge or democracy, world betterment, civic embellishment or sell-actualization. Such values are in turn rooted in deeper ethical / philosophical meaning, for instance, in one's view of the meaning of life, one's orientation towards the future or progress. As Gray (9) rather cynically remarks, nothing had value until humans came on the scene: "Value is only a shadow cast by humans deciding or choosing" on the basis of deeper ethical/moral (10) /philosophical considerations, one might add. Ethics is concerned with an approach to life and existence that goes beyond contingency. (11) Ethics are deeper than our rational thoughts: ethical inquiry reveals that there is not a single way of life for all or scheme of values for all --not even for the single individual (in this case, academic). Instead it shows, as Gray (12) argues, that people (academics) have reason to live and behave in different ways, based on their respective individual and group ethics. Different ways of life embody incompatible aspects of, for instance, the human good. Zecha (13) gives an apt summary of the connection between values and ethics: "... moral values have their objective roots in nature, including human nature, but are relative or subjective insofar as each value must be created or actualized by an individual for protection, support or improvement of human life". Ethics deals with choices about the promotion of the interests of others. (14) In the context of higher education, for instance, the managing echelon should act in the best interests of inter alia the academic staff; and vice versa. (15)

Hatlingh (16) developed a typology of twenty value types, which includes categories such as religious values, moral values, aesthetical values, economical values, cultural values, political values, legal values, national values, intellectual values, bodily/physical values, recreational values, security values, values about authority and freedom, values about the self, emotional values, vocational values, environmental values, life values, and temporal- spatial values. All of these values play an indispensable role in the life and work of the academic as an individual, and also in his/her life as a member of the academic profession.

Individuals tend to order their values in a hierarchy. The cultural philosopher Eduard Spranger (1882-1963) distinguished between six value types, one of which can be seen as dominating, central, direction-giving in the life of an individual:

* theoretical or intellectual values, typical of a person interested in theory/science;

* economic values, typical of a person for whom the material values in the world of business are decisive;

* aesthetical values, typical of a person who lives for art and for whom beauty and creativity are important;

* social values, typical of a person who wishes to do community service and for whom society and interaction with others are the highest norms;

* power values, typical of a person interested in politics and who wishes to govern and see that order is maintained and commands executed, and finally,

* religious values, typical of a person for whom religion and spirituality are the most important. (17)

According to the above analysis, the academic profession seems to be composed of people whose value-orientation is mainly guided by intellectual values. However, no (Third World) academic's value system exists in isolation. Instead, it forms part of a much broader dynamic value context consisting of institutional, national as well as international norms and values. Each of these three different sub-contexts in which the Third World academic as an individual and as a group practice his or her profession, has its own value system. These contextual value systems do not only influence one another reciprocally, but they can also either reinforce, contaminate or even counter the collective value system of the academic profession in the Third World.


The institutional context

The academic as professional person finds him / herself in the context of a particular educational institution to which he/she is affiliated. Teaching, research and service are the key domains of academic work at these institutions. Empirical research that was done internationally, (18) as well as in a Third World country, such as South Africa, (19) found a positive correlation between research productivity, and the teaching competence of academics. Based on this finding, one should therefore rather talk of a teaching-research symbiosis than of a teaching-research tension. Collegial support and collaboration (or the lack thereof) will influence the academic's functioning and fulfillment of the above-mentioned three core academic activities.

Another issue that is of import to academics is their job security (tenure) and prospects of promotion. This relates to the promotion policy at their respective institutions. An increasing percentage of academic staff worldwide work on a part-time or temporary contract basis or both. In Latin America in particular, a large percentage of academic staff have always held only part-time posts. In Mexico, for example, only 93 009 of the 255 272 academic positions are full-time posts. (20)

Other important issues for academics are the space for intellectual freedom (including tolerance with respect to diversity of thinking), the organizational climate, and the presence/absence of collegiality. The way in which an academic's department/school, the particular faculty and the entire educational institution are managed is also a matter of concern. This can be explained with reference to managerialism. Higher educational institutions have since the 1960s been sucked into the vortex of the efficiency cult, the value-orientation of which resulted in the introduction of a management style known as "managerialism"--with its attendant bureaucratic culture. According to some observers, managerialism has been undermining the independence and freedom of academics at institutional level. The process of subjecting academia to the demands and values of managerialism has been playing itself out nationally and internationally, also in Third World countries. (21) In fact, managerialism in Third World higher education institutions has been aggravated because of external evaluations and rigid promotion systems. The impact of this managerialist culture on the life and work of the individual academic can be adjudged from the work of Sparkes. (22)

The national context

The international trends and forces (23) did not bypass the universities in the Third World. In Malaysia, for instance, the governance of public universities is continually being revisited in the light of the transformation of higher education and the changing role of universities vis-a-vis government. (24)...

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