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Stefan Cross Centre for Women, Equality and LawNews, Events and Seminars

SCC Seminar: Gender Equality in Academia: an interdisciplinary discussion on the REF and precarious contracts

Published: 27 February 2019

On the 27th of February 2019, Dr Emily Yarrow (Teaching Fellow and Researcher at the University of Edinburgh Business School) and Dr Ania Zbyszewska (Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick School of Law and Director of Warwick’s interdisciplinary research network, Connecting Research on Employment and Work (CREW)) gave a seminar where they discussed the impact of REF and structural changes in UK Higher Education are affecting gender equality.

Dr Emily Yarrow’s talk: “REF-A contemporary academic inequality catalyst?” focused on gender equality issues surrounding the Research Excellence Framework 2014 (REF2014), and how these may manifest themselves in the career development and career trajectories of female academics in the UK. The potentially harmful effects of research evaluation on academic careers, the way in which research evaluation and its outcomes are managed and experienced, and the extent to which this may intensify academic work were all considered as well as being integral aspects of the interview guides. However, this research also explored, through some of the emergent themes from the interviews, how research evaluation and its outcomes are used as a vehicle for success by some academics. Through exploring new managerialism, gendered academic career trajectories and research evaluation, Emily explained how her research has compared and contrasted different Schools in Humanities and Social Sciences in an anonymous UK university, in order to provide contemporary insight into the lived experiences of female academics in the context of REF2014. 

Dr Ania Zbyszewska’s talk: “Elite and Precarious? Neoliberal Reforms, Fragmented Solidarities and Resistance among Academic Workers” focused on how academics have recently experienced increasing, albeit uneven, erosion in work conditions. In the UK this can be partly attributed to the interplay between structural changes associated with the reforms of higher education and the parallel rise of academic capitalism. With their (neoliberal) emphasis on merit and equalization of opportunities these reforms promised to widen access to ‘elite’ work to a broader range of people in a sector long stratified by gender, race and class. In reality, they have contributed to the overall growth of insecurity, along with polarization of working conditions. The increasing competition within the sector together with (internalized) categorization of academics as independent ethos-driven workers have tended to feed these developments, fragmenting solidarity and undermining resistance. Recent campaigns such as the 2018 pension strike and challenges to university statutory reforms, illustrate that rebuilding a sense of collective interests is necessary to overcome the growth of insecurity and precariousness and challenge enduring inequalities within the sector. 


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