Normative Isomorphism: Is Irish Academic Work-Life the Same in Different Institutional Types in the Universal Phase of Higher Education?

Amanda Moynihan, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Theses, Ph.D

Dublin Institute of Technology, 2015.


Academic work-life in the universal phase of higher education has reportedly involved an extreme intensification and diversification of academic roles. International empirical research supports the hypothesis that academic staff are spending more time at work, are reporting diminishing morale, and are experiencing erosion of their values of academic freedom, autonomy and collegiality. What has not yet been adequately investigated is the extent to which this experience of academic work-life is the same or different depending on institutional type, thus identifying the research problem addressed in this thesis. This study takes a historical investigative approach to the initial literature review, illustrating the fluid creation and re-creation of different institutional types, internationally and in Ireland, and describing the academic work-lives they define. The research employs social institutional theory to hypothesise that normative isomorphism is occurring at the academic staff level in different institutional types in Ireland, making them more homogenous. The study uses a comparative cross sectional research design to test a range of hypotheses through an extensive survey instrument. It employs a quantitative data analysis plan that facilitates controlling for other possible factors aside from institutional type that may influence academic work-lives, thereby isolating the particular influence of institutional type.

The findings show that academic staff, in the current universal phase of higher education in Ireland, are under considerable strain. However, the majority of the demands on academic staff are being experienced in different ways and at differing levels in different institutional types. The findings also show that the homogenous set of national objectives and strategies for higher education have not resulted in homogenous work-lives for academic staff overall. This PhD study develops on the existing literature and the recent research in four key ways. Firstly, by providing data about Irish academic staff‟s characteristics, activities, outputs and perceptions about their work-lives. Secondly, by employing an analysis design that facilitates the particular isolation of the influence of institutional type on academic work-life. Thirdly, by re-instating institutional type, which had become increasingly overlooked in the recent literature about academic identity, as a primary shaping factor of academic work-life. And fourthly, by creating re-usable constructs to measure features of academic work-life in the universal phase which can be compared effectively between sectors.