Navigating a career in tertiary education management

Dr Heather Davis | LH Martin Institute, University of Melbourne

Dr Carroll Graham and I had an opportunity to reflect upon professional and career development as guest editors for a practice led research issue of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management1.

We argue that, as knowledge workers in a period of unceasing transformation, HE managers and administrators are well advised to take responsibility for the development of their own professional practice and career. We need to be actively managing our careers in changed and changing times, where opportunities for fulfilment and growth are likely to present horizontally as well as vertically.

The main points of our article are:

1. If enough of the many thousands of people across the globe who do HE administration and management think of this as a profession, then it is about time we had a dialogue about signifiers that the profession is maturing;

2. We can encourage conversations about our work, careers and how to map, reflect and evaluate HE management practice by applying the adage that ‘there is nothing so practical than a good theory’. We suggest that Self Determination Theory (a theory of motivation that considers competency, relatedness and autonomy)2 fits well for the profession’s current conditions and needs;

3. Professional development agendas need to include not only the work we do (competencies) but also consider the person doing this work (relationships and autonomy), fitting within the
idea of the T shaped professional; and

4. We need to take personal responsibility for our careers and we discuss this in terms of a protean career. Careers in HE management have moved beyond traditional approaches that assumed a series of stable, predictable appointments moving up a hierarchical ladder. We encourage you to read the full article and hope you find it useful for your own career development in HE.

1Davis, H. and Graham, C. (2018) ‘Navigating a career in tertiary education management in an era of unceasing transformation’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 40(2): 97-106. Available at: [accessed 5 June 2018].
2See, for example:
Fein, E.C., Ganguly, R., Banhazi, T. and Danaher, P.A. (2017) ‘Self Determination Theory and Academic Life: Strategies for Reclaiming Pleasure and Professionalism Distilled from Universities in Australia and Europe’. In Riddle, S., Harmes, M. and Danaher, P.A. (eds) Producing Pleasure in the ContemporaryUniversity. Rotterdam: Springer. pp. 171-184.
Gagné, M. and Deci, E.L. (2005) ‘Self Determination theory and work motivation’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4): 331–362.
Gagné, M. and Deci, E.L. (2014) ‘The history of self-determination theory in psychology and management’. In Gagné, M. (ed) The Oxford handbook of work engagement, motivation, and self-determination theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 1-9.

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