Happy In Their Work

Survey by SOE's Altbach finds the world's professoriate is largely optimistic about the profession's future

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Professors worldwide are largely happy with their choice of profession, despite widespread social upheavals that have often diminished their teaching resources, according to a recently released international survey of university faculty edited by Monan Professor of Education Philip Altbach.

"This portrait of the professoriate depicts a strong, but somewhat unsettled, profession," Altbach and Lionel S. Lewis, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, wrote in an overview to the study. "Academics around the world are inspired by the intellectual ferment of the times. The intrinsic pleasures of academic life obviously endure. Academe is facing the future with concerns, but with surprising optimism."

Released by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the 747-page report, titled "The International Academic Profession: Portraits of 14 Countries," is based on a first-of-its-kind global survey of academicians.

Nearly 20,000 faculty members from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Chile, England, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia and Sweden responded to the survey.

Monan Professor of Education Philip Altbach -"In general, the [international] professoriate is happy with the campus, if not happy with the administration." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

The most remarkable finding was professors' high level of career satisfaction, despite crises in some countries that had severe impacts on academic working conditions, said Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

Prior to the survey in England, for example, academic tenure had been abolished at the country's universities, several polytechnic universities had been amalgamated with corresponding job losses, and the government had made sharp cuts in education funding. Nevertheless, the majority of British professors surveyed expressed contentment with their career choice.

Similar job satisfaction was noted among Israeli faculty, surveyed in the midst of a nationwide strike for higher salaries. "Despite that major, wrenching thing, they were not unhappy with their career - they were unhappy with the government," Altbach said.

American professors expressed concerns about growing administrative bureaucracies and what they view as a devaluation of their profession by society. For the most part, however, US academics are relatively satisfied with their current positions and enthusiastic about their core professional activities, according to the report.

"In general, the [international] professoriate is happy with the campus, if not happy with the administration," Altbach said. Ninety percent of the respondents said they would choose the academic profession again if given the choice.

In other findings of note:

.Teaching is a higher priority among faculty in the Western Hemisphere, with both US and Latin American professors indicating a much greater interest in teaching than research-minded academics in Europe and Asia.

.The worldwide professoriate is largely male, with the largest proportions of female faculty being found in Brazil, Chile and Mexico, where about 40 percent of academics are women, and then the United States, where about a third are female. In Japan and South Korea, less than 10 percent of faculty are women.

.American faculty in general are not as internationally minded as colleagues elsewhere. In nearly all the countries, more than 90 percent of academics surveyed indicated a strong interest in research done in other countries. The exceptions were the US, where 22 percent felt it not important to read foreign academic journals, and England.

Altbach said the relative insularity of American faculty stems from the United States' preeminent status as an educational center, with an estimated 20 percent of the world's professors working in this country and English the international language. However, the US share of the world's research and development is decreasing, according to Altbach.

"We ignore what's going on in the rest of the world at our peril," he said.

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