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Professional Development in Education
ISSN: 1941-5257 (Print) 1941-5265 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjie20
The academic exodus: the role of institutional
support in academics leaving universities and the
Troy A. Heffernan & Amanda Heffernan
To cite this article: Troy A. Heffernan & Amanda Heffernan (2018): The academic exodus: the
role of institutional support in academics leaving universities and the academy, Professional
Development in Education, DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2018.1474491
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2018.1474491
Published online: 29 May 2018.
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The academic exodus: the role of institutional support in
academics leaving universities and the academy
Troy A. Heﬀernan
and Amanda Heﬀernan
School of Arts and Communication, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia;
Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Recent studies argue that in the next 5 years, the higher education sector
will see half to two-thirds of its academic workforce leave the academy
due to retirement, career burnout, or job dissatisfaction. This study
surveyed over 100 working academics in Australia, North America, and
the United Kingdom to determine their aspirations for remaining within,
or leaving, the academy. The study found that the professional develop-
ment and career support available to academics played major roles in
their career satisfaction. The study’s signiﬁcance lies in highlighting the
types of support academics most value. The paper also explores what
motivates participants’intentions to remain in, or leave, their current
positions, or the academy entirely. This assessment occurs at a time
when the literature indicates that a signiﬁcant period of staﬀturnover
Received 11 December 2017
Accepted 2 May 2018
academic support; career
intention; higher education
Recent literature regarding academic employment has resulted in the prediction of a signiﬁcant
workforce turnover. Exact ﬁgures are diﬃcult to determine; however, Crimmins et al.(2017)suggest
that 67% of current academics will have left the profession by 2021. Another prediction, indicative of a
similar trend, is that 25% of the current academic workforce intends to retire by 2023, and that another
25% have expressed their intention to leave the profession (Bexley et al.2013). The exact ﬁgures may
diﬀer, but nonetheless suggest that a turnover is imminent and will leave a signiﬁcant gap of
experienced academics needing to be replaced and trained which will impact on institutions in
terms of loss of institutional knowledge, recruitment expenses, and lost productivity. It also cannot
be ignored that academics changing institutions or leaving the academy due to work satisfaction is
likely to also occur with some cost to the academic in personal, professional, and ﬁnancial respects.
The literature has identiﬁed multiple reasons why academics are leaving the profession.
Shifting expectations have seen the focus of academic work move to emphasise metricised
research outputs and an increasing pressure to secure research funding (Kenway et al.2005).
The changing nature of academic work has also combined with increasingly precarious employ-
ment conditions in many universities as sessional or casualised employment is a growing
proportion of their academic workforce (Rothengatter and Hil 2013, Ryan et al.2013). This has
evolved at the same time as changing student demographics (Fraser et al.2017) sees students
viewing themselves as consumers who expect a more personalised learning experience which in
turn places increased demands on teaching development, knowledge, and skill (Knott et al.2015).
CONTACT Troy A. Heﬀernan troy.heﬀernan@usq.edu.au, West Street Toowoomba, Queensland 4350,
AustraliaUniversity of Southern Queensland
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION
© 2018 International Professional Development Association (IPDA)
These changes are occurring at a time when numerous other elements are inﬂuencing the changing
political realities of employment and higher education operations. This paper focuses on academics
who have responded to survey questions exploring what would make academics stay in the profession,
which in this case provided parameters for the analysis and presentation of these data. However, the
many elements that shaped participants’responses must be acknowledged. For example, rates of
casualisation are increasing at a rapid pace and have been estimated at being between 16% (Byers and
Tani 2014) and 70% (Crimmins 2017) of teaching workforces. Rates vary between countries, uni-
versities, and departments, but researchers have suggested that in modern times, many universities
could not operate without their ‘army’of casual staﬀmembers (Ryan et al.2013, p. 163). Nonetheless,
casual staﬀare not only subjected to insecure and precarious employment when seeking permanent/
tenured employment, the work they are employed to do is most often in teaching positions (with no
research component) at a time when research output and quality is the surest way to gain permanent
employment (Heﬀernan in press,ByersandTani2014, Crimmins 2017).
The challenges of the evolving nature of academic work and the increasingly precarious nature
of employment in the academy can combine to make a diﬃcult environment for academics to
navigate, regardless of their career stage. Beginning and early-career academics identiﬁed these
challenges as a source of confusion and stress (Sutherland and Taylor 2011, Kensington-Miller
2017), but more established academics have also described diﬃculties in meeting the demands of
the current academic working climate (Kinman 2014). Subsequently, this study’sﬁndings further
investigate how and why a perceived lack of career support featured as a prominent reason for
academics to leave the academy, but also intention to leave their current universities.
Given the negative consequences of losing experienced academic staﬀ,itisimportantforinstitu-
tions to be seeking ways to improve their academics’career development and support to increase the
numbers of those who intend to stay in their positions long-term. This study thus focuses on
identifying how career development and support could inﬂuence academics’intentions of staying
at an institution, or within the profession. It outlines the approaches that inﬂuenced participants’
intention to remain at a university, or in the wider profession. This paper subsequently draws upon
data exploring academics’perspectives on the way their institution hassupported and developed their
career, with an emphasis on their resulting job satisfaction and intention to stay at (or leave) their
current institution, or the profession itself. The paper holds implications for academics in its
exploration of the variety of forms of career support and development that were identiﬁed by
participants. For university administrators and department leaders, the paper highlights possible
methods of fostering and supporting academics’careers by showing what participants felt would
increase the likelihood of remaining in their current faculties, or the academy at all, at a time when
researchers are predicting an oncoming academic exodus.
Asigniﬁcant body of scholarship exists in relation to academic development and careers. For the
purposes of informing this study, the researchers reviewed the literature with a view towards themes
of institutional support and development of academics, and towards an understanding of academics’
perceptions and experiences in this area. This literature informed the study and highlighted the gaps
in scholarship that exist surrounding academic views on career development, and the repercussions
of receiving diﬀerently valued development and support for academics at diﬀerent institutions.
Academic development for diﬀerent career stages and diﬀerent needs
A key theme that occurred within the literature included the importance of contextualising the
development academics need to carry out their duties. These needs can be diﬀerent according to
career stages, disciplines, or self-identiﬁed areas requiring further development (Harland and
2T. A. HEFFERNAN AND A. HEFFERNAN
The literature suggests that tailoring development and support for academics at diﬀerent career
stages is a key consideration for eﬀective practice (Buyl 2017). For example, research indicates that
academics at the beginning of their careers might require more ‘breaking in’development (Poole
and Bornholt 1998, p.104) that may focus on developing understandings of the expectations on
academics (Fowler 2017), as well as the basic skills required to teach and supervise eﬀectively.
Academics who are later in their careers, however, might require skills such as leadership
development as career progression requires them to take on more leadership duties, which
Thomson (2015) highlights as one of the few targeted eﬀorts for mid-career researchers. The
importance of tailoring support and development towards career phases and contexts is empha-
sised by Gale (2011) in an exploration of early-career academic identities. Similarly, Simmons
(2011) notes the deeply complex nature of academic roles and the subsequent importance of
contextualised development and support.
The type of support or development oﬀered to academics is also evident in the literature. There
is potential for a disconnect between what can be seen as an emphasis on requirements for an
academic to conduct research –which is considered a higher-status activity than teaching
(Åkerlind 2011, Smith and Smith 2012)–with much of the literature devoted to development
and support in developing teaching skills. Themes emerged from the literature with Åkerlind
(2005) suggesting that much of the emphasis on development and institutional support comes in
the area of teaching and learning, with expectations implicit that an academic will bring already-
developed research skills with them. However, McKay and Monk (2017) refute this suggestion and
declare that a PhD does not eﬀectively prepare an academic for the full range of research-related
expectations they will have to meet; a ﬁnding shared by Pedrosa-de-Jesus et al.(2017) interviews
with beginning academics. These issues all present challenges for academics keen to see their skills
in research and teaching increase (Crimmins et al.2017). The literature thus suggests that
contextualised and responsive development and support for academics is likely to be most
eﬀective in meeting their needs (Gale 2011, Simmons 2011).
Another key theme of the literature regarding academic development is in being responsive not
only to the needs of academics, but to the changing nature of academic work and expectations.
There is consensus within the literature that the nature of academia has changed signiﬁcantly in
recent years (Gibbs 2016). Increasing expectations for research productivity and outputs has
resulted in an increased sense of pressure to produce research to be placed in increasingly
higher-prestige publications due to the culture of measurement that is rife in academia (Ball
2012). This requires development and support for academics not only in relation to undertaking
the research itself, but also in relation to research strategy (Gibbs 2016).
At the same time, changing student demographics (Fraser et al.2017) and changing expecta-
tions of teaching, uptake of teaching technology (Rienties et al.2013), and the emphasis placed on
student evaluations (Stewart 2015) mean that teaching also requires a signiﬁcant amount of
attention for academic developers. Nonetheless, while research has suggested that teaching
remains a lower-status activity for academics than research (Åkerlind 2011, Smith and Smith
2012), there is a large amount of focus in the literature on successful or eﬀective approaches to
developing academics’teaching skills.
Practices in development and support for academics
A subset of the development literature focuses on explorations of current practices in developing or
supporting academics, through formal and informal programmes or approaches. This section of the
literature provides a brief overview to position participants’responses among the common approaches
being implemented by universities. In framing participants’responses, it is important toalso consider
the eﬀect of casualisation and the often precarious nature of the university workforce on systemic
investment in the developmentof academics. There are clear trends that the number of academics who
are employed on a sessional (casual) or contract basis is increasing (Heﬀernan,inpress;Rothengatter
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION 3
and Hil. 2013,Ryanet al.2013). When this is coupled with the growing trend of funding cuts to higher
education in many regions (Wilson and Holligan 2013, Beattie and Thiele 2016), it is possible to
deduce that the most common approach to supporting and investing in academics’career selected to
as being indicative development would be low-cost methods. This subset of the literature explored the
speciﬁcinitiatives–some of which could be categorised as low-cost methods –undertaken by
universities in both formal and informal approaches to academic development and support. The
signiﬁcant size of this body of literature and the diverse approaches taken by universities in supporting
and developing their academics make it diﬃcult to capture in the conﬁnes of this literature review.
However, key themes emerge on the types of support that are being researched and reported upon.
Some studies in this set of literature shared more informal or organically developed partnerships and
strategies such as mentoring relationships or conversations (Donnelly and McSweeney 2011,Thomson
2015) that were not part of an institutionally directed approach. These opportunities have included
engagement via twitter chats, online networking, and online resources (Ferguson and Wheat 2015,
McPherson et al.2015). Nonetheless, a majority of studies in this area tended to critically analyse or
promote the eﬀectiveness of programmes the researchers had either developed and led, or had partici-
pated in at an institutional or broader level. These studies explored a multitude of diﬀerent ways of
supporting academics, including formal and informal mentoring programmes (Fowler 2017), the
development of communities of practice (Jawitz 2007), institutionally driven collaborations (Weaver
et al.2013), or formal learning opportunities and programmes that sometimes resulted in qualiﬁcations.
Many of these initiatives are reﬂective of what participants have experienced regarding the
types of development or support being made available to them by their institutions. What is
nonetheless telling about participants’views regarding these initiatives or lack thereof, is that over
40% of respondents suggested they feel unsupported in their work. This forms part of the basis of
the ﬁndings for this paper and, subsequently, the exploration of these responses can inform
academic developers and higher education policymakers hoping to provide support that will lower
the growing rate of staﬀattrition.
This paper is drawn from data collected from a study regarding the factors that shape academics’
career motivations. The study was undertaken through an online survey which was ﬁrst promoted
through the researchers’personal and professional networks before snowball sampling via social
media resulted in 109 suitable participants (working academics) from Australia, North America, and
the United Kingdom completing the survey. These locations were selected for analysis as they
represent areas often used for comparative and complimentary analyses for education policy and
practice, and due to the existing studies that have identiﬁed similar working experiences for academics
who have partaken in academic migration (Potts 2004,Tremblayet al.2014, Teichler 2015). The
survey consisted of 20 questions with the ﬁrst 7 being short answer questions to establish the
participants’demographics. The ﬁnal 13 questions were mid-length answer questions (participants
had up to 300 words per question toprovide their answers) and it was these questions that investigated
participants’experiences with career support, development, and intention to stay at, or leave, their
institution or the profession entirely.
The researchers acknowledge the issues by using data gained from online means such as potential low
response rates and demographic breadth of participants, but used this method due to the beneﬁts
outlined by Kosinski (2015) and Kosinski et al.(2015). These researchers determined that social media
recruiting combined with snowball sampling can achieve a cohort and diversity of participants who
would otherwise be diﬃcult to recruit without signiﬁcanttimeandfundsavailabletoconductthestudy.
In the case of this study, the researchers believe they recruited a breadth of participants from locations
and disciplinary areas that they would not have achieved using only professional contacts, and the use of
online surveys resulted in more than 82,000 words of raw data.
4T. A. HEFFERNAN AND A. HEFFERNAN
These data were then analysed through Braun and Clarke’s(2006) method of thematic analysis. The
key themes within the literature provided a point of comparison with the study’s empirical material with
an emphasis on academics’career development and perceptions of institutional support. The data
analysis process saw the researchers scan the responses for phrases that related to career development
and support, and then they reﬁned these themes through subsequent rounds of analysis and coding. The
key themes that emerged from the data form the basis for the following analysis, while the quotations
used within the ﬁndings have been selected as being indicative of an average response to survey questions
unless otherwise stated.
Survey wide statistics
Participants were ﬁrst asked to demonstrate either positive or negative perspectives on how their
institution supports and develops their career, see Table 1.
Participants were also asked to identify whether they intended to change universities, and if
they hoped to leave academia, or had considered doing so. These responses were categorised into
those who did and did not feel supported by their institution, see Tables 2 and 3.
Tables 2 and 3show that across the wider survey diﬀerences exist between those satisﬁed, and
otherwise, with the support supplied by their institutions. However, as the coming analysis shows,
the reasons behind participants’intent to change institutions or leave academia varies depending
on their view of the amount and quality of development and support their institution provided.
Findings below are presented in key themes as identiﬁed through the coding and analysis process.
They just provide support
Over 9% of participants indicated that their institution supported their development but gave
basic ‘yes’or ‘no’answers, see Table 4. In an open-ended survey, short answers are sometimes to
be expected. However, context around the short answers could still be gauged by the participants’
answers to other survey questions.
Of the participants who were satisﬁed with their institution’s support, participant #45’sresponse
represents an average view of the cohort as they declared that the development they received was of a high
quality, but was only available ‘in a limited capacity at the moment’. Participant #112 declared that they
received good support and that ‘itisthebestplaceIhaveworkedsofar’. Participant #112’sresponse
Table 1. Results regarding institutional support question.
Does your institution support your career? Participants (%)
Table 2. Do you intend to change universities?
Scenario Yes (%) No (%)
Satisﬁed with support 48 52
Unsatisﬁed with support 66 34
Table 3. Do you intend to leave academia?
Scenario Yes (%) No (%)
Satisﬁed with support 52 48
Unsatisﬁed with support 78 22
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION 5
nonetheless raises a crucial point, in that their measure of support was partly based on their work history
and experiences. This scenario highlights the issue that much like participants deﬁning ‘support’
diﬀerently (as seen in Table 4 and later sections), their assessment of what constitutes good support is
also subjective. For example, participant #183 said they received little support to develop their career, but
this did not matter to them as their focus was on the fact that their institution ‘facilitates access to
resources, especially libraries and online research’. These services mattered most to participant #183
because without it, ‘itwouldbenearlyimpossibletodomywork’. This demonstrates the diversity in what
participants valued as important.
Professional Development/mentoring/career support
Over 10% of survey respondents identiﬁed general professional development [PD], mentoring
programmes, or career advice as being the attributes they valued most, but these areas were valued
for diﬀerent reasons. Participant #87 was satisﬁed with their university’s‘Paid professional
development, workshops each study period and paid online learning course for teaching with
technology’. However, participant #99 had a diﬀerent approach and stated that
My university requires a set number of hours spent in training programs, which can include modules on
aspects of teaching and research. The training program is still new, though, and has a lot of kinks that still
need ironing out.
Participant #99 was thus not completely satisﬁed with their institution’s PD, but they acknowl-
edged the eﬀort and improvement of the support the university was trying to supply.
Mentoring by more senior staﬀwas also valued with the responses focusing on reaching the next
step on the academic ladder, a trait best demonstrated by participant #77 who said that they had been
allocated ‘mentors to support progression from Lecturer to SL [senior lecturer]’. The most enthusiastic
comments nonetheless came from participants who believed their universities provided clear require-
ments to achieve promotion. Participant #50 subsequently stated that their institution provided a
‘transparent promotion procedure which makes it clear what needs to be achieved in order to go to the
next level’, while participant #184 wrote that their university ‘monitor[s] your career very well. Every
year I have a meeting with the director to evaluate how my career is developing and which next steps
to undertake [to gain promotion]’. The supported participants subsequently clearly appreciated the
career assistance and clear requirements that must be met to gain promotion. For university admin-
istrators, one could subsequently suggest that emphasising the transparency of their promotion
requirements could be interpreted by many of their academics as providing valued support via
Funding and time
Over 38% of participants who felt supported by their universities believed their institution was
helping develop their careers by providing them with research time or funding that they could use
to assist in attending conferences or travelling for data collection. The provision of funding was
Table 4. Perspectives on career development and support.
Participant response %
Does support (little elaboration) 9.2
Oﬀers PD and mentoring 10.5
They provide funding 22.4
They provide research time 15.8
Does not support (little elaboration) 14.5
You’re on your own 6.6
Just teach and publish 11.8
They pretend to support you 9.2
6T. A. HEFFERNAN AND A. HEFFERNAN
routinely seen as something that enabled participants’careers to develop such as by participant #4
who stated that their university ‘has been very supportive of me as I prepared for my next
fellowship application, providing travel and training funding as well as PhD scholarships to allow
me to build a team’. Participant #171 similarly declared that
I have received internal funding to build my own lab. I will apply for a reduced teaching load (and probably
get it). They [the faculty] have many opportunities to connect with people and generally are happy to take
on my ideas.
Participants #4 and #171 demonstrate the extreme cases of academics feeling supported by
funding opportunities. On a smaller scale, participant #98 noted that ‘grant opportunities for
seed funding’were available and that they received ‘ﬁnancial reward for publication, really
positive collegial environment in my particular department and programme’, while numerous
other participants indicated receiving ﬁnancial support for conference travel and reduced teaching
The notion that academics felt supported by their universities due to the provision of time to
research was based strongly around the recurring phrase in the data of ‘publish or perish’, but the
amount of time and freedom academics possessed varied widely. At the pinnacle of research
freedom was participants like #121 who had a full-time research position and support ‘for writing
grants, ﬁnding research partners, writing, funds for conference attendance and teaching support
through training and other programmes’. Midway through the scale of research time were those
such as participant #1 who stated that their institution provided ‘a sound workload approach
(currently anyway) with a secure 40% for research’, while participant #43 described themselves as
having ‘a heavy teaching load’, but research freedom rather than other administrative duties
outside of the lecture hall.
Much like those who valued funding, however, some participants saw research time as being an
appreciated service, but not active support of their career. For example, participant #132 noted
that they received ‘Very little [support] in material terms, but I do have a lot of time to write’.
Furthermore, participant #24 had worked at three universities in their career that included what
they referred to as smaller regional and major research-based institutions. However, #24 stated
that ‘despite the rhetoric’, promoting research that each institution espoused, it was only the
research-intensive universities that ‘are very encouraging of research’, in practice rather than
There’sjust no support
Nearly 60% of participants believed their institution supported and developed their careers, yet
over 40% of academics felt they were not supported, see Table 1. Some dissatisﬁed academics
simply stated that they were not supported (as was discussed earlier), though others went into
more detail. Participant #66 stated that their institution ‘Originally was quite good –funded PhD;
money for conferences. All recently cut’, which demonstrates how funding cuts can diminish
available resources, but also reduce academic morale . Others were more accepting that their
institution was an unlikely place to oﬀer quality support and development, such as participant
#101 who wrote that ‘My institution is mediocre. Always has been’. This could be seen as a sign
that their university provided the support-level they expected, and #101 also did not expect the
situation to improve.
You’re on your own
A common notion was also that academics felt abandoned and as if the only career development they
received was their own responsibility. On the surface, this reason closely mimics that of the earlier
discussed issue of academics believing their institution does not support them, but participants’reasoning
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION 7
shows slightly augmented thinking. Participant #41 wrote frankly of the support their institution
provided ‘Ha! It doesn’t! You work it out yourself’, which demonstrates the lack of support they feel
they are oﬀered. The comment was also in line with participant #84’sconclusionthat‘It doesn’t. I need to
seek out learning opportunities and do any research, writing and scholarship activities on my own time’.
Some responses indicated that their institutions were making some eﬀort, such as participant #124’s
statement that ‘my university does have some good wider programs for ECRs [early career researchers]’,
but they nonetheless ‘generally feel pretty unsupported and like I will have to do all of my career
progression myself’.Aﬁnal suggestion that arose came from participants such as #174 who ﬁrst noted
that ‘I support and develop myself’, before going on to conclude that ‘I think the universities are happy to
capitalise on that’. Participant #174’s analysis indicates that they believe their university is satisﬁed to
spare the time and expense of providing career development and support as most academics ﬁnd
methods with which to support themselves.
Just teach and publish
Nearly 12% of participants who said that their institution did not support their careers did so as
they believed their universities were focused on high teaching loads and publishing pressure
rather than concentrating on career development. Many comments echo participant #116 who
wrote that their university support was ‘subjecting me to an unmanageable workload and the stick
of managerialism with very little carrot. I am a resource to be used more than a colleague to be
valued’. Participant #126 similarly saw themselves as a tool of the university and regarding career
support they declared that they received ‘none, they crack the whip hard to make you produce
Many participants also acknowledged that their institution encouraged research and publications, but
believed the resources required to enable this simply did not exist. For example, participant #178 stated
that their university ‘is heavily teaching focused and we are encouraged to publish but culturally we are
realistically nearly unable to do this eﬀectively with our workload models and teaching requirements’.
Several other participants also identiﬁedthefactthattheywereemployedbysmallerorteaching-based
universities as being the reason why research support did not exist. Participant #100 wrote that they are at
‘a small university, so formal training and career development are very limited’, while participant #167
wrote ‘really the regional university I am at is under signiﬁcant pressure from competitors so they struggle
to provide much more than more teaching loads’. These comments highlight that though some
participants were not supported and were challenged with unrealistic publishing expectations due to
their teaching workloads, they nonetheless accepted this to be the case as they were not at what they
considered to be research-intensive universities.
They just pretend
Aﬁnal group that emerged from the thematic analysis was those academics who felt like their universities
‘pretend’to provide support. This group accounts for over 9% of the survey’s total responses. Participant
#180’s declaration was typical of the cohort as they suggested that their institution oﬀered ‘Supportive
statements but many processes which impede time for development’. Participant #192 took a more
negative approach and declared,
Their [institution’s] version of support is to keep increasing expectations; continuously setting the bar
higher. Supposedly, this is motivating. I ﬁnd it disrespectful and akin to passive-aggressive behaviours. I
don’t think the institution cares about the wellbeing of its academics, and is only interested in our careers in
so far as it beneﬁts their bottom-line.
Participant #192’s approach demonstrates how an institution’seﬀorts for research excellence can
have results that closely mirror the academics’beliefs from those universities that push research
but do not have the resources to support the practice and are heavily teaching focused. The notion
8T. A. HEFFERNAN AND A. HEFFERNAN
of institutions pretending to support their academics nonetheless continued as participant #157
stated that their university ‘talks the talk but [with] little practical assistance’. While #142 declared
of their institution’s support ‘it doesn’t do so in any way that is useful to me’, which is a clear
indicator that institutional intention and results do not always meet.
Discussion and consequence of support to career intention
The statements and statistics that stem from participants discussing their career support is put
into a new context when compared with the academics’views on how institutional support and
career development has impacted on their intention to leave their current institution, or the
academy all together.
When the literature points to a signiﬁcant number of academic departures in the next 5 years due to
retirement, career burnout, or job dissatisfaction (Bexleyet al.2013, Crimmins et al.2017), it is crucial
to note that even academics who felt supported by their institutions still felt let down by the current
state of the academy. This feeling of disappointment meant that many supported academics still
sought out better opportunities at diﬀerent universities, or diﬀerent career paths.
The career impact for the 9.2% of participants who generally believed their institution
supported their academic development was that they were 14% less likely to want to change
universities than those who felt unsupported. However, 50% of supported academics still intended
to change universities even if they intended to do so for diﬀerent reasons compared to their
unsupported colleagues. Those who believed they were being supported hoped to change uni-
versities in 100% of cases for personal reasons. For example, a number of participants (approxi-
mately 40%) hoped to move as part of career progression either as part of promotion or to a more
prestigious university. However, many participants followed the trend of #62 who ‘would like to
change location for family reasons’, or participants #111 and #112 who stated that they wanted to
move to more desirable lifestyle locations rather than moving for reasons connected to their
development oﬀered. This notion was broadly identiﬁed in the literature regarding funding (Wilson
and Holligan 2013, Beattie and Thiele 2016), but this paper identiﬁed speciﬁcreasonsfromalargedataset
which included those such as participant #2 who stated that their current university’slackoffundswas
impacting on their ability to work. They believed this was because their university ‘is dominated by
manager-fascists who wouldn’t understand research if it punched them in the face’, and subsequently #2
felt the lack of funds and support was impacting on their ability to stay competitive in the need to conduct
quality research and publish in high ranking journals. Participant #54 also reﬂected the literature’s
suggestions (Crimmins et al.2017) with their comment that was typical of those displeased with their
institutions as they stated that ‘My current university is a terrible place to work’, and thus they wanted to
move in the hope of being at an institution that would encourage them in building their academic career.
The literature also suggested that academics valued access to mentoring and PD (Donnelly and
McSweeney 2011, Ferguson and Wheat 2015, McPherson et al.2015, Thomson 2015) which this
study’sﬁndings supported. However, the data also found that despite 52% of academics who felt
supported still intending to leave academia across the survey, those with PD and mentoring were
28% less likely to consider leaving their academic career. That the aspiration of participants to
leave the academy could be more than halved by providing PD and mentoring must be considered
by university administrators as investments that could decrease the cost, time, and lost produc-
tivity involved in recruiting new academics.
Financial support resulted in widespread appreciation from the participants as the literature
indicated (Crimmins et al.2017), but this study found that some participants were aware that
funding provisions came at the cost of other support with comments echoing participant #74’s
statement that they were supported ‘through funding. Not so much through intellectual engage-
ment and support’. To build on the literature’s suggestions (Crimmins et al.2017), this study
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION 9
found that regarding ﬁnancial opportunities, those who felt supported were 14% more likely to
remain at their current institution than the survey average of academics who felt supported.
Concerning those who felt supported via research time, they were equally as likely as other
supported participants to hope to change institutions, but were 17% more likely to remain in
academia rather than seeking outside employment.
The consequence for the 14.5% of academics who generally felt unsupported by their university was
that they hoped to change universities or move away from academia in very high numbers (78%).
Those who did not feel supported routinely cited poor employment circumstances, a notion common
in the literature for two decades (Poole and Bornholt 1998,Thomson2015). However, this paper
sourced further reasons for their beliefs and identiﬁed the consequences to career intention.
Participant #12 wrote a comment typical of those who questioned their university’s development
system when they stated that, ‘They don’t [support academics] that’s why I would like to change
[universities]’. Regarding leaving academia due to job satisfaction, participant #121 declared ‘Iam
applying for a government position this week’. That academics who do not feel supported in their
careers are signiﬁcantly more likely to want to change universities is an issue that department leaders
must consider if they hope to curb the exodus of academic employees.
From an administrative perspective, the academics who believed they must support themselves
were more likely to aspire to change universities or leave academia than the survey average. This
group of academics in 80% of cases intended to change universities, but in 100% of cases intended
to leave academia as soon as the opportunity presented itself –ﬁndings that demonstrate the
urgency of providing academic development to minimise staﬀturnover.
When the literature suggests that a signiﬁcant loss of academics with institutional knowledge will
occur in the coming years, it is important for institutions to be seeking ways to improve support
for academics to increase numbers of their workforce who intend to stay in their positions (or at
least faculties) long-term. This study subsequently examined what aspects of career development
academics value most, and what the repercussions of having or not having this support has on
staﬀ’s intentions to stay at their current university or within the academy at all.
The paper took a broad view of academics’perspectives on the career support they receive
and found that they have varying ideas about what deﬁnes ‘development’and ‘support’,and
subsequently they attribute diﬀerent levels of worth and personal gain from diﬀerent types of
career development and support. Despite diﬀerences in views occurring, what cannot be
ignored is that across the survey those who felt their career was supported by their institution
were signiﬁcantly less likely to want to change universities or careers than those who did not
feel supported. The paper thus highlights the varying types of support and career development
that may be available to academics at diﬀerent institutions. Academics identiﬁed research
support (both in terms of ﬁnancial support and supported time to conduct research-related
activities) and access to PD and mentoring as key issues that inﬂuenced their career planning
decisions. For university administrators, the paper illuminates these approaches as possible
starting points to developing better methods to foster and support academics’careers. Taking
these approaches may considerably stem the ﬂow of academic turnover in the coming years at
a time when the literature is predicting signiﬁcant academic change via institutional migration,
retirement, and career changes.
The authors wish to disclose no ﬁnancial beneﬁt or interest from this work.
10 T. A. HEFFERNAN AND A. HEFFERNAN
No funding is connected to this paper.
Troy A. Heﬀernan http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8156-622X
Amanda Heﬀernan http://orcid.org/0000-0001-8306-5202
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