Administration – are we academics doing more than we should?

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It’s been quiet at university this week as it was half-term and exams. It should have been a time to catch up with research but instead became a time of doing administration. I’m interested in this concept of higher education administration that lecturers do because it occupies a large amount of time yet we always think about how teaching or research is competing with our time; when in fact it is the associated administration of research and teaching that are competing with time. For example, Geschwind & Broström (2015) noted in their Swedish study that 36% of academics time was occupied by the administration not related to research or teaching. I think, unfairly, in most cases, the administration is lumped into teaching and when we say that teaching is competing with our research time, we probably actually mean non-research administration.

When I used to teach at the University of Guyana, I can’t remember having a lot of administration. I remember my time being spent on teaching, teaching preparation and marking. I didn’t have any research in my contract but I spent the remainder of my time doing scholarly activities like reading research etc. I did not feel any pressure on my time as I do here in the UK.

My administrative tasks

The issue that I’m trying to determine for myself is what is exactly administration? I know it occupies my time and my brain space, but what exactly is it? For example, here are some of the administration that occupies my brain space:

  • Emails (from student, colleagues, random people etc) – that requires a reply even if it is just to say thank you
  • Arranging and attending meetings (research, teaching, university boards, external meetings)
  • Timetabling/ Managing calendar – checking calendar to see when we’re free for all for these meetings and then finding meeting rooms for these meetings
  • Peer reviewing work and writing meaningful feedback (journal articles, conference papers etc)
  • Reading committee papers
  • Reading grant calls/ finding grant calls
  • Reading policy documents that can affect grant calls
  • Thinking about impact/ finding people who you can impact
  • Keeping on top of staff training you need to attend/ know about
  • Knowing about facilities etc to direct your students/ staff to
  • Keeping on top of social media presence (webpages, researchgate, twitter)
  • Submitting travel expenses
  • Managing VLE – and updating skills on VLE and associated technology

I’m sure the list can go on.

Motivations for administrative tasks

My administrative tasks appear to have some tangential association with my teaching and research activities but not directly; other administrative tasks are part of my professional development. Cynically, I can say these non-related teaching and research administrative activities are about raising my profile and making myself known in the higher education community both within and outside my institution – i.e. I’m extrinsically motivated to do these because there is an institutional and external expectation (i.e. an external regulation) that I should (and in the case of expenses – a financial motive).

I know also for some of these administrative tasks, I do them because I semi-enjoy them (such as reading policy documents, reviewing papers etc). But would I do these if I didn’t think it was important for my standing as an academic and the ever-changing expectations of an academic? I have to say probably not, which suggests in these cases I’m using identification motivation (Ryan and Deci, 2000) to make them pleasant tasks for myself even though they may not be necessary for me in getting the core activities of my job done; but rather they are tasks that aid me in keeping up with the higher education community’s perceptions of what we, the academics, should be doing.


Geschwind, L., & Broström, A. (2015). Managing the teaching–research nexus: Ideals and practice in research-oriented universities. Higher education research & development34(1), 60-73.

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.

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