Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Academic Profession in the Third World: A Comparative Study

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The Academic Profession in the Third World: A Comparative Study

Article excerpt


Higher education, and by implication the academic profession as a core component thereof, fulfils an important function in twenty-first century society in terms of the establishment of a knowledge society. In Third World countries, it is furthermore typically assigned the function of catapulting these societies from their present peripheral, marginalized positions in the world to becoming fully-fledged members of the twenty-first century global society (1). Academics' work and participation in this process are directed by the value- systems and value-orientations to which they subscribe both as individuals and collectively as a professional group. An individual's behavior is, to a large extent, determined by his/her value-orientation. A person acts, takes decisions, judges and exercises discipline in accordance with his/her personal hierarchy of values. (2) Without knowledge of and insight into a person's values, one can hardly claim to know that person, even after having studied his/her personality (3).

This article offers, on the one hand, a theoretical description and critical reflection on the values of academics in five "Third World countries: Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia and Mainland China. On the other, it offers and discusses the results of an empirical survey that was done for determining the extent to which academics' professional working conditions are in accordance with their collective value system. It commences with a conceptual-theoretical framework built around: a) the concept of "values;" b) the constellation of values in which Third World academics find themselves; and c) the key concept "fulfilling profession" with the values attached to it. This is followed by an outline of the empirical investigation. The article concludes with a discussion of the results, some conclusions and recommendations.


Value orientation

After an extensive literature survey, Hattingh (4) concludes that Kluckhohn's (1951) definition of values is still the most frequently used by researchers. The latter defines values as follows: "values ... mean something similar to conceptions of the desirable that influence the way people select action and evaluate events". (5) This definition is still valid today, despite the current value crisis. (6) Hattingh (7) distinguishes between external and internal determinants of values. Internal determinants of values pertain to the uniqueness of every individual and the stages of his/her moral development (cf. Kohlberg's theory of the stages in the moral development of human beings). An individual's family, cultural group, peer group, community, school attended, educational background and society are all external value determinants.

All values, including those held by academics (in the Third World), are rooted in ethical value systems. As Andrew (8) correctly avers, to inquire about a person's values is to pitch the inquiry at a more lofty level than to ask about his or her understanding of the good things in life. An inquirer might keep on questioning until s/he received some proper answers, such as for instance, the advancement of knowledge or democracy, world betterment, civic embellishment or sell-actualization. Such values are in turn rooted in deeper ethical / philosophical meaning, for instance, in one's view of the meaning of life, one's orientation towards the future or progress. As Gray (9) rather cynically remarks, nothing had value until humans came on the scene: "Value is only a shadow cast by humans deciding or choosing" on the basis of deeper ethical/moral (10) /philosophical considerations, one might add. Ethics is concerned with an approach to life and existence that goes beyond contingency. (11) Ethics are deeper than our rational thoughts: ethical inquiry reveals that there is not a single way of life for all or scheme of values for all --not even for the single individual (in this case, academic). …

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