The International Academic Profession: Portraits of Fourteen Countries

By Weidman, John C. | Academe, September/October 1998 | Go to article overview

The International Academic Profession: Portraits of Fourteen Countries


Weidman, John C., Academe


The International Academic Profession: Portraits of Fourteen Countries

Edited by Philip G. Altbach. Princeton, N.J.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1996, 762 pp., $20

THIS IMPORTANT AND HIGHLY informative book reports the results of surveys of faculty working in four-year institutions of higher education in fourteen countries: Australia, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, United States, England, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, and Israel. The surveys were conducted under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the volume reflects the foundation's continued support for research on higher education faculty that was begun in 1969 with a comprehensive survey of the American professoriate. It also represents the most comprehensive effort to date to provide international comparative data on the current circumstances of the academic profession. An introductory chapter by Philip Altbach and Lionel Lewis highlights similarities and differences in findings for the countries studied.

The chapters, which include descriptions of the higher education systems of the different nations, were written by professors with significant experience in the countries. A short chapter entitled "Methodological Notes" describes the procedures for selecting the research directors for each country, and the methods for translation (and retranslation) of the questions, sampling, and response rates. Individual research directors were encouraged to suggest revisions to the standard questionnaire to ensure accurate representation of faculty. The final questionnaire took about one hour to complete and contained more than 250 items on academic career patterns, working conditions, professional activities, attitudes toward teaching and research, university governance, international dimensions of academic life, and a range of social, educational, and demographic issues. A total of 19,472 usable responses were received from the questionnaires, which were administered in 1992 and 1993 to samples of at least a thousand faculty members drawn from each country. Response rates ranged from 14.5 percent for Russia to 97.2 percent for Brazil. While this book includes far too much information to highlight in a brief review, it is an invaluable resource for readers interested in learning about how the professoriate in the United States compares with its counterparts in other countries. For instance, in several of the countries surveyed, professors tend to have more than one job to make ends meet. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the perceived level of faculty participation in the governance of higher education institutions across the countries surveyed. In only a few countries are faculty any better off financially than in the United States, yet there seems to be considerable dissatisfaction with the conditions of academic work among American professors.

The book provides compelling evidence about the important role of American institutions in educating graduate students who will return to their home countries to assume professorial roles. The results from these surveys suggest that the influence exerted by American higher education on universities in the rest of the world through graduate training, collaborative research, and advanced professional development (for example, the Fulbright Program) is substantial. Among other nuggets sprinkled liberally throughout the book is information about the distribution of women in the professoriate, which, despite increases in the enrollment of women in undergraduate and graduate programs, remains quite low. …

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