The purpose of this research was to develop an improved understanding of the work of professional staff in Australian universities. Over the last two decades, external pressures on universities have increased significantly, such that there is even greater need to understand the work of all staff in our universities, and to make the most of their talents. Professional staff comprise more than 50% of staff in Australian universities. Yet little research has been undertaken into the work of professional staff, particularly in relation to teaching and learning. This doctoral research project was undertaken at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), in 2009–2012, with the aim of investigating how professional staff contribute to student outcomes, from the perspectives of the staff themselves.
Three key conceptualisations emerged from this research project:
1. the Professional Staff–Student Outcomes (PSSO) Framework, which defines a new method and framework for the study of the work of professional staff in relation to student outcomes;
2. pedagogical partnerships, providing a novel conceptualisation of the ways in which professional staff contribute to student outcomes; and
3. professionalisation, with a key theme of changing professional identities, conceptualising the growing professionalisation of professional staff.
Professional Staff–Student Outcomes (PSSO) Framework
Using as a basis 13 propositions for student support that had been derived in an earlier meta-study, the Schmidt Delphi method was modified to test the validity of these propositions in relation to the contributions of professional staff to student outcomes. Moderate agreement resulted, and further verification was achieved through member checking of results. Replication of my methodology is currently underway in the United Kingdom, where preliminary results confirm my results.
It was found that professional staff form relationships – for the achievement of positive student outcomes – with a range of different individuals and groups including other professional staff, academic staff, students and, at times, external stakeholders. In these pedagogical partnerships, learning and teaching occur through activities, undertaken by professional staff in co-operation with these partners, which contribute to student retention, persistence and achievement. These activities primarily occur when professional staff are providing behaviours, environments and processes that are welcoming and efficient, as well as when providing a comprehensive range of services and facilities.
The phenomenon of changing identities, which is set in the context of growing professionalisation of professional staff, emerged as both an enabler and a driver for the development of pedagogical partnerships. Professional staff who are highly qualified, have specialised knowledge, are experienced networkers, and are confident decision-makers, are both more able to form pedagogical partnerships, and are more likely to initiate such partnerships.
In conclusion, a proposal is made for a Roles Matrix and a single pay spine system for mapping and equitably rewarding the work of all university staff. Together, the Roles Matrix and the single pay spine would facilitate flexible career paths and would permit equal pay for equal value of work. This study indicates that the work of all staff is essential to students achieving their learning outcomes, and that all staff need to work together, supportively, valuing the work of their colleagues.