The professor who puts the academic role in focus

Sculpture House of Knowledge and Professor Bruce Macfarlane

Since May, he has been a Visiting Professor at the Department of Educational Work. He has been doing so remotely from Hong Kong where he recently moved from his native England.

Petra Angervall lies behind his invitation to the University of Borås. She is Professor of Educational Work and Assistant Head of Department for research and doctoral education at the Department of Educational Work.

“Bruce Macfarlane is internationally very well-known in higher education research, which is closely related to what the research group known as Hupp – Higher education, practice, and politics works with at the University of Borås. It is definitely a feather in our cap for us that he has the time and interest to be a part of our work during this period,” she said.

In a kind of trilogy, three books entitled Teaching with Integrity, The Academic Citizen and Researching with Integrity, Bruce Macfarlane has delved into morality and ethics in the academic role by analysing ethics in teaching, practice, and research.

“My work, which is both conceptual and empirical, emerged out of my practice originally as a business and management lecturer in the late 1980s, later as an educational developer in the 2000s, and since 2010 as an academic leader and higher education professor,” said Bruce Macfarlane.

Why is this area interesting and why is it important?

“I think it’s interesting and important, at least to me and hopefully to other academics, because it is trying to make sense of the moral role of an academic in modern university life with all the attendant pressures of heightened competition and performativity that accompany the role.

Universities are organisations which trade off higher levels of public trust than the average private or even public sector organisation. This means that public universities, and the academics who work in them, have a responsibility in my view to live up to this societal expectation.”

What led to your becoming a professor?

“I think it was just luck really and mainly due to my self-determination. I was not considered very academic at school and I was really a pretty good footballer!  I was expected to leave at 16 without any qualifications. This annoyed me and so I set out to try to prove everyone wrong and I guess I succeeded in the end!  The really important person in my life who always supported me and believed in me was my mother.  She never went to university but was a genuinely great 'academic.'  What I mean by this is that she always questioned people's assumptions and was open to new ideas.  She was an inspiration to me.”

What drives you in your research?

“What mainly drives me is a desire to open up new areas for discussion and to question assumptions about academic behaviour and academic life. If everyone thinks something is a good idea, I am immediately very suspicious!  An example of this is the notion of ‘academic collaboration,’ which is often considered to be a great virtue.  However, there is a dark side to collaboration which is more rarely analysed or discussed, such as in relation to the attribution of authorship credit and the misleading ordering of names on publications.”

What do you do in the role of Visiting Professor at the University of Borås?

“I am going to be doing a variety of things including working with colleagues on the Journal of Praxis in Higher Education which has an editorial team led from within the University.  I am also contributing to research seminars and a doctoral supervision training programme for an African university facilitated by staff from Borås.”

What do you think of the University of Borås?

“The academic staff I have met are really committed and enthusiastic.   Sadly, owing to COVID-19, I have not been able to travel to the university recently, but I did make a previous visit a few years ago and remember that there was a very strong sense of collegiality among the staff. “

What are you most looking forward to from your time as a Visiting Professor?

“I think I am looking forward to deepening my understanding of what it is like to work as an academic in Sweden.  It brings me back to my original research question: what does it mean to be an academic?

Sadly I will only be joining online from Hong Kong as travel restrictions to get back here are horrendous as a ‘zero tolerance’ place.”

Bruce Macfarlane

Currently: Visiting Professor at the Department of Educational Work, University of Borås during the period 1 May 2021–1 May 2022.

From: England, but currently lives in Hong Kong.

Works as: Dean of the Faculty of Education and Human Development and a Chair Professor of Educational Leadership at the Education University of Hong Kong

Has previously been a Chair Professor at various universities in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, is formerly Head of School of the School of Education at the University of Bristol, UK. Has also been a visiting professor in Japan, South Africa, and Australia.