Being a professor in 2016

Position Paper | Year 2016
Being a professor in 2016
Reflections on a profession in a changing world
Class of Natural Sciences, Class of the Humanities, Class of the Arts, Class of Technical Sciences


Universities are without any doubt powerful forces in the development of economic welfare, but first and foremost they are places where knowledge is created and communicated at the highest intellectual level. They provide services of various kinds to society, and impart knowledge valued in and for itself. University professors are the key actors in these endeavours. The last three decades have witnessed profound alterations within universities, affecting their management as well as the core aspects of their mission, i.e. teaching, research and service to the community. These changes have had a huge impact on the academic profession in both positive and negative ways.
Positively, universities are managed more efficiently, student numbers have grown significantly, more funding, especially for research, has been made available, and international visibility has increased. On the negative side, many studies point to heightened – and, to a certain extent, perverse – pressure and competition, ever expanding bureaucratic burdens, and a growing imbalance between the various core tasks. Others lay bare a fundamental change in the relation of trust between the academic and his/her host institution.
This position paper seeks to analyse not only the symptoms, but also the underlying causes of this malaise, and concludes with some recommendations to university managers and policy makers. Starting from a description of the characteristics of the New Public Management policy applied also to universities, the authors warn of unwanted side-effects: the danger that financial means become goals in themselves, the focus on purely quantitative measurement, the lack of attention given to the specificity of different disciplines. All these factors affect the core activities of universities in many diverse ways. Concretely, for professors these changes have led to an ever increasing workload and competitive pressure, the feeling that they are not evaluated on the basis of the most appropriate criteria, and ultimately the fear that the necessary conditions are missing for doing their professional work in the best possible way, allowing for creativity, passion, and time to reflect and do research in depth.

Available documents


  • Herman De Dijn
  • Dominique Willems
  • Irina Veretennicoff


  • Yvan Bruynseraede
  • Dirk Van Dyck
  • Frank Willaert
  • Jacques Willems