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Why is academic culture so important?

What is the big difference between basic education and higher education? Perhaps the best answer is academic culture. On the basic education level, academic atmosphere is not a big matter, while on the higher education it is a main concern. A reputable university for example can be assessed by looking the way the university put academic culture on a top priority.

Why Academic Culture is So Important?
 mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

Smerek (2010) stated that In higher education organizations, culture is formed through many complex influences both in the organization and as the result of the environment. Within the organization, culture is the result of an organization’s unique history, its leadership, and critical events. Culture is also shaped by subcultures, including at the broadest level the subcultures of faculty and administration. Within these groups, faculty have disciplinary identities, and administrators are subdivided into functional groupings. In sum, as complex organizations there are many forces that shape the culture of colleges and universities.

Components of academic culture on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is actually the external manifest of the common values, spirits, behavior norms of people on campus who are pursuing and developing their study and research. This kind of culture can be embodied in the rules and regulations, behavior patterns and the material facilities. It mainly consists of academic outlooks, academic spirits, academic ethics and academic environments. To be exact, academic outlook refers to people’s basic viewpoints about academic activities, and it can be subdivided into outlooks on the academic ontology, the academic attitude, the academic purpose, the academic development and the academic evaluation (Shen and Tian, 2012).

The outlook on the academic ontology is intended to answer the question “what is academic study”. We do think the true significance of academic study should be the ultimate concern for people and society. The outlook on the academic attitude indicates that nowadays two kinds of attitudes should be advocated and emphasized: the matter-of-fact attitude and the attitude of pursuing great ambitions. The outlook on the academic purpose is designated to answer the question “what is academic study for”, and at present, the practical purpose of academic study should be stressed and the real prosperous academic study is the study that can solve the practical problems in people’s life. The outlook on the academic development deals with how the academic study should be developed, and the academic study should take the social needs and the test of practice as its basic incentive of development. The outlook on academic evaluation deals with how the academic achievements should be assessed and judged, the ideal evaluation mechanism is the combination of both the internal evaluation within the academic groups and the external evaluation of the social, economical needs and also needs of people.

The academic spirits are the thoughts and spiritual power developed and condensed from the long-term academic practice and activities. The academic spirits mainly include the down-to-earth spirits, the explorative spirits, the innovative spirits, the critical spirits, the co-operative spirits, the tolerant spirits, the free-and-open spirits and the spirits of integrating science and humanities.

A healthy department is one whose faculty and staff are motivated, productive, appreciated, secure in their jobs, work well together as a group, and able to reach consensus on issues concerning the governance and welfare of the department. A healthy department has well-defined operational and visionary goals that are attainable and contribute not only to the mission of the department but to that of the university as a whole. They are understood and accepted by the faculty, and provide direction for both collective and individual decisions.

A healthy academic department, for example is a businesslike social enterprise with a strong sense of its place in the larger college or university entreprise. Its work is optimized by its clear sense of how to put the right people to work on the most important tasks, how to motivate and reward them in fair and equitable ways, and how to bind people to the organization sthrough shared vision and shared values (Tucker, 1992).

What is clear is that extremely personalized forms of leadership – the dictator, the tyrant, the authoritarian figure – do not endure in universities and cannot be a permanent feature in entrepreneurial universities. Unlike traditional business firms and traditional governmental departments, the collegial forms must function strongly around personal forms of governance and generally come to be seen as dominating them, particularly at the center. Given the clout of faculty – based upon their professional expertise and disciplinary competence – the “we” has to dominate the “I.” Entrepreneurialism in universities has to be seen as collegial entrepreneurialism (Clark, 2001)

The culture is highly individualistic and very respectful of individual autonomy, which often means isolation, defensiveness and a denial of the need for overarching strategies either at faculty or university levels (Davies, 2001). Response to external opportunities will tend to be individualistic, and the norms of the academic market place will be distrusted. The culture is predominantly kind, non-threatening and safe, and personal or group accountability tends to be low in terms of internal processes. There may be a reluctance to confront problems – often interpreted mistakenly as a sort of consensus, and the regulations dominate nonacademic matters, especially in systems where the state administrative ethos is strong. Conventionally, the institution as a whole will have limited time horizons, and its goals will be ambiguous, imprecise, and sometimes unconnected to precise instruments of change. Major policy decisions will tend to be very slow, given the checks and balances of various kinds. The dominant norms would be those of the collegium and bureaucracy.



Allan Tucker, Chairing Academic Department: Leadership among Peers, third edition. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992)

Burton R. Clark, “The Entrepreneurial University: New Foundations for Collegiality, Autonomy, and Achievement”, Journal of the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education. Vol.13, No. 2, 2001.

John L. Davies, “The Emergence of Entrepreneurial Cultures in European Universities”, Journal of the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education. Vol.13, No. 2, 2001.

Ryan E. Smerek, Cultural Perspective of Academia: Toward a Model of Cultural Complexity. Eds. John C. Smart,  Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Volume 25. (New York: Springer, 2010)

Xi Shen dan Xianghong Tian, “Academic Culture and Campus Culture of Universities”, Higher Education Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2; June 2012.


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