Perhaps not surprisingly, location proved to be a powerful determinant for survey respondents, with 60% (111) indicating that it had an impact on their ability to do their job.
There were divided and strongly held views about where those working in academic development should sit structurally within an institution, and the majority of participants expressed a preference for being centrally located rather being situated in a department or faculty. A significant minority, however, felt that being in academic departments offered better support for research and scholarship and helped sustain a connection to academic practice, particularly teaching, that could otherwise be lost:
‘organisational silos can present barriers to effective support and development’ (R 3)
‘[academic development] works best centrally but needs strength in subject discipline for credibility with colleagues’ (R 85)
‘we transferred from an interfaculty institute to a unit within a Faculty. We are careful that people in other faculties see us as independent consultants… As far as I can see, it works. And on the other hand, being part of a Faculty means closer cooperation with the Department of Education which is a positive influence’. (R 118)
‘marginality can be interesting and stimulating, but it’s a hard place to be powerful from. For real change it helps to have a centrally understood role’ (R 115)
The affordances and disadvantages of a more marginal location expressed in this final comment were addressed several times in open responses and interviews. There was a sense that being on the structural periphery can enable a certain freedom in terms of the way that the job is undertaken, but that it often lacks the mandate that a centrally located placement, particularly in terms of institutional organizational structure, can confer.
However, even among those who signaled a preference for a central location, there was a strong expression that those working in academic development should be ‘independent of management and bureaucracy’ (I 17).
Respondents expressed divided views about whether or not academic development should be aligned with a department of Education within an institution. A group of respondents felt that academic development should be linked to an Education department where possible. However, a small minority of participants indicated strongly that education was ‘the one place you should not be’ (IG). The ambivalence around location within an Education department was articulated by one respondent:
‘In a School of Education, most people are concerned with T & L so it is nice to be surrounded by like-minded people, but it limits interactions across the university.’ (R 111)