Professional Autonomy and Administrative Control During the Pandemic Digitalization: The Perspective of University Teachers




digitalization, higher education, academic autonomy, COVID-19 pandemic, reforms of higher education and science, university teachers, academic profession


Digitalization of higher education and the accompanying academic and expert discussions began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the forced transition to remote learning at Russian universities in 2020 actualized a new round of debates on how the use of digital technologies is changing the landscape of higher education, the roles and modes of work of academic professionals. This paper is based on a series of semi-structured interviews with the teaching staff of 37 Russian universities, which were collected in March-June 2020.  Interviews were aimed at the complex analysis of the teaching profession transformations in the conditions of remote force majeure. The key attention is paid to the transformations of academic autonomy in the new conditions. We show that in the conditions of "forced remote teaching", two multidirectional trends are observed. On the one hand, in the context of an unprecedented natural experiment on the mass transfer of all work processes to a remote format, there is a revival of traditional forms of academic autonomy through the self-organization of the teaching community, the emergence of networks of cooperation and mutual support between academic professionals. On the other hand, teachers note the strengthening of administrative control and bureaucratization of the educational process. In some cases, this leads to an escalation of the conflict between the administration and the teaching community and is perceived by the latter as a threat to academic autonomy. The presented analysis concludes with a discussion of possible measures that can be taken to reduce the potential negative effects of the identified trends on the entire higher education system.

Acknowledgements. The research was funded by the Russian Science Foundation (project No. 19-78-10127 “Digital transformation of the education system: exploring the innovative potential, dissemination of innovations at micro, meso, and macro levels and the development of mechanisms to support reforms”).

Author Biographies

Roman N. Abramov, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Dr. Sci. (Soc.), Professor, School of Sociology, Department for Social Institutions Analysis
    • Leading Research Fellow, International Laboratory for Social Integration Research
  • Institute of Sociology of FCTAS RAS, Moscow, Russia
    • Leading Research Fellow

Ivan A. Gruzdev, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Director for Internal Monitoring and Student Academic Development, Office for Internal Monitoring and Student Academic Development
    • Analyst, Centre for Sociology of Higher Education

Ulyana S. Zakharova, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Cand. Sci. (Philol.), Research Fellow, Centre for Sociology of Higher Education

Evgenii A. Terentev, HSE University

  • HSE University, Moscow, Russia
    • Cand. Sci. (Soc.), Director, Centre for Sociology of Higher Education



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