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Discussion document for Council

A Professional Ethical Framework for Australian Academics


In April 2021, the Council of the Australian Association of University Professors (AAUP) approved the formation of a working party to explore the development of a statement of professional ethics. This followed strong support for the idea of the Framework as a way to clarify and strengthen the ill-defined notion of academia as a profession. This statement is the result of the deliberations of the working party who saw this work as an opportunity to better articulate the unique aspects of academic work to our colleagues, students, universities, government and the public. 

Drawing on extensive research literature, the initial step confirmed the important role of the university in society and explored the changing context of universities and the impacts on academic work. This led to the development of a draft Professional Ethical Framework for Australian Academics which was presented to the AAUP Council for feedback in November 2021. Further revisions followed, with a second draft being developed and released to AAUP membership for feedback in April 2022.

The second draft was strongly supported, and following further revisions, in response to the feedback, this current version of the Framework was presented to the AAUP Council and approved for release as version 1 of the Professional Ethical Framework for Australian Academics (The Framework) on July 15, 2022.

The working party proudly presents this Framework for consideration by members of the academic profession. Our aim is to seek feedback from the broader academic and higher education community in Australia and internationally. The Framework is supported by a scholarly paper which elaborates on the claims (add citation when available)

Ultimately, we will seek feedback from the broader higher education community, including government, university management, peak bodies and industry. We are seeking ethical clearance to conduct research to improve the Framework and to ascertain its impact on the sector.



This professional ethical framework has been developed by a working party of the Council of the Australian Association of University professors (AAUP) (hereinafter called the Council). The claims made are supported by published scholarly work [insert ref when available].

The Council has guardianship over this Framework on behalf of members of the academic profession.

Through its membership, the AAUP accepts the significant responsibilities that come with keeping its content relevant, while articulating and protecting the unique essence of academic work.

This Framework is not to be imposed, co-opted or adapted by any external authority, government, institution or individual without the explicit written permission of the Council.


The primary purpose of this Framework is to identify and articulate the uniqueness and value of the academic role and to clearly differentiate academic leadership from managerial leadership in the modern university. Such a distinction is needed to negotiate and set-up shared governance arrangements that ensure appropriate power-relations so they can jointly develop internal policies and processes that will help the university to work effectively to achieve its mission.

The Framework is also designed to communicate the essence of academic work to our academic colleagues, and other stakeholders in higher education including government, peak bodies, university management, students, the broader community and industry groups. It should assist all stakeholders to better understand the importance of universities in advancing society, and the key role that academics play in ensuring that universities fulfil their mission.

Intended Audience

In recognising the importance of universities for National Development, we acknowledge that academics are the key to the delivery of their mission through high quality research and teaching.

The primary audience for the Framework is our academic colleagues. If it resonates with a sufficient proportion of academics, and they voluntarily commit to integrating the proposed practices in their professional lives, it will become a powerful platform for the academic profession.

The secondary audience for this Framework includes other stakeholders involved in higher education, academic peak bodies, unions, university management, government, industry and students. We hope it will help them better understand the important role academics play and enable more purposefully negotiated and designed university structures that ensure the voice of the academic staff is influential and instrumental in strategic decision-making and resource allocation.

The Framework sets the stage for academics and managers to work together to make universities more effective but recognises this relies on a mutual understanding and acceptance of the important but different roles each plays and a willingness to find ways to work together.


The structure of the AAUP Framework is based on a framework proposed by Ferman (2011), whose research study on academic work and the concept of “profession” drew on Freidson’s (1999) model of professionalism. It contains four interacting themes that describe the essence of academic work in a modern university (Figure 1).

  1. Academics as co-leaders in the modern university
  2. The professional nature of academic work.
  3. The scholarly nature of academic work.
  4. The workplace conditions necessary to support academic work.

Each of these themes is expanded upon below and includes a range of suggested practical implications to guide our academic colleagues in their day-to-day practice.

Theme 1 Academics as co-leaders in universities.

This theme is based on research focusing on systemic structural change in Australian higher education including corporatisation, competition, external systemic accountability and reduced funding. It considers the impact of this change on the autonomy of universities and the academics who work in them.

Key documents identify the key role of universities in society, together with the importance of academic autonomy and freedom. They recognise the need for both academic and corporate leadership in the governance of universities and that this can result in tensions when the priorities of these groups do not align.

However, research indicates that corporate leadership tends to dominate in Australian universities, but the effectiveness of universities is linked to their ability to develop governance structures and processes that balance academic and corporate leadership.

This Framework is designed to acknowledge the vital, but fundamentally different roles, academic and corporate leaders play in the governance of a university. Its design is based on rebalancing the power between these two leadership streams to increase the effectiveness of universities. It also challenges organisations such as government and the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) to seriously examine the risks associated to university effectiveness due to reduced autonomy for academics.

The Framework challenges university managers and academic leaders to expect the inherent tensions to arise and design university governance structures and decision-making processes that resolve issues through discussion and inclusive democratic practices.

It assumes greater academic leadership representation on the Governing Council of the University, backed by a significant increase in the powers of Academic Boards (Senates). As the key body for academic leadership, it recommends the elected members from the academic body should hold clear majority control of Academic Board (Senate), to balance executive decision-making power. It also assumes a more purposeful advisory role for the professoriate in the maintenance of academic standards and examination of proposals

In assuming the mantel of co-leaders, the Framework also challenges academics as a professional group, to take the responsibilities and accountabilities associated with academic leadership inn universities. It challenges managers in universities to be fully committed to the social purpose and autonomy of universities and have a thorough understanding of the nature of academic work and the professional needs of academics.

Theme 2 The professional nature of academic work.

This theme draws on the professional model put forward by Freidson (1999), to articulate the key features that support the conception of academia as a profession. These include:

  1. Holding or working towards recognised qualifications in teaching and/or research in a specialised field.
  2. Applying their specialist expertise to serve society.
  3. Working with a high-level of autonomy to make professional judgements about their work, with guidance from more experience colleagues where appropriate.
  4. The expectation to continually develop their expertise.
  5. A voluntary commitment to upholding the values of the profession.

Professional Values

The underpinning values of the academic profession are based on the nature of the work as articulated through the following professional values:

In alltheir professional dealing academics voluntarily commit to practising:

  1. Altruism: by working for the advancement of knowledge for the benefit of society.
  2. Academic freedom and intellectual integrity: by grounding their work in scholarship.
  3. Professional autonomy: in making judgements about their work, with support and advice from more experienced colleagues as required.
  4. Collegiality: by recognising their work is founded on the endeavours of many previous scholars and sharing their work with their peers; by accepting that informed critique and robust discussion are necessary to ensure rigour and to advance knowledge in a field; and mentoring less experienced colleagues.

Theme 3 The scholarly nature of academic work.

This theme identifies the expectation to be scholarly as the key factor that distinguishes academia from other professions and unites all academics as a professional group, regardless of the discipline area. It aims to clarify the uniqueness of the academic role in society, and within their institutions and explain why the professional academic role is distinct from other professional roles.

            Being scholarly means professional academics believe that free and open inquiry requires autonomy and academic freedom to:

  1. Develop and maintain a deep theoretical understanding of the current state of knowledge, practices and issues in their field(s) of expertise.
  2. Take a collaborative and open-minded approach to learning and accept the possibility of a diversity of opinion.
  3. Take a rigorous and critical approach to exploring issues related to their work, and make informed decisions based on the available research evidence.
  4. Act with autonomy when making decisions and expressing judgements concerned with their area expertise.
  5. May act as a public intellectual i.e., speak out on matters of public significance as a critic and conscience of society

It explores in some depth the full scope of academic work as a scholarly activity which may range across one or more areas of research, teaching and service. It examines the realities of autonomy and academic freedom in the modern university and identifies the limits where interference by government, management, industry or others becomes counter-productive.

Theme 4 Academic working conditions

Research shows intensification and performativity pressures have reduced autonomy and academic freedom. In this theme we argue institutional policies and resources need to be purposefully designed to support professional scholarly work of academics.

This theme is based on the recognition in the research that power is exercised in a university through the enacted policies, procedures and decisions on resource allocation. It outlines principles that outline how university managers and academic leaders can work together to develop policies that support protect the work of academics as professionals and contribute to the effectiveness of universities.

It considers the principles which underpin the development of policies that demonstrate thoughtful application of the principles of equity, transparency, reciprocity fairness so the diverse needs of various groups are met.

This theme recognises that the academic body in a university is not a homogeneous group: some members are less influential compared with their established and more senior colleagues. To minimise this disadvantage, all policies that are likely to impact on academic work need to be developed and implemented in full consultation with the affected staff and adequately costed and resourced. Inclusion may require a range of related policies to cater for the diverse needs of various groups such as carers returning to work, those with needs related to culture, disability, sessional staff, early career researchers and research students. In appropriate policies may create working conditions that undermine their ability to participate in scholarly activities, these groups should have formal representation within the academic leadership groups.

Additional tables are included in the PDF