The way practice is shaped by features of the physical and socio-political environment is a critical issue here. We have been using a consistent notion of practice within this text that understands practice as routine behaviours derived from a personal or collective knowledge base. This knowledge base of the social, technical and political environment yields the basis on which decisions about priorities, actions and compliances are made. We explore these dimensions in more detail in our last chapter.
The notions of compliance and complicity are important here. We do not depict higher education actors as robotic dupes, whose actions are devoid of agency and understanding; the way in which leadership from the universities were complicit in the UK design of an individualised and differentiated funding model for UK universities is a case in point. Our analyses require that we often need fine grained and situated distinctions between actors at different points in the system and in different national systems in order to make sense of why it is that academic practice may have the profile it does at a particular point in time and place. We talk of the ‘congruence’ of features that result in catalysing new practices.
While we signal the agentic as well as structural quality of determinants of academic practice, there is an implication in which recognition of these catalysts, and acting upon their repercussions, has a hegemonic quality. There is a sense of the irresistible about them, of inevitability. It is simply ‘the way the world works now’ and we, in higher education, either become adept at manoeuvring and managing this environment or we will be ‘left behind’. The idea of ‘externality’ is important here because a ‘catalyst’ is within the ontological basket of social realism which depicts the ‘derivation of behaviours’ in the form of practice, as both outside one’s self, but of one’s self and, in this case, perceived as a required or overriding imperative for action. This non-dualist position is important in explaining the way in which imperatives for action derive both from outside a higher education actors’ mind and body yet become integrated into individual and ‘social’ cognition and are colonised by them in order to provide meaningful frameworks for action. The catalysts provide us with a new ‘logics’ in which certain decisions now provide advantages or disadvantages personally, institutionally and systemically which are broadly accepted as being a winner or loser in the ‘new order’.