Universities in the UK, and in other countries like Australia and the USA, have responded to the operational and financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic by prioritising institutional solvency and enforcing changes to the work-practices and profiles of their staff. For academics, an adjustment to institutional life under COVID-19 has been dramatic and resulted in the overwhelming majority making a transition to prolonged remote-working. Many have endured significant work-intensification; others have lost — or may soon lose — their jobs. The impact of the pandemic appears transformational and for the most part negative. This article reports the experiences of n=1,099 UK academics specific to the corporate response of institutional leadership to the COVID-19 crisis. We find articulated a story of universities in the grip of ‘pandemia’ and COVID-19 emboldening processes and protagonists of neoliberal governmentality and market-reform that pay little heed to considerations of human health and wellbeing.
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The isolation and disconnect of rank-and-file academics from university leadership expressed in our respondents’ accounts also features in their discussion of universities’ neglect by government and the alleged failure of university leaders in successfully lobbying for financial support. Respondents thus point towards much weaker or ‘hollowed’ ties involving university and policy communities than a knowledge/policy exchange, engagement and impact agenda (see Watermeyer ) so prevalent to higher education contexts over recent years would suggest:
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- disaster capitalism
- remote working
- work intensification
- university leadership