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May 13, 2019

The Rise of Third Space Professionals: Implications for Academic Practice – Abigail Ball

Back in March 2019 I attended a WIHEA seminar given by Dr Celia Whitchurch, Associate Professor in HE at University College London’s Institute of Education. Celia’s research focussed on academic and professional identities in higher education.

Celia considered the changing roles and identities of academic and professional staff in higher education. She shared results from two studies funded by the UK Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, which involved administering interviews in HE institutions in Great Britain, America and Australia to staff who worked in less-well-defined roles.

It was interesting to note the different terminologies that are used to describe these individuals, with ‘third space professionals’ being the commonly accepted term within the UK. I have since undertaken my own literature review to investigate what other terms are being used within the sector (and there are lots of them, including: hybrid, multi-dimensional, intersectional, blended, unbounded, fluid, fragmentary or peripheral, to name but a few). There is also a variety of terminology in use for the ‘space’ that these individuals work within (or around in some cases). This is frequently referred to as ‘the third space’ but other terms in use include: transformational space; complex and differentiated space, borderland zone, plural environment or academic periphery.

Celia defined third space professionals as those ‘with identities drawn from both professional and academic domains’ and observed that third space professionals are often appointed on the basis of experience in broad academic areas such as student experience, curriculum design, technology enhanced learning or pedagogic research rather than in specific subject or research areas. The emphasis being on cross boundary (and this is a contested term) or cross disciplinary working. She added that these individuals are likely to have master’s level (or above) qualifications and are often active researchers contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning despite not necessarily having being employed on ‘traditional’ academic contracts.

She further added that these individuals also represent an increasingly diverse workforce characterised by career development within and outside of the HE sector. Partnership working and the crossing of boundaries between what are traditionally seen as academic and professional roles are common characteristics of third space professionals. Finally Celia considered the implications of all of these factors for both third space professionals and the HE institutions they work in.

At the event Gwen Van-der-Velden Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Learning Experience) and Academic Director of WIHEA announced that a new Third Space Learning Circle has been created. As I have been interested in this topic for many years I was really pleased to be awarded co-chair of this learning circle with Sue Parr, Business Development Director (PEP) in WMG.

Further information about WIHEA is available here: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/academy

Here is a copy (she has delivered several of these sessions at different institutions) of Celia's presentation given at Sheffield University:

https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.97643!/file/rise_of_third_space.pdf


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