Exploring the professional identity of university academics: “becoming” a university teacher

Precious Bupe Sipuka, Shireen Motala

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Internationally, student success rates in higher education are an area of concern. Global changes in policy, massification, decreased funding, student diversity and the advance of information technology make it necessary for higher education to reflect on its purpose and contribution to society and its citizens. Although university lecturers are supposed to respond to increasing complexities in higher education and ensure student success, they are poorly equipped to do this. However, many studies (Goldhaber and Anthony, 2004; Rivkin et al., 2005; Leibowitz et al., 2009) have demonstrated the role that professional development plays in enhancing teaching and learning. Smith and Kanuka (2018) argue that current professional development practices are generic, fragmented and unresponsive to lecturer needs and require a systematic response. The study described in this paper takes a social constructivist and social practice approach to exploring the development of academics as good teachers in the South African context. Thematic analysis of 49 semi-structured interviews with selected university lecturers reveals that the professional identity of university teachers is mainly shaped in and through practice. In line with findings in the international literature, “becoming” a university lecturer as a professional teacher involves not only what we know (discipline) and can do (skills) but also who we are becoming (Dall'Alba, 2009). The process of “becoming” a university teacher is complex and involves interpretation and re-interpretation of who one is and wants to become in a multifaceted context. The study reveals the role that the socio-cultural and political context plays in shaping university teacher identities. It argues for alternative models of professional development reflecting the complexity and multifaceted nature of university teacher identities and higher education to enable good teaching.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Education
Subtitle of host publicationFourth Edition
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9780128186299
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Educational policy
  • Professional development
  • Professional identity
  • Professional learning
  • Quality teaching
  • Social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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