• intersectionality;
  • academia;
  • gender;
  • foreignness;
  • internationalization


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

This article explores the experiences of a growing but hitherto under-researched category of academics employed within UK higher education: women of non-UK origin. Drawing on an intersectional approach, we examine how gender and foreignness act as dynamic, interrelating categories in producing particular subjectivities in the context of UK business schools. We employ a qualitative methodology based on narrative interviews with 31 foreign women academics. In the analysis, we outline the broader global forces that have shaped their trajectories in choosing the UK as their destination, and the place of gender and foreignness in the participants' narratives of their experience. Our findings point to how the discourse of internationalization conceals intra-categorical differences among non-national staff, further supported by a merit-based system that promotes an individualized view. However, participants' narratives provide examples of how gender and foreignness are mobilized in different ways by different actors — including themselves — in the production of social locations. As such, the paper contributes to critical debates regarding the academic workplace and the changing conditions of UK academia.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

This article explores the experiences of a growing but hitherto under-researched category of academics employed within UK higher education (HE): women of non-UK origin. This particular position raises a number of important questions, which we address through an empirical study. For example, how do gender and foreignness, either separately or combined, affect these women's experiences in their workplaces, and in the broader academic environment? How and in which organizational contexts do gender and foreignness emerge as significant categories? That women academics face various forms of gender discrimination at work is well documented (e.g., Barry et al., 2006; Benschop and Brouns, 2003; Cress and Hart, 2009; Fox, 2010; Kantola, 2008; Knights and Richards, 2003; Monroe et al., 2008; van den Brink and Benschop, 2012a, 2012b; van den Brink et al., 2010; Winslow, 2010). However, little is known about the experiences of non-native women academics. As UK academia is undergoing a growth in the proportion of international staff, research which explores the experiences of non-national staff is timely and important.

In an article previously published in this journal, Czarniawska and Sevón (2008) engage with similar questions in relation to four foreign professors who became the first women to obtain chairs at their respective European universities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Based on the analysis of these women's life stories, the authors contend that:

It turns out that being a ‘double stranger’ — a woman in a masculine profession and a foreigner — is not, as one might think, a cumulative disadvantage. Rather, it seems that these two types of strangeness might cancel out one another, permitting these women a greater degree of success than was allowed their native sisters. (Czarniawska and Sevón, 2008, p. 235)

Czarniawska and Sevón thus suggest that being a ‘double stranger’ constituted an advantage for the foreign women pioneers they refer to. While we also take these two categories — gender and foreignness — as our point of departure, we extend beyond considering them as exerting influence through a cumulative or subtractive effect. Instead, we explore how gender and foreignness as relational and dynamic categories contribute to constituting subjectivities in a contemporary academic context. UK business schools have an above average proportion of international staff compared to all UK higher education (HEFCE, 2010), making the business school a pertinent context for a study of this kind.

In what follows we first provide the theoretical framing of the article, arguing for the usefulness of an intersectional approach. We then outline the relevant key contemporary circumstances of UK academia, which affect the employment of foreign nationals. Further, we specifically consider the position of women in academia before introducing the methodology employed, and details of the study. Following on from there, the analysis is structured along three sections. First, we outline some broader factors which contributed to the participants' decisions to enter the UK. We then address internationalization as a key institutional process which shapes contemporary academia, and within which the experiences of the foreign women academics in the study take place. Finally, we take a closer look at promotion procedures as a particular organizational practice through which foreignness and gender emerge as significant categories. In the concluding discussion, we evaluate our key findings and consider their wider implications.

Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

As explained above, Czarniawska and Sevón draw on the concept of the stranger to build their argument about the mitigating effects of gender and foreignness on the situation of the women professors whose lives and careers they discuss. Asserting the limitations of the concept of the stranger (see Acker, 2008; Bailyn, 2008; Calás, 2008), Acker (2008, p. 290) instead proposes that conducting an intersectional analysis of foreignness and gender ‘might show different ways in which these designations of status and identity [are] mutually reproduced, with what effects and under which conditions’. What Acker calls for is an analysis which enables the articulation of dynamic, localized social positions while simultaneously accounting for concurrent broader structural conditions. To this end, we need a conceptualization that allows us to articulate relationships between gender and foreignness in the context of contemporary UK business schools through processes that constitute intersectional subjectivities. While we acknowledge the limitations of reducing complex social realities into a set of categories, we argue that gender and foreignness serve as analytically relevant categorical resources for investigating processes that produce intersectional subjectivities in this particular context. Hence, we draw on the concept of intersectionality.

Since Crenshaw's introduction of the term intersectionality at the end of the 1980s in relation to the employment experiences of black women and violence against women of colour, it has been developed and applied by scholars in a variety of ways to address the complexity and interconnectedness of identities and divisions in contemporary society (e.g., Anthias, 1998; Crenshaw, 1994; Davis, 2008). Within the literature, intersectionality has been referred to as a theory, a concept or heuristic device, or a reading strategy in feminist analysis (Davis, 2008). While the lack of clarity in its conceptualization has been highlighted as its limitation (McCall, 2005), Davis (2008, p. 69) argues that ‘precisely the vagueness and open-endedness of “intersectionality” may be the very secret to its success’. To follow Anthias (2006, p. 27), intersectionality ‘is a social process related to practices and arrangements, giving rise to particular forms of positionality for social actors’. An intersectional analysis makes visible the dynamics of multiple social positionings, and how they are constituted through power relations (Phoenix and Pattynama, 2006). As such, acknowledging the historical, economic, cultural and political processes and conditions through which social difference is organized is central to an intersectional approach (Brah and Phoenix, 2004; Dhamoon, 2011). In Knapp's (2005, p. 255) words, intersectionality

[aims] to relate the integrated study of large-scale societal structures of dominance, the historical and contextual systematic of unevenly distributed power, meso-level institutional arrangements and forms of governance, interactions between individuals and groups as well as individual experiences, including the related symbolic processes of representation, legitimating and meaning production.

The attention to processes operating at different levels highlighted by Knapp is to some extent represented by two major strands of intersectional analysis: the systemic approach and the constructionist approach (Prins, 2006). While the former foregrounds structures and systems in the production of subject positions, the latter emphasizes how ‘gender, class or ethnicity […] simultaneously provide narrative and enabling resources’ (Prins, 2006, p. 280). This dualistic categorization is rather stark and not necessarily mutually exclusive (Phoenix and Pattynama, 2006), but it points to a fundamental tension in intersectional research. It is also addressed by McDowell (2008, p. 494) who points out the difficulties, but nevertheless the possibilities, of an analysis which takes into account macro-level structural changes, whilst also being attentive to how ‘local cultures and ideologies and beliefs […] produce active, acting and differentiated subjects in particular places’. Here, we follow Yuval-Davis's (2006, p. 198) outline of research that acknowledges that ‘social divisions are about macro axes of social power but also involve actual, concrete people’, who act as ‘agents of specific social institutions and organizations’ (Yuval-Davis, 2006, p. 198). While we acknowledge the structural power relations underpinning institutional and organizational practices and their constitutive role in producing subjectivities, we also pay attention to how social actors make sense of, negotiate and contest such processes. Next, we consider what constitutes processes of ‘foreignness’.

To begin with, foreignness is not a monolithic category signifying a ‘homogenized enclave of otherness’ (Cohen, 2004, p. 125), but a dynamic quality which will produce different effects depending on how and by whom it is mobilized, and for what purpose. This can be highlighted by paying attention to the gendered, classed and racialized aspects of transnational migration. As McDowell (2008, p. 495) argues, ‘[transnational] labour is differentiated by age, skills, skin colour and gender and is selected and directed into particular slots in the labour markets of receiving countries’. While we are focusing on a particular professional segment of the labour market rather than a variety of employment destinations, different social locations will still be produced within a segment. The similarities and differences between the dominant members of the group and the foreigner will be constructed through the processes of race, ethnicity, bodily presentation, nationality, class, religion, language and the historical relations between the foreigner's place of origin and the destination. For example, migrants to the UK from former colonies in the latter half of the twentieth century found themselves positioned within reductionist, binary black–white ethnic categories (McDowell, 2008). Commenting on more recent migration, Aggergaard Larsen et al. (2005) show how debates surrounding economic migration influence how overseas nurses in the UK are ascribed with particular motives and skill levels based on their origin. Depending on their origin, migrants may also be ascribed with a particular, sometimes threatening work ethic, as, for example, in the case of the stereotype of the ‘Polish plumber’ which, from the perspective of domestic workers in the UK, has come to encapsulate the discriminating labour market effects of EU enlargement.

In analysing how such differences are produced we must, to follow McDowell (2008, p. 496), unpack the ‘institutional structures and regulations and everyday practices [which] position in-migrants as workers (and potential citizens) of differential worth’. What particular ‘slottings in’ demonstrate is how underlying structural conditions shape migration flows. Gender is an important constitutive element of the process (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2000), as has been shown in the literature on the feminization of migration (e.g., Boyle, 2002; de Regt, 2010). Drawing on Butler's (1990, p. 3) argument that it is ‘impossible to separate out “gender” from the political and cultural intersections in which it is inevitably produced and maintained’, McDowell (2008) argues that identities are always gendered and dependent upon the spatio-temporal context in which they are produced, and which, in the case of transnational migrants, are influenced by multiple processes at work both in the place of origin and that of destination. As a result of gendered and racialized conditions of access to resources, migrant minorities may face difficulties in finding employment opportunities due to not gaining entry to ‘relevant’ social networks (Fernandez and Fernandez-Mateo, 2006; Royster, 2003). In the workplace, the self-presentation of foreigners through particular dress, hair and jewellery can contribute to their social construction as ‘less legitimate’ (Bauder, 2006). Further, language competence has been shown to have an effect on career progression, as evidenced by studies of highly skilled individuals working in multinational organizations (Curry and Lillis, 2004; Piekkari, 2008) or academia (Śliwa and Johansson, 2010; Tietze, 2008). What is deemed as linguistic competence is not only based on the level of technical skill. Accents, for example, are associated with class and ethnicity and as such provide a powerful attribute by which individuals are socially positioned (Coulthard, 2008). All these aspects contribute to constructing varying degrees and different valuations of foreignness.

Next, we outline how some key characteristics of contemporary UK academia provide a context within which foreignness and gender, we argue, provide analytically meaningful interrelating categories for examining the construction of particular subjectivities. Starting with a discussion of the current trend of internationalization and its effects, we then consider UK academia as a gendered institutional context.

Internationalization of UK Higher Education

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

In recent years, there has been a steady growth in the proportion of non-national academic staff at British universities (HEFCE, 2010). This has been linked to an overall growth of the sector, including an expansion in the number and size of business schools. Since the mid-1990s, the number of business and management undergraduates has grown by 64 per cent and that of postgraduates by 79 per cent (ABS, 2009), resulting in a concomitant increase in staff numbers. This trend is a consequence of a number of macro-level and institutional factors. To start with, the growth of HE has been fuelled partially by a strong internationalization agenda, pursued by academic institutions to generate income and to improve their position in international league tables. Promoting internationalization on the grounds of economic benefit reflects the corporatization of the UK HE sector (Kim, 2009). The proclaimed necessity to compete globally has led higher education institutions (HEIs) to develop programmes aimed at international students, a proportion of whom will subsequently stay on to constitute a pool from which to recruit academic staff.

International mobility is facilitated by English having become the ‘contemporary lingua franca’ (Tietze, 2008) of academia, with academics in different countries often being expected to carry out their work in English. In addition, ‘market-framed research competitions’ (Kim, 2009, p. 396) — in the UK institutionalized through the Research Excellence Framework (REF)1 — also contribute to the drive for internationalization. To secure a good ranking in the REF, UK HEIs need to attract researchers capable of generating high-quality research outputs. Determining research quality is likewise shaped by global standardizing forces.

A commonly used proxy for judging the quality of publications are journal ranking lists. While the arbitrariness and skewed character of ranking procedures and quality criteria have been pointed out (e.g., Adler and Harzing, 2009; Baum, 2011), ranking lists nevertheless exercise considerable power in shaping the process and content of research conducted. Notably, a disproportionate number of top-ranked journals are American.2 Academics looking to produce high-quality research outputs are under pressure to target these journals, which by extension means adhering to scholarly approaches and areas of research favoured in the United States (Adler and Harzing, 2009). As such, research conducted in UK business schools, which generally rely strongly on ranking lists, is shaped by US doxa. Accreditation frameworks, coveted for their role in improving university ranking positions, are yet another global standardizing force. Some accreditation frameworks, such as EQUIS, require the accredited institution to have a certain proportion of international staff. In addition to these sector-specific trends, political and socio-economic changes also influence workforce mobility. For example, multilateral mobility agreements and EU enlargement play an important role in inciting and facilitating the flow of labour into the UK. Moreover, demographic changes, such as the tendency of graduates towards establishing a career prior to starting families, leads to them remaining part of the mobile labour market for longer.

In sum, a variety of factors have contributed to the increase in the proportion of non-national academics employed at UK HEIs, reaching 17 per cent of the total academic population in 2008/2009 (HEFCE, 2010). In business studies, the proportion is slightly higher, at 19 per cent. Overall, academic staff originating from Europe form the largest group, while the category which includes China, Japan and East Asia has shown the greatest increase over the past few years. What can be noted is that the flows of international staff are not evenly distributed on a global scale, but instead exhibit a regional patterning. Across all levels, non-national academic staff include a higher proportion of members from black and minority ethnic backgrounds compared to national staff. Overall, however, UK academia is predominantly white, with a reported 73.2 per cent of non-national academic staff, and 93 per cent of national staff being white (ECU, 2011). Of all non-national academic staff, 51.1 per cent are women, which is slightly lower than for UK nationals, of which women constitute 55 per cent (ECU, 2011).

Women in UK Higher Education

Despite women forming a considerable part of the academic workforce, academia is significantly male-dominated with regard to senior positions. Data for 2007/2008 covering 166 UK HEIs show the proportion of female academics at 47.9 per cent for lecturers, then declining to 38.6 per cent for senior lecturers and researchers, and 18.7 per cent for professors (HESA, 2009). Moreover, 43.4 per cent of female academics work part-time, compared with 28.5 per cent of their male counterparts (ECU, 2011).

Extant research reveals a strong gender divide within the UK academic environment (Fletcher et al., 2007). For example, Halvorsen (2002) points out that women receive lower salaries and have poorer career prospects than men. Other studies provide evidence that in terms of contracts, conditions, promotions and pay, women constitute a disadvantaged category of employees at UK universities (Bryson, 2004; Clark et al., 1999; Deem, 2007; Forster, 2000; Malik and Styver Lie, 1994; West and Lyon, 1995). These circumstances exist despite equal opportunities policies being in place. The implementation of gender equality measures has been shown not to have the intended effect; on the contrary, such measures may instead ‘veil the practice of inequality’ (van den Brink and Benschop, 2012a, p. 81) due to the gendered institutional contexts within which they are produced. As Acker (1990) has persuasively argued, organizations are gendered processes where ‘advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and control, action and emotion, meaning and identity, are patterned through and in terms of a distinction between male and female, masculine and feminine’ (Acker, 1990, p. 146). Academic institutions are no exception, as it has been argued that work processes, and criteria for evaluation and progression in academia are gendered (Acker, 2008; Knights and Richards, 2003; van den Brink and Benschop, 2012a).

To safeguard against discrimination, academic institutions pledge an adherence to meritocratic principles. In the context of an increasingly diverse workforce, a merit-based system is considered to be of paramount importance. However, the underlying premises of meritocratic policies contribute to reproducing structural asymmetries (Knights and Richards, 2003), meaning that merit-based systems in effect ‘explain and legitimate inequality’ (Scully, 2002, p. 399). The underlying structural conditions are papered over by the individualizing effect of meritocratic principles according to which ‘your problems are all your fault … your privileges are all your own achievement’ (Brennan and Naidoo, 2008, p. 290). The meritocratic ideal assumes an abstract individual akin to the disembodied universal worker outlined in Acker's (1990) critique of organizational structures, the characteristics of whom nevertheless rest on masculinist assumptions of what constitutes meritorious achievements. For example, the construction and assessment of academic excellence has been shown to reproduce a gendered order (e.g., Husu and Koskinen, 2010; van den Brink and Benschop, 2012a). The applied criteria generally assume an academic career path of uninterrupted progression, research activity and inclusion in the REF; there is an underlying standardized idea of what constitutes an academic career (Bagilhole and Goode, 2001), which follows a masculinist norm. As such, women may be considered not suited for, or committed to, the working hours and work patterns typical of UK academia (Currie et al., 2000). Further, evaluating merit has been shown to include a tacit dimension of assessing individual qualities such as physical appearance, self-presentation and personality (van den Brink and Benschop, 2012b), whereby candidates that show likeness to the assessor might be deemed more meritorious (Bird, 1996). Gendered processes also shape access to mentorship and joint research project networks (Fletcher et al., 2007), as these networks are upheld by gendered support systems and homosociality (Bagilhole and Goode, 2001; Bird, 1996).

With this article, we contribute to the critical literature on the academic workplace by drawing on intersectionality to examine how particular subjectivities are constituted in this context through a focus on gender and foreignness. As a critical examination of current processes of internationalization, we unpack the category of foreignness to show how it is mobilized in multiple ways for different purposes, with different effects. With our study of foreign women academics, we also aim to make an empirical contribution to the literature on intersectionality.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

In constructing our methodological approach, we acknowledge that ‘the scripts of gender, race, ethnicity and class play a constitutive role, but never in the same way, never as mere determining factors’ (Prins, 2006, p. 281). That is, whilst not neglecting the structural conditions which produce particular subjectivities in particular locations at particular points in time, we draw on individual accounts to explore how subjectivities are constructed, negotiated and contested in the context of the academic workplace. Poggio (2006) endorses a narrative approach in considering the methodological consequences of moving away from gender and other categories as objects of analysis to a processual and situated performance focus. Among appropriate methods for such an approach, Poggio (2006) counts shadowing, participant observation and the narrative interview. As McCall (2005, p. 1781) observes, analysing personal narratives has its strength in ‘the partial crystallization of social relations’, meaning that while individual narratives only reflect a single location on each intersecting dimension, making it difficult to account for the whole complex web that is implied in producing particular subjectivities, such narratives nevertheless serve to elucidate important focal points. That is, ‘they do not intend to address the complexity of a full range of dimensions in a full range of categories’ (Ludvig, 2006, p. 248). As the aim of this study is to examine the relational effects of the categories of gender and foreignness in a particular organizational context, a decision was made to conduct narrative interviews. Narrative interviews have been used in intersectional research to analyse the relationality and situatedness of categories of difference, and to understand the meanings given to them (Essers et al., 2010; Ludvig, 2006). Such an approach views subjectivity as ‘the way people make sense of their relation to the world’ (Ludvig, 2006, p. 249) by narrating life experiences as shaped by themselves and others. In our analysis we draw on individual narratives, while also aiming to outline the broader structural conditions within which such accounts are produced.

The analysis is based on 31 interviews with foreign women academics employed at 14 business schools across the UK. Some participants were recruited through our personal contacts, while others were identified through public staff information available from university websites. The subsequent sample was built using a snowballing approach. In choosing the participants, we employed the following criteria: being female, being non-UK born, not having English as a first language,3 and being in full-time academic employment. The places of origin of the participants included 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. The sample consisted of academics at different levels: lecturers, senior lecturers, readers and professors, and employed at either research-intensive or teaching-intensive universities (indicated as R or T where relevant in the interview excerpts). The composition of our sample largely represents the regional patterning of foreign faculty indicated earlier. More details about the sample are provided (in aggregate form, for the purpose of anonymity) in Table 1.

Table 1. Overview of participants
  Number of participants
  1. Other = 1 MBA Director, 1 teaching only contract.

Academic positionLecturer19
Senior lecturer6
Region of originAfrica3
Asia (incl. Russia)7
Latin America1
Age group30–345
Type of institutionResearch intensive26
Teaching intensive5

Ensuring the anonymity of the interviewees was crucial as a number of participants expressed concerns about potentially being identified should the combination of their age, nationality and position be explicitly stated. This was particularly evident when recruiting participants at a senior level. Since there are few foreign women in senior academic positions in UK business schools, there was a recognized risk of being identified. In one case it was stated as the reason for declining to take part in the study altogether, whereas among the participants two preferred not to disclose their age, and one wished to be placed within a five-year age range for added anonymity. All names that appear in the paper are pseudonyms, and no references are made to specific academic institutions. Nationality is only mentioned when no other individual-related data is attributed. While specific combinations of attributes matter for an intersectional analysis, we sought to strike a balance between providing detail and maintaining anonymity.

The interviews lasted between 46 minutes and two hours, were recorded and subsequently transcribed. To address the aims of the study, the interviews focused on the participants' educational background and their professional experience in the UK. Starting from how and when the decision to enter the UK was made, the interviews then proceeded to trace the career trajectories of the participants. We asked participants to tell about their experiences of teaching, research, administrative duties, the forging and maintaining of relationships with colleagues and students, participation in professional networks, and accomplished as well as anticipated career progression. We encouraged participants to describe concrete events in order to get beyond generalities (see van den Brink and Benschop, 2012a).

Beginning by asking participants to talk about the decisions and options that led them to pursue a career in the UK and thus acknowledging their foreignness provided a narrative framing for their subsequent experiences in UK academia. Having started from different positions of ‘outsider’, the participants' subsequent experiences were narrated in relation to how that position has been experienced and managed, providing insight into how different aspects of foreignness arise in different ways, or, conversely, how it was not considered a relevant characteristic. The gendered institutional context was generally approached by asking about the gender balance and hierarchical distribution in the participants' workplaces, leading on to consider how they saw their own position and potential for progression. In analysing the material, we started with a close reading of the transcripts, outlining a number of salient thematic threads which seemed meaningful for the participants. Re-reading the transcripts, we identified similarities and contradictions and deviant cases within the themes and across the interviews, and noted how the participants constructed themselves and others in their accounts.

A reflective note is warranted here, given our own positions as foreign women academics working in the UK. As van den Brink and Benschop (2012b, p. 512) point out, the data collection and interpretation is shaped by ‘the positions and biographies of both the researchers and the participants'. Our own experiences and pre-existing knowledge of working in UK academia can be said to have produced a research position of ‘engaged subjectivity’ (Dhamoon, 2011, p. 239). Although we do not claim to have privileged access to the experiences of our participants, nor to share an identical position with them, there was a sense of partial common ground which often contributed to a dialogue where accounts of experiences were shared between the interviewer and the participant in a two-way manner. In analysing the data, we paid attention to including differing views so as not to present the participants as a homogeneous group.

Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

In what follows we provide a discussion in three sections to analyse the dynamic relationality of gender and foreignness in our chosen setting. First, to provide a broader context for the analysis we start by outlining circumstances and factors that led the participants to arrive in the UK for study and employment in the first place. We then consider how current processes of internationalization are implied in the participants' narrated workplace experiences. Finally, we discuss promotion procedures as a particular instance of ‘local, ongoing practical activities of organizing work’ (Acker, 2006, p. 442) that produce and reproduce subject positions.

Choosing the UK and relocating to a British context

We find that the broader trends of globalization of labour flows as well as the internationalization of higher education can be discerned at the micro level of individual narratives. All but three of our research participants first arrived in the UK as students. Most came to pursue a Masters or a doctoral degree funded by bodies either in their countries of origin or in the UK, or as a result of bilateral agreements between universities. A small number of European participants also spent part of their undergraduate degree in the UK, funded by the EU Erasmus scheme. Others, originating from regions which in recent years have experienced high levels of economic growth, arrived as premium fee paying overseas students.

Participants often mention the international reputation of UK higher education as an important attracting factor. International league tables along with a promoted longstanding academic tradition contribute to positioning the UK as a strong contender on the global academic market. The English language is also mentioned as a choice criterion. In some cases it was the only foreign language the participants knew, or the language the competence in which they consciously wanted to strengthen; a choice which can be seen to reflect an overall Englishization of academia (Tietze, 2008; Tsuneyoshi, 2005). Based on language, other destinations that were considered included the US and Australia. The prohibitive cost of education in the US and the distance to, and cost of, living in Australia were mentioned as reasons for deciding on the UK. Some non-European participants stated that the comparative easiness of gaining a visa for the UK played a decisive role. One participant originating from outside the EU was offered a concrete choice between the UK and the US as she received scholarships to both countries. As she explained, she made her choice in favour of the UK based on ‘the quality of the programmes’, but also ‘because of colonialism’, stating that the historical colonial ties meant that she had knowledge of, and links to, the UK. Similarly, another participant from a country with a colonial history with the UK spent part of her childhood in the country. When she then decided to enter academia, the sense of ‘knowing the system’ contributed to her returning to the UK.

If the above can be seen as ‘pull’ factors that attracted the participants to the UK, conjoining ‘push’ factors are also mentioned. Notably, these referred to the gendered social expectations or limited academic career opportunities for women in the participants' native countries. While in some cases relocation to the UK was narrated as a choice made in order to circumvent the ‘macho-style’ academic environment of their own country, the move then introduced the new position of being a foreigner. Described on an abstract level by one participant as ‘a synergistic effect that multiplies things’, another participant found that the combination of gender and foreignness created a particular social location:

It's not only that I'm not British, it's also the fact that I'm a woman. I have a different appearance and I appear to be in a certain way. To a certain extent I find that it is easy to be the odd one out … Sometimes people can either be intrigued or fascinated, but sometimes they can feel threatened. So there is a mixture of things and sometimes it's positive and sometimes it's negative … The combination of gender plus national identity is definitely an explosive one. It has been a significant element in my career and it's still an issue. (Zarah, senior lecturer, 35–39, R)

As Zarah indicates, being a foreigner is a dynamic quality that in some cases produces positive and in other cases negative attributions. Although foreignness is not an absolute characteristic, it is a position that is narrated in relation to what is considered non-foreign, i.e. British, as in Zarah's comment above. In the interviews ‘Britishness’ emerges as a perceived norm against which one's own position is measured and understood. The participants were not asked to offer a definition, but the accounts point to some qualities of a perceived Britishness. One aspect of it entails whiteness as an implied racial norm, as expressed by one participant from the Mediterranean region: ‘What is very strange for me, if you ever see me, I look very British. I do not look [own nationality] at all. I have very fair skin.’ Similarly, another European participant explained: ‘Being pale skinned, I don't have the problem of people immediately singling me out as different’.

Compared to white participants, non-white participants invoked race more frequently in the interviews, notably to state its insignificance in an organizational context:

I haven't felt treated badly, or treated in an inferior way because I was not white, but that's very much a feature of the people that are around you. I can imagine going into another setting where it might be very different. The school of management is very mixed in all sorts of ways. (Judith, senior lecturer, 45, R)

While the ‘mixed’ organizational setting provides a context where race is said not to produce an inferior position, there is the notion that other contexts might bring about different effects. In relation to a white British norm, which is reproduced in the predominantly white academic sector, non-whiteness becomes a key aspect by which foreignness is constructed. On the other hand, Judith explains how she sometimes explicitly draws on foreignness to navigate organizationally. She explains that when ‘people are hierarchical, I like to puncture them a bit’ and that she can achieve this by ‘play[ing] the “I'm a foreigner” card’ to express herself more forcefully than is normally accepted by what she calls ‘the indirectness’ of the English. In this particular context, foreignness is narrated as a resource available to draw on in order to achieve a desired aim. This is sometimes explained in conjunction with gender, as for example when Rita explains her decision to stay in the UK:

[By] 2006 I finished my PhD and at that point I got basically all that I wanted … So I was, in a way, ready to go back … But, for a series of reasons, I didn't really want to. First of all, the situation in [my country's] universities is deteriorating. Plus political situation, economic and social situation … As a female … if you want more advanced, more liberal views, where you don't have these traditional relationships of family … I've always felt incredibly free in this country. And I liked the freedom. (Rita, lecturer, 39, R)

For Rita, the relocation provided a respite from the gendered institutional structures in her native country, and consequently a greater sense of belonging in the UK. Magdalena also draws on the notion of ‘fitting in’, establishing its importance in an organizational context:

at work, in terms of who thinks what of me and therefore what I get involved in, and what I get set aside from, that would largely depend on how I'm able to be, to act in a way that is acknowledged to be the right way by the British. (Magdalena, lecturer, 39, R)

While Judith refers to foreignness as a quality that sometimes allows her to test socially accepted norms of behaviour in an organizational context, Magdalena's comment implies that adapting to a behavioural norm is imperative in the workplace. The sense that there is a norm against which the degree of foreignness is measured, whether based on ethnicity or behaviour, means that different individuals, depending on their position in relation to the above, experience differing degrees of foreignness. One mediating factor of the experienced foreignness which emerges in the accounts is cultural distance, whereby a felt cultural proximity — defined in terms of food and drink, the climate and patterns of interaction — between the UK and the country of origin contributes to a lessened experience of foreignness.

While foreignness on the one hand constitutes difference to the perceived norm on different axes, it is also sometimes seen as a resource that can be drawn upon to exploit the said difference. However, in both cases it contributes to reproducing the existing norm, as behaviour is modified to either counteract or adhere to it, while not aspiring to transcend it. Of interest, then, is to explore if and how the increased internationalization might rupture or complement a norm which is narrated in terms of Britishness. In the following section, we discuss the internationalizing business school as the institutional context within which we examine the relationship between gender and foreignness for constituting subjectivities.

The internationalizing UK business school

Participants generally expressed the view that, due to its international character, the business school is an environment where foreignness, as an abstract category, does not constitute a basis of differentiation. As Laila explains:

I don't think [being non-British] has ever actually been an issue, one way or the other. I think, because of the international profile of the whole department. You don't stand out as someone from a particular country, from a particular part of the world, you're just colleagues. (Laila, lecturer, 32, R)

Laila's comment about being ‘just colleagues’ echoes ideas of the universal, disembodied worker, and the international institutional context is presented as a factor that eradicates differences based on origin. In the excerpt, the abstract notion of ‘foreignness’ is equated to nationality, or to coming from ‘some part of the world’, while asserting that origin is only a geographical fact. As such, this defines foreignness and foreigners as intra-categorically homogeneous, a view also promoted by the official rhetoric of internationalization. The level of internationalization of an academic institution is determined by the proportion of non-national staff, whilst ignoring the global distribution of labour flows, or intra-categorical differences. As we have seen above, participants experience variations of foreignness. Such variations, however, are made to disappear in abstract representations of the internationalized organization. On a micro level, though, foreignness as well as gender are invoked as categories of differentiation, as exemplified by Maya:

When I attend meetings at university level … I feel uncomfortable, because it is more senior level staff, and they are mostly men … You do have quite a number of [members] who are British, all white British, and who are men. So I don't feel comfortable there … because it's not just being from somewhere else, but also because you are female.

According to Acker (2006), gender-, class- and race-based assumptions are continuously drawn on in everyday organizational interactions. ‘Appropriate’ assumptions are provided by body differences and expected behaviours. Maya's account of her sense of discomfort when representing her department at higher level committees offers an insight into how a foreign, in this case non-white, woman might feel when confronted with the reality of contemporary organizational hierarchies which, as Acker (2006, p. 445) points out, ‘are usually gendered and racialized, especially at the top’. It also points to the hierarchical differentiation of academia, where a particular department such as the business school might employ an increasing number of international staff, while the composition at university level remains unchanged.

The perceived norm also extends into ideas of the ‘appropriate’ lecturer. One participant argues that students ‘expect a male, possibly oldish, possibly pretty tall, and with a posh voice’ as their lecturer, thus ascribing the job with gendered and classed attributes. Another participant, Rachel, similarly points to how a gendered and racialized university lecturer norm informs her experienced position:

When you walk in and you see [the MBA students] for the first time … you are sometimes met with this incredulous look. Because I think in Britain there is still a very strong mental stereotype about women from Asian background … their mental stereotyping is fed by images they see on television or mainstream media … And it's sometimes quite hard for them to see this 39-year-old, size eight woman standing in front of them and telling them, look, I have done X, Y, Z in my life. (Senior lecturer, R)

The context described is one where the students are British professionals, which for Rachel produces a feeling that there are certain expectations that she fails to meet in the initial encounter. This is explained in terms of how her gender, ethnicity, age and body type are combined attributes that have to be ‘counteracted’ by establishing her credentials. The job of lecturer carries with it a set of traditional ideas of the type of person linked to it, which, despite the increased internationalization, are underpinned by a white masculine norm.

In the excerpt below, Magdalena comments on how the official rhetoric embraces internationalization, and how foreignness becomes an institutional resource in the process, with effects for the individual:

We've got an Internationalization Committee … And I've been asked to fill in spreadsheets about what is international about me and all that kind of stuff … I can apply, theoretically speaking, for citizenship here, and [my manager] said: ‘Don't, because you will not be an international member of staff anymore, and we need you for EQUIS to be international’ … We've got an Executive Board — how many people are foreign on the Executive Board? I don't know. Off the top of my head — no one. Perhaps one?

Being constituted as more valuable as a non-national according to the logic of internationalization, Magdalena sees that internationalization efforts mainly serve instrumental purposes of gaining accreditation. They do not trigger a change in the distribution of power within the business school where she works. The excerpt indicates the micro-level effects of the general trend towards internationalization of HEIs through reference to how global accreditation frameworks constitute subjectivities through the valorization of particular categories.

‘Foreignness’ is invoked by different actors in positive and negative contexts, with different meanings, to produce an effect of empowerment as well as a sense of inferiority. One participant, when talking about instances where the international character of the business school where she works has been raised, said:

I've noticed it from a couple of older male English colleagues, one of whom actually made a rather inappropriate comment many years ago during our staff student committee. I remember he said to the students, well, you'd better toughen up and study hard because otherwise in the future you will all be taught only by Italian women, which I didn't think was particularly right to say.

Possibly meant in a humorous sense, the speaker — defined by the participant through gender, age and nationality — invokes the ‘threat’ of a projected increase of a particular type of foreign academic, an Italian woman, as a factor which will apparently motivate students to work harder. In doing so, he also defines the participant, who is Italian and was present in the meeting, along these particular categories.

On the one hand, then, the international business school is presented as an environment where foreignness, as a general category of being of non-national origin, becomes an insignificant process of differentiation between members of staff. On the other hand, the distinction national/non-national is reinforced by internationalization strategies, for example in the case where institutions are accredited based on the proportion of non-national staff. As a result, for internationalization strategies to be meaningful, a particular type of foreignness based on the nation state necessarily has to be kept in place. While some participants see their institution as a level playing field, there is among others a sense that one's position in the organization is shaped by institutional structures, where different individuals will be differently located in the organizational hierarchy.

In the next section we discuss participants' experiences of promotion procedures, which present key processes by which organizational structures are reproduced.

Promotion procedures

Appointment and promotion procedures are processes of evaluation of an individual against explicit and implicit criteria, and as such present concrete instances of organizational positioning. In terms of career progression, UK academia is generally portrayed as meritocratic and egalitarian by the participants. As Diana (lecturer, 45, R) says: ‘The advantages of academia, you really are assessed on the quality of your research, and it's not nationality or gender or age-dependent’. Similarly, Ruth explains that

Here you don't need connections [unlike in her native country] … here you need to have a good CV … if you have good publications you get a job and that's how it works. (Professor, 44, R)

Research quality and output are seen as key to career progression. As discussed earlier, quality is commonly assessed based on journal ranking lists. However, in addition to the critique of journal ranking lists mentioned previously, Özbilgin (2009) contends that ranking criteria are inherently gendered, classed and racialized, in that they are constructed by representatives of a white masculinist norm, and that the ranking system therefore plays a part in upholding broader structures of inequality under the guise of objectivity. The underlying structural orderings of evaluation criteria are, however, obscured by assertions such as ‘if you do work hard you get what you deserve’ (Ruth) and ‘if you put in the hard work … everybody's got an equal chance to progress’ (Laila). In a meritocratic discourse, success is attributed to individual effort, but as discussed earlier, what constitutes ‘hard work’ in terms of being deemed as worthy of reward is, for example, underpinned by a masculine norm. Although Diana believes in the meritocratic character of UK academia, she also mentions a criterion for promotion, which she cannot achieve:

For example, one of the fields in terms of promotion where you expect to excel is international networking. For this, you actually need to go to international conferences, and if there isn't someone who can take care of your kids while you are away, that becomes impossible. So a lot of female academics will lose out in this area just automatically.

Being a single mother with no local extended family to support her, Diana counts herself among those female academics who lose out. Not having the opportunity to rely on this kind of support is by no means an issue that all foreign women, or exclusively foreign women, have to address under the contemporary conditions of personal mobility and changes in traditional family relations. However, they are certainly a group that is highly likely to be unable to draw on the help of their extended family with organizing childcare and other daily aspects of their personal lives. Especially for women with childcare responsibilities, the need to carry out their academic work according to the masculine norm may have a negative impact on their career progression, or their personal well-being (Wolfinger et al., 2008). In her comment Diana also subscribes to the gendered norm of the female as the primary carer, which means that women are ‘automatically’ disadvantaged.

Conversely, meeting the masculinist norm of an uninterrupted production of research output at a pace expected by promotion committees and research assessment bodies presents a surprising feat when achieved by a female academic with childcare responsibilities. Petra, a professor, recalls the dinner following her inaugural lecture:

The VC invited a few people for dinner, and they were raising their glasses to the woman who has got it all. And I was thinking, no, I don't have it all, I haven't slept properly in about nine months, I'm absolutely shattered, and I don't have it all. (Petra, professor, 41, R)

Despite the aforementioned conviction that UK academia, in many cases, presents greater opportunities for career progression than academic institutions in the participants' countries of origin, this does not imply an absence of experienced discrimination. Ruth, also a professor, spoke about an earlier stage in her career where

I was pretty sure that they would put me forward [for promotion] because I got some signals from the annual review … But then they didn't and they put forward another guy who was, like, an English boy, so this was really quite disappointing.

In the above excerpt, Ruth describes the candidate to whom she lost in terms of gender and origin, thus also narrating her own position as, at least to some extent, determined by those qualities. The label ‘English boy’ is not a neutral description; gender and nationality are presented as a combination that put the other candidate in a favourable position. Another participant, Monica, attributes the comparatively faster progression of her male colleagues to homosociality:

If I were a man, I probably would have been promoted three years ago. Because I saw male colleagues who achieved less than me being promoted. Because they were friends with the male boss. And I see it all the time. They are very open about promoting their mates, their friends, their drinking buddies, whatever you call it … My previous boss was telling me that he will not promote me, he will not support me, without giving me any reasons, whilst he promoted my male colleagues who were in the same situation or position as me. (Lecturer, 35, R)

Another participant, Sylvia, now a professor, says that gender has not been a disadvantage for her in a direct sense, but on the other hand mentions experiencing limited access to information, linking it to the fact of being a woman. Her comment below further provides an illustration of Bird's (1996) argument about the role of homosociality for providing access to particular networks. When a previous institution she worked for underwent organizational changes,

knowing what was going on … became part of a political game, and there was a group of men at the time, who were definitely very male … young, male macho kind of group of up-and-coming people, who didn't actively exclude women, but they did things like in their free time go out drinking to the pub, or they were into rugby-playing. They were very young, very virile blokes, very career-oriented. And it was as a woman at that stage, it was simply difficult to get into the corridors of power.

Sylvia and Monica, both white European, refer to gender as the key excluding process in the examples above. Patricia, however, when talking about the importance of establishing collaborative ties, expresses difficulty that also includes other aspects:

First of all … I will speak with you very frankly here … because I am a woman. Second, of course, I do have kids. My network is not that extensive. And plus mostly I am a covered woman, so just to find this kind of relationship … this kind of co-operation, not everyone wants to co-operate with you, until they know you perfectly well, and this takes time. (Patricia, lecturer, 44, T)

Here, a gendered dimension of externally recognized symbols of differentiation — for example, in terms of religion — is raised when Patricia reflects on the process of establishing research contacts. Partly, such differences are constructed on a micro level in line with Bauder's (2006) observation about the importance of appearance for the social construction of an individual in terms of a particular type of foreignness. Some of the Muslim participants mention the hijab as a significant differentiating marker.

Instances when discrimination is explicitly experienced may invoke apprehension about possible repercussions. Two participants mention having thought about taking action against experienced discrimination, but both ultimately decided against it. Rita, who says two male colleagues were appointed on a higher salary scale than her, despite having ‘less experience and fewer publications’ decided not to take action because ‘if you start something like that, you have to be prepared for whatever happens … if things go worse, you have to be prepared to move’, which she was not prepared to do. Harriet described how her conditions for gaining permanency were significantly different from those of two male colleagues and how, after having considered contacting the union, in the end she decided against it, because ‘if I were to raise an issue like that, I could kiss my career goodbye’. The belief that challenging the system is pointless or even potentially damaging is a form of internalized control (Acker, 2006) which contributes to upholding structural inequalities. However, not all participants perceive their work environments as producing gendered differences. For example, Laila attributes the disproportionately low number of women in senior academic positions to personal choice rather than institutional processes:

I think there is evidence showing that women don't generally go into senior positions as frequently as men. And that could be because of issues such as having kids, or deciding to take a career break, or maybe just the fact that women are not as equally driven as men to make money. We find satisfaction in smaller things in life. But I think at the junior level at least, academia is gender-blind.

In acknowledging the existence of gender inequalities within organizational hierarchies, Laila uses an argument that naturalizes inequality (Glenn, 2002) through reference to essentialized gendered differences in life values and choices. Christina (lecturer, 31, R) similarly subscribes to a model of individual agency, whereby gender inequalities within an institution are seen as issues which an individual needs to address on her own (Monroe et al., 2008). She explains that ‘I don't think gender is an important barrier. I think it depends on what you really want to do, your targets, and whether you are a hardworking person or not’. Tying in with a meritocratic discourse, career progression is seen as dependent on individual work performance.

Participants make it clear that they seek professional advancement exclusively on the basis of merit, and that other attributes should have neither a discriminating nor an enabling effect. This preference for meritocracy is strongly voiced by Malena, a non-white mid-career academic working towards her goal of becoming a professor:

I want to be promoted not because I'm of a different racial, ethnic grouping or because I'm a female. I want to be promoted because of the kind of work I do, that I'm academically qualified to do. (Malena, senior lecturer, age not disclosed, R)

The functioning of the meritocratic system of UK academia is not, however, entirely trusted. In addition to stating her ambition to progress professionally only on the basis of merit, Malena also expresses a concern that despite the equal opportunities policies that university promotion committees are expected to follow, her chances of career advancement as a foreign woman might be reduced since ‘the philosophy that one promotes can be quite different from what actually is practised in reality behind closed doors’. As Deem (2007, p. 631) concludes, based on her study of six universities in the UK, ‘the rhetoric of equality in institutions is not always matched by the day-to-day experience of staff’. Similarly, the statements and examples provided by the participants indicate that UK academia is seen as meritocratic, particularly in comparison to their native countries, as mentioned by a number of participants. When offering concrete examples, however, some participants also express either an undefined sense of being marginalized, or in some instances relay experiences of direct discrimination.

Concluding discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References

In this article we have addressed the internationalization of academia in a UK context, investigating how global and institutional forces produce micro-level effects for non-national women academics. To explore the experiences of this group, we have drawn on intersectionality as a theoretical concept. The framework allows for the examination of how several categories, in this case gender and foreignness, interrelate in producing subjectivities whilst observing that the relation between categories is an open empirical question, and that there are differences between members within a category. While we see that individuals draw on different resources in narrating their own and others' positions, these narratives are produced in particular conditions.

Academia has become part of a market-based discourse which emphasizes global competition as a condition of success, leading UK academic institutions to focus on internationalization to recruit international students as well as staff. As we have seen, the ‘global’ market for academic staff is regionally clustered, indicating a stratification of mobility patterns. Broader socio-cultural and political forces can be discerned in the participants' narratives of the circumstances and decisions that led them to come to the UK. EU mobility concordats, UK visa regulations, colonial ties and the position of the English language emerge as factors that exercise influence over labour market flows, and which have shaped the transnational mobility of the interviewees. Most participants arrived in the UK as students with no clear intention of staying, hence employment opportunities or pay levels — commonly presented as determining migration — do not enter as factors contributing to their initial decision to choose the UK.

As we show, depending on factors such as race, ethnicity and socio-economic and cultural distance between the foreigner's country of origin and the UK, different types and degrees of foreignness are constructed. Moreover, the interviews also allow us to problematize the relational dynamics of foreignness by exploring differences between the experiences of foreignness in, for example, the context of a higher level university committee, dominated by white British men, compared to that of an international and culturally diverse department. Foreignness thus emerges as a complex and dynamic category, with the multiple processes of foreignness producing both positive and negative effects at the level of individual experiences.

What is noticeable overall is that the internationalization and subsequent growth in international staff are accompanied by discourses that seem to diminish the perceived existence of differences on an organizational level. Instead of a sense of an increasing, multifaceted diversity and a call for the institution to address that diversity, the dominant individualizing discourse promotes a perspective from which attributes of differentiation are absent.

The discourse of internationalization, for example, obscures intra-categorical differences. At the same time, it is founded on the upholding of a particular type of foreignness based on nationality. As institutions claim internationality by drawing on the number of non-national staff, foreignness becomes an institutional resource, not only for ‘soft’ marketing purposes, but also for ‘hard’ economic purposes in relation to accreditation. An intersectional approach enables questioning the totalizing category implied by internationalization, to bring to light how the general category of ‘non-national’ is constituted along different axes of social organization. On a micro level, the accounts of our participants show how gender, race, ethnicity and socio-economic and cultural relations between the foreigner's country of origin and the UK will assume different significances depending on the position of the individual.

Cues are given when participants tell of instances or circumstances in terms of their potential to meet, or more often failing to meet, a perceived organizational or societal norm, or when being stereotyped through images that are perpetuated through media and other public discourses. Moreover, in a hierarchically gendered organizational context, there are differences between the experiences of foreignness in, for example, the context of a higher level university committee, dominated by white British men, compared to that of an international and culturally diverse department. It can also be seen in participants positioning themselves in relation to the gendered, racialized and classed British university lecturer norm. On the other hand, participants also account for strategies of adapting to, or counteracting a felt type of foreignness, including drawing on it as a discursive resource. However, when such actions are carried out in response to a perceived gendered, racialized and classed norm, they simultaneously contribute to the reproduction of the said norm.

The institutional endorsement of meritocracy with its focus on individual achievement also obscures underlying processes of differentiation. The reliance on metrics as translated into research quality assessment, ranking lists and output targets, produces an institutional framework within which the evaluation of merit is seemingly based on neutral, objective criteria. While participants generally subscribe to UK academia being merit-based and comparatively just, there are examples of concrete events and processes which have put participants in a disadvantageous position. This is manifest through examples related to promotion, networking and collaboration, and implications of childcare responsibilities for career progression. In these instances, gender emerges as the key explanatory process through which participants make sense of their experiences. Also when seen as not having ‘affected’ their career directly, some participants acknowledge how gendered organizational structures produce privileging or marginalizing effects. On the other hand, even in instances of directly experienced discrimination, action is not necessarily taken. These participants refer to expected negative ramifications as grounds for deciding not to pursue action, indicating a sense of powerlessness, resignation or fear for one's continued career.

While it might be said that foreignness in itself is a category that subsumes ethnicity, gender, race and other attributes, and therefore provides a blunt instrument for addressing questions of the kind we have addressed, we argue that on the contrary it provides a useful analytical category in this context, and also makes a conceptual contribution. Applying the notion of foreignness allows us in this case to open up the reified category of ‘international academic’ to consider how this category is constituted in a multiplicity of ways. This conceptualization can also be extended to other contexts where foreignness constitutes a key process. Methodologically, the focus on individual narratives contributes to a less developed domain of the intersectional literature.

As such, we view our study as contributing to critical debates regarding the academic workplace and the changing conditions of UK academia by focusing on a current key aspect thereof. In mapping avenues for further research, we observe the decreasing level of job security, the increasing fetishization of metrics and managerialism, and the subsequent effects on individual careers as current factors that lead us to argue for the importance of continuing to interrogate how underlying structural conditions are obscured by discourses of market-based competition and internationalization.

  1. 1

    The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a nationwide framework which measures the quality of research output in UK higher education institutions at particular intervals. The first REF will be conducted in 2014; until 2008 the exercise was called the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

  2. 2

    The 2010 Association of Business Schools Academic Journal Quality Guide, commonly used by UK business schools to determine research output quality, lists 34 top-ranked journals in the areas largely represented by participants in this study (Accountancy, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Management/Organization Studies and Marketing). Of these, 29 are American by affiliation or editorial board composition.

  3. 3

    We acknowledge that participants from former British colonies, and one participant who undertook part of her primary education in the UK, had exposure to English-medium education from an early stage. Nevertheless, they were included in the sample on the basis of their self-identification as non-native English speakers.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Gender and foreignness in academia: an intersectional approach
  5. Internationalization of UK Higher Education
  6. Methodology
  7. Foreign women in UK academia: trajectories and experiences
  8. Concluding discussion
  9. References
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