Academic Supervision: Seeking Metaphors and Models for Quality

Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 28, No. 4, November 2004

11 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2008

Date Written: November 1, 2004


This is a pre-review version of an article published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education Vol.28 No. 4. It explores the idea that conceptualising academic supervision (at Honours or graduate level) as a fiduciary relationship can assist supervisors to enhance student learning through quality decision-making.

In this paper, I reflect on my conceptions of supervision in the light of the growing scholarship on supervision. My conceptions of academic supervision affect my practices as a supervisor. I use my conceptions and experiences of the supervision process to draw conclusions about the "best practice" of supervision. These conclusions about best practice are partial in the sense that they are justified by past experiences, mine and those of others. More is needed to assist supervisors to deliver good quality supervision within a complex relationship where future issues are hard to predict. As a solicitor and legal academic, I have been exposed to the "professional/client" relationship and to the literature on metaphors and models for such a relationship. The literature on academic supervision suggested to me that the professional/client relationship and the supervision relationship were similarly perceived. Metaphor is used as a device for understanding complexity and to provide a model for decision-making that, it is argued, will facilitate quality learning outcomes within the supervision relationship. In the fiduciary metaphor, the focus is on a relationship which is essentially an ethical one of promoting the welfare of the student. The effectiveness and continuance of the relationship depends on trust. Differentials in knowledge and power are respected but not exploited. Those with greater knowledge and power have correspondingly greater obligations. The language is that of mutual responsibilities and obligations rather than rights. This is contrasted with paternalism, a widespread metaphor within the professions generally, which disempowers and marginalises.

Keywords: Law, legal education, supervision

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Mackinnon, Jacquelin J., Academic Supervision: Seeking Metaphors and Models for Quality (November 1, 2004). Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 28, No. 4, November 2004. Available at SSRN:

Jacquelin J. Mackinnon (Contact Author)

University of Waikato, School of Law ( email )

Te Raupapa
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand

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