Welcome to CASA’s weekly news, and hello to new subscribers.
The big news
In Australia, the Federal budget has landed.
The reforms to higher education are very wide, and there’s a comprehensive NTEU fact sheet here. There’s good coverage all over the place: here’s Gavin Moodie on the great Australian free for all in the UK wonkhe blog; Simon Marginson in The Conversation on whether the budget makes us a clever country; RMIT Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner on the creation of a quasi-market in higher education; and Emmeline Bexley on fee deregulation. Universities Australia response is here. The Scan has an excellent round-up of sector responses here.
Nothing happens overnight, but this is a good time for anyone thinking of enrolling in a PhD and/or working casually in Australia’s universities to take a realistic look at employment prospects in a more stratified higher education sector.
As Christopher Pyne has openly directed all our thoughts towards the US, we’ll continue our focus on what’s going on there. And here’s our prediction: that each week coverage of US higher education will continue to show the impact of the Grand Canyon-sized gap between the minority of faculty recruited to long-term career positions, and the very much larger majority of college teachers hired and let go on semester by semester cycles.
Meanwhile, back here in the land of the $3 beer, cuts to the Research Training Scheme will introduce a tuition contribution for PhD and Masters by Research students; and education debt will shift onto a footing that more closely resembles taking out a mortgage. Interest rates on education debt will be higher, meaning that anyone who takes longer to start paying it back, or ends up paying it more slowly because of long-term part-time employment, will pay much more in the end.
And now that universities will be freed up to set the fees they think students will pay, education debt itself will increase, and will vary more widely across institutions and disciplines. This means that price will play a significant role in student choice, as more low-cost providers, more teaching-focused institutions, and more sub-degree qualifications will appear in the market.
Altogether, these proposals suggest increased demand for a flexible tertiary teaching workforce willing to work casually across different kinds of institutions, and at the same time less reason for graduates to continue to PhD enrolment, given the weak prospect of securing an academic career. There will also be stronger disincentive for academically successful graduates or even those with completed PhDs to accept long-term casual teaching employment while their education debt hikes up at a rate comparable to an unpaid housing loan.
But unlike a house, a degree can’t be put back on the market if things don’t work out, making this a loan taken out on the most speculative basis, from which there can be no default. So it’s probably time that universities offered serious debt counselling at the point of recruitment to both undergraduate students and the research students who become their teachers, just as commercial lenders are required to do in the mortgage market.
What’s happening elsewhere?
In the US, the long-term impact of student loans has spread right across the economy, with college graduates showing diminished enthusiasm for taking on housing debt and even car loans. This week, Bloomberg reported a rise in young Americans continuing to live close to home rather than travelling to seek employment:
Economists and demographers say a combination of relatively low-paying opportunities, the burden of student loans and an aversion to taking risks explains the reluctance to relocate. Student-loan debt rose $114 billion in the year ended in December to $1.08 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior took a substantial and critical look at college as “the promise that the economy does not keep.”
Two columns by adjuncts this week looked at what actually happens in class and beyond. Rebecca Schuman in her regular Slate column looked at grade inflation in terms of the structural pressure on adjuncts to stay popular:
Although exceptions exist, the trend in U.S. higher ed at the moment is precarious faculty, hired semester to semester or at best year to year, and rehired based almost solely on student evaluations—which, alas, arethemselves often based on how “well” the student is doing in class. Adjuncts like me regularly admit to grade inflating, simply as a survival measure, but the consistencyof nationwide trends means that even tenured and tenure-track faculty must be inflating grades, too. After all, a pissed-off student who goes all the way to the dean can impact their careers as well.
Lee Skallerup Bessette for University of Venus (Inside Higher Ed) looked at research showing long term benefits to college graduates who were closely supported by faculty during their studies, and asked whether adjunct faculty could possibly be expected to provide this level of care.
Adjuncts and other contingent faculty often lack the capital, both personal and institutional, to actually act on the fact that they “care” about their students. Beyond a sympathetic ear, what can an adjunct do to help the student feel more connected? What opportunities can they provide for the student beyond the three-credit-hours of the course, with no office, no time, no established place within the larger university or college (or multiple universities or colleges)?
The Boston Globe reported that adjuncts at Northeastern have voted to unionise. The Daily Pennsylvanian put out a substantial and sympathetic article on adjunct unionisation in Philadelphia, explaining the state of higher education employment for its readers:
Mark does not have health insurance. He has no job security and little hope for career advancement. He gets paid around $23,000 a year, enough for “a man of simple means” like himself but not enough to start a family or buy a home.
But Mark isn’t a fast food worker, although he might be better off as one. He is a lecturer at Penn, and he could be your professor.
Adjuncts at CUNY have written an open letter to the President of the Professional Staff Congress, concerned at adjunct and graduate TAs being overlooked in their union response to the CUNY budget, and noting that the union has consistently failed to include adjuncts in its bargaining meetings.
Adjunct activist Mary-Faith Cerasoli undertook a 5 day hunger strike in New York.
Fractionals and graduate teaching assistants at SOAS in London refused to mark student assignments in protest against unpaid hours.
What do #auscasuals have in common with adjuncts and fractionals?
One of the channels that’s emerged through US adjuncts organisation is the weekly #AdjunctChat forum on Twitter for exchanging experiences and raising issues of common concern. #AdjunctChat organisers have invited the CASA community to join them for a three way chat with UK colleagues this week, and have shifted their time a bit so that it’s not such a frighteningly early start. Unfortunately the timing will still exclude west coast casuals here, but we hope some of us on the east coast will be able to join in.
It’s on Wednesday 21st, 7am-8am Sydney time, and we’ll send out Twitter reminders to #auscasuals. If you’re new to Twitter chats, or you want to get a sense of what happens in #AdjunctChat, check it out here.
That’s it from us. As ever, if you want to send something our way to cover in the news round up, casualcasa at gmail dot com. And thanks again everyone for sharing the posts of CASA writers.
Have a good week everyone,
@acahacker and @KateMfd