Hello everyone, and welcome to another week of casualisation news in Australian higher education.
Just as last week’s news whizzed down the laundry chute, Andrew Norton’s report for the Grattan Institute, Mapping Australian Higher Education 2014-2015, was also released, with a substantial chapter on university staffing:
Australia’s universities employed just under 116,000 people on a permanent or fixed-term contract basis in 2013. Of these, 51,400 had academic job classifications and 64,400 non-academic job classifications. These statistics do not include casually employed staff. In 2010 an estimated 67,000 people were employed as casual academics. In the non-university higher education sector, 1,400 people had permanent or fixed term contract academic positions in 2013. Non-university higher education provider (NUHEP) casual academic staff numbers are not reported, but in 2012 they were nearly half the workforce on a full-time equivalent basis.58 In both NUHEPs and universities, more than half of all teachers are employed casually. (p32 — see also footnotes 57 and 58)
Here are the key points from pp 34-35, that together add up to the problem faced by Australia’s locked-out academic workers:
- From a 2010 survey: academic work is chosen over other jobs because it is perceived as intellectually stimulating and an opportunity to contribute to knowledge (rather than, say, because it’s well paid)
- More than 60% of research students hope for an academic job, although not all see this as a realistic hope
- Department of Education data showed 7800 PhD completions in 2013, with around 1000 new academic vacancies created by retirement or resignation*
- Around half of casual academic jobs are undertaken by those who are also enrolled students, primarily at PhD level
- From a 2010 survey, more than a quarter of casual staff who responded had been working casually for five years or more
- From a 2011 survey, 21% of academic casuals taught at more than one institution
* Thanks to Andrew Norton who updated this for us on Twitter and might also comment below:
— Andrew Norton (@andrewjnorton) October 19, 2014
It’s hard not to conclude that Australia’s PhD students are not being counselled adequately about the reality of their career goals. Even if all those 1000 vacancies were kept open and not casualised, academic recruitment is global, and as we mentioned last week, Australian universities gain rankings points for international hires.
And anyone who thinks the answer is global mobility for Australian PhDs has missed the memo about global academic casualisation. Take for example the situation in Ireland, noted in this University Times article:
TLWW* note that permanent jobs at University level are increasingly disappearing in favour of low-paid, temporary employment. Temporary work comes without security, proper remuneration or benefits, and renders invisible this labour that the university relies on to function. These precarious employees often teach core modules in departments or can be the essential members of research projects. There appears to be a paradox between the critical thinking and liberal egalitarian views that universities profess and the exploitation of postgraduate students who do a majority of the day-to-day work for a tiny income.
Or this from US higher education researchers Philip Altbach and and Martin Finkelstein, in an essay for Inside Higher Education:
Fewer and fewer faculty in the United States now have full-time tenure-track positions that lead to a stable career. Indeed, for the past 20 years, the majority of “new hires” (between 50-58 percent) to full-time faculty positions have been off the career ladder; and over the past five, the number of part-time faculty has risen to match the number of full-time faculty — three-quarters of a million each. Many current policies are destroying the traditional tenure system without formally dismantling it: only 47 percent of full-time faculty, and only about one-third of the headcount faculty, are now tenured or tenure-track.
But see also Canadian biologist and blogger Steven Vamosi, who notes in a post this week that in some fields candidates can expect a competitive field of only 30-80 applications per tenure track position. Vamosi sees this as reasonably good news—and it would be if there were sufficient prospects of success elsewhere for the 29-79 competitively qualified candidates who miss out and move on.
What’s happening elsewhere?
The Working At 40 project commemorates 40 years since the publication of Studs Terkels’ Working collection of oral histories from American workers. This time around, the workers include a web engineer, a data entry operator, a flight attendant, an actor and an adjunct professor who recently lost her job for speaking out against her working conditions. In “I was practically giving my work away, it was charity“, Maria describes her work and her hopes for the future.
When you first start teaching, you are very idealistic. You think that it’s all hunky dory and things will work out. The following year, a full-time position opened and I applied for it. It seemed to go well, and then all of a sudden I didn’t get it. After my second year, I realized that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. …
I think that’s the problem with academic and higher ed across the United States with the corporatized university. It comes down to costs and money. But education is about critical thinking skills and making connections. Parents don’t know that this is going on. Parents pay big bucks for college. Seventy-six percent of [those teaching college classes] are contingent workers [non-tenure-track faculty or graduate employees]. That doesn’t make any sense. The academic worker is being pummeled, and we have to fight back.
There’s an invisibility factor among adjuncts, and everyone was even more afraid after I got fired for speaking out. I’m still doing what I can.
In “Adjunct Faculty Takes on Administration“, The Santa Fe Reporter continues the growing trend of mainstream news outlets covering adjunct organisations.
Jason del Grandio writes for the Political Research Associates blog, and this week points out that academic precarity affects the quality of student learning, not because of the ability of adjuncts, but because of their working circumstances and their absence from the key conversations that shape curriculum and practice:
Contingent faculty are also less likely to serve on committees, advise undergraduate theses, teach graduate classes, oversee student organizations, lead program or curricular changes, participate in institutional governance, or reap the full benefits of a university’s intellectual life. Campus can quickly become a place to earn a paycheck, period.
The Unarmed Education Mercenary writes about having to juggle marking deadlines and small kids who get sick. From the hospital ER, she tries to figure out how her grading will get done:
I doubted I could get an extension. I wondered how that would make me look. I wondered if it would cost me my job. At a time when all I really should be able to focus on was my kids, I was worried if our emergency would be a problem. Perhaps my employer would’ve been understanding, but I don’t know, nor do I have any protection as of yet. Just one more wobble as I walk the precarious line of adjunct faculty life.
One we missed from last week, and thanks to the CASA writer who reminded us about it: Max Lewontin in Chronicle Vitae covered the pressure placed on academic casuals by student evaluations.
Finally, increasing coverage of the proposed adjunct walkout in February 2015, including an article by Sarah Kendzior for Chronicle Vitae, “The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem“. Kendzior argues that adjuncts are manipulated into accepting poor pay and conditions in return for the apparent status of academic work, and that adjuncting amounts to a pay-to-work job. She also reaches back to a Slate article earlier this year in which Rebecca Schuman argues that college ranking instruments should include casualisation measures.
We’d like to see that.
Have a good week everyone, and thanks for sharing this around your networks.