Hello and welcome to this week’s news of things relevant to the casualisation of Australian higher education.
This week the government is promising to wait “as long as it takes” to negotiate a result on the reform of higher education funding in Australia. Students currently appealing for extensions on final tasks, as well as casuals working weekends to meet end of year committee deadlines, might like to know that the Minister takes a pretty relaxed view:
“Timelines can always be shifted and I’m not going to be hidebound by timing schedules,” Mr Pyne told journalists in Adelaide yesterday. “What I want is an outcome for students and universities. That is a more important result than (meeting) timelines and schedules,” he said.
Strongly opposing these reforms, the new National Alliance for Public Universities has issued a charter and has currently 1200 signatories from Australia’s university staff, some of whom identify as casual or sessional staff. NAPU is also on Facebook, and we hope to have a contribution from a new writer soon who will focus on NAPU from the standpoint of staffing and casualisation, especially as the requirement for signatories is to be “affiliated with an Australian university”—which is exactly the status that the majority of Australia’s casual university staff are about to lose as they are ejected from the payroll for the summer break.
At the funeral for Australia’s former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Cate Blanchett spoke to warm applause of the experience of the last generation who experienced public higher education as free.
The NTEU is preparing for the Insecure Work Conference in Hobart in ten days, and as we’re going along, we’re looking forward not only to meeting each other but other CASA writers and allies. The conference is being livestreamed so please do register and join in via Twitter if you can. We’ll also both be covering as much as we can on Twitter using the conference hashtag #securework.
Stephen Matchett gave good coverage to the conference (“scholars and stirrers”), making a point that came up elsewhere this week:
Every now and again I write something about the academic underclass – the sessional teachers who do a great deal of teaching for not much money and with few prospects of a full-time job. And when I do senior university managers who say they value their casual teaching-staff tick me off for suggesting they do not appreciate people paid by the hour.
This is the challenge that faces us: how to press the awkward casualisation questions in a way that engages those who have achieved secure and successful university careers, and are managing our universities in difficult times. We’re listening, and we’d genuinely like to hear from senior university managers on this question.
What’s happening elsewhere?
The UCU day of action against casualisation in the UK received solid mainstream coverage, and encouragement on Twitter throughout the day. Supporters also lobbied their local MPs, in the context of significant action in the UK against the use of zero hours contacts more generally. Different universities put on different kinds of events; Bristol University for example, ran workshops on a range of practical topics for academic casuals:
- Top Ten Tips for Surviving Casualisation.
- “How Many Contracts Have You Had” Photo Opportunity
- Graduate Teaching Assistants: What Do You Need to Feel Part of the Academic Community?
Ahead of the day, an article on academics fighting hourly contracts in The Guardian (thanks to Robyn May for this link) quoted a senior academic from London’s Soas who’s of the view that a career interval of casual teaching work pays off in the end:
The management team at Soas rejects the findings of the survey on working hours. Prof Paul Webley, the director, also says that not everyone wants to campaign against fractional contracts. “Some staff actively want part-time contracts, perhaps while they are bringing up a family, and we also have a lot of permanent staff on pro-rata contracts.”
He argues that although the early days of an academic career might be testing for students like Roberson, they are gaining vital training.
“PhD students are learning their trade. As well as giving them research experience, we are also trying to make sure that they get some experience of teaching. This is important preparation for an academic career.”
It can’t be said often enough that these beliefs are entirely out of whack with the probability of getting a full-time job this way. So long as universities are able to get so much of their bread-and-butter teaching work done by hourly paid academics, they have scant incentive to provide more expensive job stability. Over time, this means that public universities have been able to be strategically defunded to the extent that there’s now no way to operate without a slab of their work being done cheaply. Or, as a management spokesman from Glasgow university put it, the reason casualisation exists is that “the irregular nature of elements of our work does require a level of flexibility in our staffing levels”.
In the US, the planned national adjunct walkout is getting more coverage and more organisation. The organisers are remaining anonymous, with this thoughtfully reasoned explanation:
This call needs to be taken up by adjuncts everywhere if it’s going to be successful. By staying anonymous I (and the volunteers contributing time to this campaign) hope to keep the focus on adjuncts in general. There’s also a practical reason for staying anonymous—it stops the communication from getting personal. NAWD has received a lot of communication from excited adjuncts wanting to get involved, and that communication will only increase. NAWD will also see communication from those who have a stake in NAWD not succeeding. Keeping the communication out of the realm of the personal, since anyone “working” with NAWD is a volunteer and not a professional activist, will keep the focus on the movement, and not take too much time and energy away from the already busy lives of those volunteering.
Their goals are worth thinking about for Australians wondering both what to do, and what it’s possible to aim for as interim targets that would make a real difference:
The goal with NAWD is systemic change. That is the goal. But there are steps towards achieving that goal, such as raising awareness about the situation of adjuncts. Providing a network for adjuncts to connect from campus to campus. Changing the messaging about adjuncts from, “why don’t they just get another job?” to “why does a system that claims to value education exploit 75% of its faculty?” Getting tenured faculty involved—many of whom are horrified by what they see as the increasing corporatization of colleges—is huge. And finally, shining a national light on these issues so that no adjunct or campus is facing these issues alone. Systemic change is the goal, but achieving any of these steps would mean that NAWD has been a success.
That’s it for this week, thanks for your continued support and encouragement, and especially for passing CASA posts around. We really appreciate it. And if you’re on Twitter, the #auscasuals hashtag will get you news, links and updates through the week.