We’ve been wanting to put together information for casual staff at Australian universities, who need resources and funding to develop or sustain their research careers, whether that be academic, alt-ac, or professional.
We’re told*** that it’s highly engaging for students to be taught by people who are actively also researchers and highly engaged in their own careers. Now that the rate of casualisation of teaching affects so many university students, we expect universities to start to be concerned about this. So think of this as a helpful nudge.
Because we think there are some institutional risks associated with delivering a two-tier student experience, more or less decided by the lottery of enrolment and timetable, especially in research intensive universities. Will you really be taught by a leading or even emerging researcher in the discipline, as the marketing brochure and institutional ranking/s suggest? *
Below, our first list that is the result of 18 months investigation into research funding and development opportunities for casual and sessional university employees who are not currently enrolled in a PhD or other Higher Degree Research program**.
Research funding and development for casual staff available at Australian universities:
Yes, this list is complete. We’re hoping it will be the shortest.
(If you know of research funding development opportunities available to casual and sessional university employees who are not otherwise enrolled as research students, and that aren’t training opportunities directly related to institutional quality assurance or minimising institutional risk in some way, please let us know and we’ll promote it with a parade and a marching band. Sometimes all it takes is for one university to have an idea.)
*And this has nothing to do with the quality of the casual teacher as teacher – and it’s really time supporters of casualisation stop throwing this particularly rank red herring into the mix.
** And including those who are still within institutional time limits for completion.
*** UPDATE: A very good question by @snarkyphd on Twitter highlighted that we have no official source for our original statement (“Measures of student engagement tell us…”) except for what comes from those who are quite invested in linking student engagement with staff’s high(er and higher) research productivity. Indeed, upon searching for a source, we found this and this which definitely throws a big, shiny spanner into the works.
We do, however, maintain that being taught by someone who is not only highly engaged with and passionate about their chosen career, but who also has good reason to be hopeful about that career because it is actively supported by their university, would be a win for any student.
Charles Sturt University have just offered funding for all sessional staff (including markers) to attend their CSUed week – paid salary, paid accomodation, paid vehicle hire to get there and fuel. They even have sessions that look at the question of how to better support sessional academics! And yes, as a marker, I am going to the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday sessions. And yes, they received funding for the purpose of supporting all sessional academics. Wow! How amazing.
Thanks so much for sending us this — it’s a sign of real hope that all the elements for this event are paid. Is there anything equivalent at CSU that encourages sessionals in managing their own discipline research careers? Or are the examples like this primarily focused on sessionals as teachers?
This gets at something that is hard to tease out, but goes a bit like this: there’s a common sense objection to universities supporting the discipline research careers of casuals, because casual. But in reality there’s nothing to stop the investment made in the discipline research careers of salaried academics from migrating to another (often a competitor) employer. Far from saying that this is a reason not to invest in the research of salaried academics, institutions double down on it with attract & retain payments.
The double standard is obvious. The bigger question is how long universities can continue with claims that attract students on the basis of institutional research reputation, while everything else about the structure and management of research support reduces the likelihood of students being taught at close range by the institution’s actual researchers. A fairly frugal response to this would be to ensure that casual and sessional staff who are invested in researcher careers have even modest access to institutional support and sector recognition.
Hi Kate – just found your post (getting there with this site). The week we had at CSU was phenomenal and from talking and listening to the people at the top, there is a genuine consciousness that sessional staff need more support. They are setting up web pages that provide staff with appropriate information that you need to know; they are considering bringing sessional staff representation onto their educational committees/boards/groups and they are wanting to provide more opportunities for supporting staff development. It’s like it’s an area where they are taking steps to address the unjust way sessionals are employed without employing them as part-timers or full-timers. The other interesting aspect that came up for me is that many of the sessional staff did not hold a masters, much less a PhD in research (they had experience) and did not aspire to further those qualifications. What does this say about the quality of academic teaching? This is not meant to put down the teaching qualities these staff have but more directed at how universities in general profile themselves as academic institutions but their students are taught by non-academics and people who are not interested in academia or research. This is something that universities do not advertise and it often means that students are not exposed to academics who are doing the research. So yes, I concur with your comments about a double standard. It is interesting when you are job hunting and you look at a university’s staff listing to find that there are assoc. professors and senior lecturers who are a Ms or Mr.
The issue of sessional staff is a challenge. Imagine how great it would be if you were teaching the equivalent of 8hrs a week (3 tutorials of the same unit) that you were able to choose to be employed 1 day per week in an ongoing manner?
This is a really complicated bundle of things that it’s so important to address. As a sector we have mistaken criticism of casualisation for criticism of casual staff for so long that casualisation has been able to entrench itself while we were looking the other way. But you have put it really plainly: universities advertise themselves in one way, and hire in another. And eventually this mismatch will have to be addressed at the level of marketing.
On your last question, the complication is really how much of a FTE load 8 hours teaching might represent. Increasingly universities are getting full teaching loads at casual rates, and this raises a question: why pay academics who teach salaries at all?
This is where all full-time academics at Australian universities should look up and notice that this is about all of us.
No doubt the U.S. list would just as long, especially if just for casuals and excluding professional development, conference and travel funding — not that those categories aren’t super skimpy. Some grants are open to casuals, who would still be at a huge disadvantage applying — like running in a 3-legged sack race against sackless runners.
❤ and plan to pinch expression “rank red herring” (applicable so many places)
Love it. In the sense of deploring it. Love that you are showing it as deplorable. For others, it’s common sense.