The Academic Union’s Pitch

Casuals push tied to new starters

by Andrew Trounson
June 20, 2012

THE academic union’s pitch to get casual staff permanent jobs by moving them into teaching-intensive roles will focus on entry-level positions.

But the National Tertiary Education Union will continue to oppose existing staff being pushed into teaching-only roles.

“We need to face the reality of what has already happened. A huge proportion of teaching is being done by people who are employed just to teach,” NTEU president Jeannie Rea said.

The NTEU is hoping 2000 such positions could be created over four years. That represents about 20 per cent of the estimated full-time equivalent casual academic workforce, but is small compared to the actual numbers, calculated at 67,000.

The so-called scholarly teaching fellows positions would devote about 70 per cent of their time to teaching, compared with a traditional 40-40 split between teaching and research. The remaining 30 per cent would be for administration and community engagement.

The salary would be at about A6 level.While the NTEU said staff in such positions should have scope to move into more traditional roles within three years, the secretary of the ACT division, Stephen Darwin, said a 70 per cent teaching load would leave scant scope for scholarship and research. He would prefer a maximum of 60 per cent, noting that even teaching-focused roles needed sufficient paid research time for teachers to stay up to date with their fields.

“That is a very thin proportion for these academics to do their work,” Mr Darwin said.

Griffith University workforce researcher Robyn May said it was a pragmatic way to reduce casualisation, which locks people out of the permanent jobs and threatens quality given the lack of support such staff get. “Fixed-term, part-time and ongoing teaching-focused roles are preferable to casual positions on every score,” she said.

But the new positions may not appeal to universities that rely on casuals to keep down costs and manage varying student demand and preferences.

“I’m not sure why universities would want to use teaching-scholar appointments if their teaching load is reduced to 70 per cent but without any cost reduction,” said Stuart Andrews, executive director of the Australia Higher Education Industrial Association. But warnings from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency that it will monitor casual rates amid quality concerns may force universities to re-examine their reliance on them.
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