Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

It's Not Just about Us

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

It's Not Just about Us

Article excerpt

Like junior doctors, casualised academics should highlight the public value of what they do, argues Tom Cutterham

Students graduating from UK universities and entering a hostile global economic climate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt are right to fear for their futures. What they probably don't realise is that most of the highly qualified experts who teach them face the same insecurity year in, year out.

Earlier this month, a campaign group, Fighting Against Casualisation in Education, revealed that up to a third of staff at some institutions are on teaching-only contracts ("Institutions 'most reliant' on teaching-only staff named", News, 17 March). And data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that less than two-thirds of the UK's academics are on permanent contracts. The rest make a living by patching together fixed-term, hourly-paid, fractional and zero-hours contracts, often at more than one institution. Time not devoted to marking and preparation is spent on job applications, in the hope of striking lucky on a permanent post or just making ends meet next term. Research and writing, vital to transforming a vocation into a career, are bought with sacrifices from the schedule of a normal life: relaxation, friendship and sleep.

Labouring under these precarious conditions makes it hard for academics to organise against them. Yet, as Times Higher Education has reported ("Because we're worth it", Feature, 27 August 2015), growing numbers of graduate students and academics are becoming involved in grass-roots anti-casualisation campaigns. Where they have led, the University and College Union is following. Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, has spoken out against casualisation both in print and before Parliament. At the end of January, the union wrote to the heads of UK higher education institutions seeking to enter negotiations "with the express aim of increasing job security, continuity of employment and opportunities for career progression for all staff engaged in any forms of teaching and/or research". Casualisation, it says, "should be a source of shame for our universities".

Some blame this situation on oversupply in the academic labour market but that is only a small part of the story. …

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