Leader: Cautionary tale of two workforces

April 27, 2007

Bournemouth University's contract with new staff is scarcely a tyrant's charter. But removing study leave and potentially making staff do more than 18 hours a week of teaching mean that Bournemouth is positioning itself as a teaching-only institution where scholarship and research take a distant second place. And retaining the intellectual property rights on teaching materials means that nobody who wants to write a textbook will want to work there.

However, while the University and College Union fears that the new contract will mean the emergence of a two-tier workforce, over time, turnover and promotion will bring everyone at Bournemouth into the net.

The real division in the academic labour market will be between those who have to accept contracts such as these and those who do not.

Anyone who brings in serious research funds or who leads courses in popular areas such as business can negotiate their own contracts. The Times Higher 's survey of academic pay shows that an increasing number does so.

But most academics are in no position to dictate terms, especially when they are applying for jobs in competition with others. Few have the leverage that comes from producing patents or any other outputs of commercial value. In many fields of academic life - beyond medicine, science or engineering - it is impossible to do so.

The Bournemouth contract suggests that most applicants for lecturer jobs at the university are going to be lecturing for longer hours than before. In addition, student numbers are growing faster than staff numbers - and that means more work for academics, as does increased pressure for 24/7 student contact. The result is likely to be a lower-quality working life for anyone on the front line of university teaching at an institution without significant research income.

Bournemouth's changed employment conditions highlight the reality that even the introduction of fees has not given universities the cash they need to pay skilled professionals properly. Because salaries account for most of the running costs of a university, only enhanced funding will prevent moves such as these becoming commonplace across the sector.

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