Academic staff in Australia reach record levels post-pandemic

Department of Education says data shows return to the pattern of consistent growth observed before Covid-19

May 27, 2024
Source: iStock/aedkais

The number of academics working at Australian universities has rebounded since the pandemic and climbed to record levels, according to snapshot figures.

Department of Education data shows that the equivalent of 137,689 full-time total staff (FTE) were working in the country’s universities in 2023 – 5 per cent more than in 2022, and the largest annual increase since records began in 1996.

However, the figures show that total staff levels, which include academic and non-academic staff on full-time, fractional full-time and casual contracts, are still 2 per cent below the peak of 2020, when there were 140,805.

The education department said total staff numbers continued to recover in 2023 after the steep decrease in 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“While total staff FTE has not fully recovered to 2020 figures, the data appear to show a return to the pattern of consistent growth observed before the pandemic,” it added.

A total of 49,403 FTE academic staff were employed when the snapshot figures were recorded on 31 March 2023. This was 4 per cent more than in 2022, and the most since records began in 1996.

Within academia, the largest staffing group are senior lecturers for the second successive year – an increase of 6 per cent from 2022, and a 10-year increase of 26 per cent.

They now make up 31 per cent of total academic FTE in 2023 and outnumber lecturers, which have historically accounted for the largest proportion of academic staff.

Meanwhile, the number of academics on teaching-only contracts jumped 8 per cent year-on-year, though they still make up only 5 per cent of the total.

The pandemic caused even bigger decreases in non-academic staff, which have not yet returned to normal. But the number did increase by a record 6 per cent, from 63,383 in 2022 to 67,207 in 2023.

The statistics also showed further progress in the number of First Nations staff employed – which has grown 73 per cent over the past decade.

The minority now makes up 1.6 per cent of the total staff in 2023 – up from 1.5 per cent the year before.

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