Age catches up with Oz lecturer force

November 2, 2001

Australian universities face a staffing crisis over the next five to ten years as one in every eight academics reaches retiring age. Few young academics are being appointed to permanent positions.

Federal education department statistics show that almost 70 per cent of professors and readers are aged 50 or older while 40 per cent are older than 55. More than 800 out of this 7,000-strong group are in their 60s (and 200 are 64 and older). Only 14 per cent of academics are younger than 40, and they are mostly junior lecturers.

Many of these junior posts are also occupied by young academics employed as casuals with no security of tenure. Employed for short or long periods to fill vacancies or help out on special occasions, they are not on the permanent staff, do not have contracts and are paid by the hour. Their number has increased since the Industrial Relations Commission placed limits on the use of fixed-term contracts three years ago.

The commission prohibited universities from offering contracts unless the position was funded outside government grants, was a research-only post, or was to replace an employee on leave.

Universities have reduced fixed-term contract positions while significantly boosting casual appointments. In 1991, 10 per cent of 73,343 full-time-equivalent university staff were estimated to be casual. By last year, the proportion was almost 15.5 per cent of an 82,211-strong workforce.

The National Tertiary Education Union said the situation regarding casuals was worse than the government's figures indicated.

The union's spokesman said: "It is just not acceptable for employers to dispense with requirements to pay staff industrial entitlements by employing them on a casual basis when they should be continuing." The union says appointments should be either on contract or permanent.

A further complicating factor is the marked differences are between the age profiles of male and female academics, with universities employing a far larger proportion of younger female staff.

While 41 per cent of male academics are over 50, only 28 per cent of women are 50 or older. The departmental figures also show that female numbers decline sharply at senior levels.

Although women outnumber men on the general staff of universities, within the academic community they are in the minority, comprising only 36 per cent of the total.

Women make up 16 per cent of professors and readers and 30 per cent of senior lecturers, yet they constitute almost 50 per cent of staff at the lower lecturer levels.

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