Cardiff in recruitment drive for fixed-term ‘brilliant lecturers’

University says scheme will give junior academics ‘opportunity to experience life as a full-time lecturer’, but critics suspect REF link

August 12, 2019
Children dressed as Einstein
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A Russell Group university’s plan to recruit 33 “brilliant lecturers” on 18-month contracts has triggered fresh debate about career development for junior academics.

Cardiff University’s Brilliant Lecturers Scheme bills itself as a “bespoke training and development programme” offering early career scholars “the opportunity to experience life as a full time university lecturer for 18 months”.

As well as a salary of between £33,199 and £39,609, candidates are promised a personal research and development fund of £3,000 and also “innovative leadership training, peer-to-peer support and networking opportunities”.

However, critics highlighted that Cardiff announced plans to cut the equivalent of 380 full-time jobs just six months ago, and suggested that the short-term recruitment drive was aimed at boosting the university’s performance in the upcoming research excellence framework.

A Cardiff spokesman said the initiative was linked to the institution’s research leave scheme for permanent staff. This created gaps in teaching provision, which “can be difficult to fill”, the spokesman said. Rather than cover those gaps with hourly paid teachers, Cardiff will, via the new scheme, fund full-time teaching and research positions “over a considerably longer period of time”.

Existing staff will get “valuable time” to focus on their research, while junior academics will get “valuable experience of teaching”.

Early career researchers often complain of the difficulty of obtaining teaching experience, and the new scheme “addresses this gap”, the spokesman added.

Jonathan Ellis, reader in American literature at the University of Sheffield, was unconvinced, saying that the programme appeared to be a “highly cynical attempt to parachute in” young academics without committing to permanent contracts.

“The contract ensures that brilliant lecturers can be counted as part of the REF, thus boosting future research income; but what about their careers after this?” he asked.

“This is exploitation disguised as innovation, and thinly disguised at that.”

Alison Cameron, senior lecturer in zoology at Bangor University, said it was surprising to see the new positions being announced so soon after the university stated that it did not have “two pennies to rub together and…had to cut staff”. She said it was a “clear case of casualisation”.

But the Cardiff spokesman insisted that positions on the new scheme were “time-limited” because they were tied to research leave.

“They are the opposite of casualisation in that we have stipulated full-time teaching and research roles, with personal training and development, moving away from the unpredictable, short-term teaching replacement often used within the sector,” he said.

The “unique” scheme should place applicants in an “optimal position” to obtain a permanent role or to “transition” to related sectors where research and teaching skills are valued, he added.

nick.mayo@timeshighereducation.com

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