Casual culture props up academe

October 1, 2004

Nearly half of all higher education staff work on a casual basis despite a number of government initiatives aimed at creating greater job security.

The persistent casualisation of higher education has particular implications for women, as universities are increasingly being propped up by an army of women on temporary contracts being paid less on average than men and facing unequal promotion prospects.

A report from the Association of University Teachers shows that the number of female academics has risen by 43 per cent in the past seven years, while the number of male academics has increased by 4 per cent. Women make up 39 per cent per cent of academics.

The Unequal Academy , a detailed analysis of changes in academic staff from 1995-96 to 2002-03, also shows that the number of women working part time has almost doubled in seven years from 7,500 to 14,500. More than a quarter (26 per cent) now work part time. The percentage of men working part time rose from 9 per cent to 13 per cent.

Forty-eight per cent of female academics are on fixed-term contracts and 38 per cent of men. The overall use of fixed-term contracts has risen slightly in the past seven years, from 41 per cent to 42 per cent, despite government initiatives aimed at reducing them.

Stephen Court, senior research officer at the AUT and author of The Unequal Academy , said: "The report reveals the very different experiences of women and men working in higher education. Women may be flooding into universities but they do not appear to have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. This can be very demoralising."

The proportion of women on a particular grade is, in almost all cases, inversely related to the seniority of that grade. "The more senior the grade, the lower the proportion of female academics in the grade," Mr Court said.

Despite a surge in promotions for women ( Times Higher , June 25), they are still outnumbered by men in top jobs. They make up 13 per cent of professors in old universities, with success highly dependent on subject.

The pay gap between full-time male and female academics has widened slightly, to 15 per cent. And, as reported last month, for every £1 earned by men, women earn on average 85p. The biggest gaps are at medical schools and universities with a high proportion of research-only staff.

Katherine Bradley, who has just been made redundant after ten years on an annual lecturing contract at Oxford Brookes, said that apart from problems of planning from year to year, casual staff faced a battle for resources.

She said: "I had to fight for an office, a desk and a phone. There were times when I was teaching students in the corridor."

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