With so many variations of lecturer, fellow, reader and professor – such as senior, associate, visiting and principal – academic job titles are sometimes seen as confusing for students.
But a rather blunt job description of “hourly paid lecturer” used by the University of Lincoln has attracted criticism for a different reason.
A number of staff on the university’s website have been listed as “hourly paid lecturer – HE”, a move that risks stigmatising these employees by highlighting the precarious nature of their jobs, according to the pressure group Fighting Against Casualisation in Employment.
Lincoln’s use of these titles is “adding insult to injury”, said a spokesman for Face, a network of staff on casual contracts that campaigns for better working conditions.
The manner in which staff are listed is “about more than just academic prestige”, he said.
“While these titles helpfully lay bare the extent of casualisation in Britain's universities, they also threaten to entrench it, damaging the career prospects of hourly paid staff to the extent that they become a permanent second-tier workforce,” he said.
Hourly paid staff at many universities “already have the worst of both worlds, lacking the security of full positions while still being expected to carry out administrative and pastoral duties for effectively zero pay”, he added.
“In this case, the University of Lincoln is simply adding insult to injury,” he said.
But the university rejected the implication that its job titles did not accord sufficient respect to hourly paid staff.
“We don’t consider hourly paid lecturers to be second-class members of faculty,” said a spokesman, who added that “it is important that our students know who is teaching them”.
“Many hourly paid lecturers are employed professionally in other sectors and bring valuable industry experience to our curriculum,” he added.
The issue of job titles comes amid increased scrutiny of the treatment of staff on hourly paid, short-term or casual contracts.
A year-long study by a joint working group involving universities and trade unions, the results of which were published in July, called for institutions to consider whether casual staff are invited to take part in training and induction days.
But it was unable to reach a consensus on the total number of staff on zero-hours or casual contracts because of inconsistency in job titles being reported to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.