The life of so-called “flying faculty” may not sound so bad: jetting off to sunnier climes to deliver a few lectures, while staying in four-star hotels.
But a new study finds that the experience of academics who travel overseas for short periods to teach at branch campuses or partner universities is anything but a holiday.
In fact, international responsibilities can put such strain on work-life balance that lecturers should be given the opportunity to opt out of the trips, according to an article published in the journal Higher Education Research & Development.
Juraifa Jais, of Malaysia’s Tenaga National University, interviewed academics with offshore duties at institutions across Southeast Asia for the study, alongside Kosmas Smyrnios and Lynnel Hoare, both of RMIT University in Australia.
They found that, for the majority of respondents, teaching overseas was not optional but a requirement of their role, and that the assignments typically lasted for a week or a fortnight, twice a year.
Long working hours emerged as a key theme, with approximately two-thirds of respondents reporting that incorporating location-specific advance preparation took up a lot of time before and during the trip.
Teaching hours were lengthy, with lecturers for one Hong Kong-based programme arriving on a Friday and teaching for four hours from 6pm, before doing the same between 2pm and 10pm on Saturday, and 9am to 5pm on Sunday.
Most academics reported that they did not get days off and spent much of their time outside the classroom dealing with student enquiries and attending official functions.
Respondents acknowledged that they benefited from new cultural and teaching experiences, but complained that they did not receive sufficient support from their universities, either to take account of the heavy workload, or to assist with the impact of family separation. For example, some academics reported incurring additional childcare costs during their absence overseas.
The authors conclude that universities should at least consider offering additional compensation or time off in lieu.
“Academics should be given opportunities to opt out of offshore teaching or to defer involvement when the personal costs linked to offshore teaching are high,” they add.