Standards are in danger of slipping unless universities improve the working conditions of casual staff, a report from London University's Institute of Education has warned.
Recent Teaching Quality Assessment reports analysed by institute researchers show that departments that carefully integrate part-time staff into their development and training procedures are likely to function efficiently.
But departments that do not offer all staff the same degree of training and support are more likely to be rated by quality watchdogs as only satisfactory, rather than excellent.
The report, commissioned by university and college lecturers' union Natfhe reviews the relationship between teaching quality and the employment of casual staff.
It is widely predicted that the Bett report will include recommendations for the use of part-time staff.
"The bulk of part-time staff are not great practitioners," said Anand Chitnis, co-author of the report. "But they are a casual force coming in to teach large numbers of our students. We must recognise them as the next generation of academics in this country."
Just as important is the future role of the student as customer. "Because of the way that the finance agenda is going, students will expect certain standards because they have paid for them," Dr Chitnis said.
Staff keeping to part-time schedules are not able meet the needs of all their students, simply because they are not available all the time.
The institute's researchers found a widespread lack of mentoring, monitoring, induction and training for part-time staff. This, the report says, will not only lead to a deterioration in teaching quality, but will also demolish individual morale.
"We are not blaming the part-time employees, nor are we blaming the universities," said Dr Chitnis. "Student choice and recruitment is volatile. It is understandable why universities need the flexibility that casual contracts provide. But part-time staff merit induction and inclusion. It is safe to say that, on the whole, these things do not happen."
The findings support the union's call for improved conditions. Amanda Hart, Nafthe's national officer for higher education, said that the union would continue to push for increased recognition of part-time work within a department.
"A long-term issue will also be to ensure that future quality statistics incorporate part-time teaching staff," she said.