Specialist music teachers and voice tutors could see their working conditions in higher education improve as a result of a two-year project starting in January, writes Tony Tysome.
The project, part of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's good management practice initiative, will explore ways of improving contracts for the specialist teachers employed by six English conservatoires.
Janet Mills, research fellow at the Royal College of Music, who has been appointed project director, said music had the highest proportion of teachers in higher education on hourly paid contracts.
"In some subject areas, this would be considered bad management practice. But conservatoires must employ people in this way to ensure they have the right specialists. That is also why it is difficult to say how many specialist professors there are - demand for different specialisms changes each year," she said.
The project will look at what continuing professional development opportunities there are for specialist teachers, who may be professional performers teaching at a conservatoire for only a few hours per week.
It will also see how the same issues affect higher education specialist teachers in dance, drama, art and design.
Dr Mills said that despite having to accept contracts that may be less attractive than those offered to other higher education lecturers, teaching in conservatoires was still an attractive option for many top musicians.
"It is the sort of work many high-powered musicians want to do as part of their daily work. Most of our graduates want to be performing musicians, but they will also want to do some teaching," she said.
The project will look for good practice among conservatoires in the management of specialist teaching contracts, rather than for a standard formula.