Quality watchdogs have told South Bank University not to rely too heavily on hourly paid lecturers. The rare official criticism of employment practices was hailed by one union as vindication of its campaign against casualisation.
In an audit report published last week, the Quality Assurance Agency warned that the university's hourly paid staff, who taught up to 40 per cent of at least one course, were less likely to be fully up to speed with the subject areas they taught and had few - and sometimes no - opportunities for training and development.
- Hourly paid lecturers who had no previous experience of teaching in higher education
- A lecturer who was unaware of the university's assessment rules
- A lecturer who lacked the appropriate qualifications in the subject being taught.
Roger Kline, head of universities at lecturers' union Natfhe which is campaigning against the overuse of underpaid and exploited hourly paid staff, said: "We welcome news that the QAA is finally recognising the potential impact of employing large numbers of hourly paid staff lecturers.
'We have no reason to believe that the position at South Bank is any different from that at most other universities. Natfhe would like to see the funding council send a clear message to the entire sector that the use and abuse of hourly paid staff as a money-saving measure must stop."
Overall, the QAA audit report gave South Bank a clean bill of health. But although it concluded that there could be "broad confidence" in the university's ability to safeguard its degree standards, the QAA "advised" South Bank to "monitor across all programmes the use of, and support given to, hourly paid lecturers".
Overreliance on hourly paid workers was a particular problem in the English department, where such staff teach up to 40 per cent of courses. The QAA had "expressed concerns" in 2003 about the department's "increasingly heavy reliance" on hourly paid staff.
In the engineering department, the QAA found that some lecturers lacked "previous experience of teaching in higher education". Hourly paid staff did a "substantial proportion" of maths teaching in engineering.
Some of the research students employed as lecturers were found to be ill-prepared for lecturing.
In its published response to the audit, South Bank says it is acting on the QAA's recommendations, "in particular in respect of increased support to research students undertaking teaching and to hourly paid lecturers".