Sharp rise in casuals for Oz

April 4, 2003

The number of casual staff in Australian universities is rising sharply, according to a study by Queensland University.

In 1991, 10 per cent of the nation's 73,000 university staff were estimated to be in casual jobs. A decade later, the proportion was almost 15.5 per cent of the 82,000 higher education workers - an increase of 56 per cent.

The Queensland report, commissioned by the Australian University Teaching Committee, says that higher education is becoming a "casualised" industry of professionals in teaching and research.

"Significant reductions in government funding, increased student diversity and expectations, burgeoning student numbers, and the accommodation of changing educational technologies and globalisation have led to substantial changes in employment practices," the report says.

As class sizes rise and permanent staff levels remain unchanged or fall, universities have come to rely on casuals.

In some cases, the only contact students have is with casual and part-time teachers, known as "throw-away academics". This gives rise to "faceless" departments where students see a succession of casuals and only later encounter full-time staff.

The report says sessional staff include postgraduate students and industry-based professionals.

It adds that university leaders frequently overlook part-time academics.

Many part-time staff complain of feeling isolated, unable to participate in decision-making and denied access to facilities as basic as offices and emails.

The increase in casual employment stems from a 1998 decision by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to impose strict restrictions on fixed-term contract appointments.

Details: www.tedi.uq.edu.au/sessionalteaching

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