Although around 40 per cent of staff in higher education work part-time, they tend not to receive the level of academic or administrative support supplied to their full-time peers, according to a paper delivered at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s annual conference.
Amanda Gilbert, lecturer in academic development at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Fran Beaton, senior lecturer in higher education and academic practice at the University of Kent, interviewed dozens of part-time lecturers for a book, Developing Effective Part-time Teachers in Higher Education: New Approaches to Professional Development, which was published in October.
Presenting a paper about their findings at the SRHE conference, held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, South Wales, Dr Gilbert and Ms Beaton said that universities had to do more to ensure that part-time staff were treated equitably.
A lack of office space or administrative support was a frequent complaint among their interviewees, Ms Beaton told delegates on 13 December.
“Many people told us: ‘My car boot or bicycle basket is my office’,” she said. “Universities need to have a clear strategy for how part-time teachers are recruited and…where they will work.”
She added that other interviewees had said that any professional development on offer was unsuitable for part-time staff, “so they were just left to get on with things”.
“It is a particularly significant problem for part-time teachers because they might not be as plugged in to departments as full-time staff and able to find out about opportunities,” Ms Beaton said.
“I have lost count of the amount of times people told me they felt they could not go for their university’s teaching awards because they were…part-time.”
Dr Gilbert explained how the number of part-time staff had soared over the past 25 years because they were generally cheaper to hire, with contracts that were more flexible and easily adaptable to fluctuations in student numbers.
Some staff preferred part-time work because they could combine it with family commitments or a career in industry, while other teaching staff were employed on a casual, part-time basis because departments want their full-time staff to appear as research-intensive as possible.
“Some teachers need to be under the radar because [universities] do not want them to be included in the research excellence framework,” Dr Gilbert said.
But part-time staff often felt left out or overlooked in favour of their full-time peers, said Ms Beaton: “These people are often the department glue…but they do not get recognition.”
She added that “small things can make a difference” to the situation.
If part-time academics were invited to social events or made aware of the teaching timetables of their full-time colleagues, it boosted their morale.
The academics called on universities to review the role played by part-time staff and asked whether a system of “reward and recognition” for all was properly embedded within institutional structures.