Adelaide v-c wants end to fixed-time contracts in Australia

Australian academics should not be contractually bound always to split their time equally between teaching and research, the vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide has said.

April 5, 2013

Employment contracts in Australia typically stipulate that academics should divide their time between research, teaching and administration according to a 40:40:20 ratio.

But Warren Bebbington told the National Tertiary Education Union’s national conference in Melbourne on 4 April that the formula should be more flexible, reflecting academics’ current priorities.

“In my experience, academics’ work-life focus will change over the years. They may have a few years in which they are very productive in research, and should then be encouraged and supported to really concentrate on that research output,” he said.

“This might be followed by a period in which their research capacity is less prominent or prolific. Individual staff members, and the university as a whole, may well be then better served by those academics focusing their energies on teaching at that time,” he said.

He suggested that each academic should be able to negotiate their allocations of teaching and research at the beginning of each year.

But he was wary about the value of teaching-only contracts: “In a research-intensive university, all teaching staff should always have some standing and involvement in research,” he said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Warren Bebbington has hit the nail of the head, but will ruffle many in the ivory towers of Australian campuses. As an ex-academic who enjoyed 10 years in the role, I broke the mould when, as a Lecturer, I traveled overseas to many conferences and secured a number of Visiting Professorships in Europe and Asia. My expertise is in Small Business, with many more years as a practitioner than a teacher, and found that my views and teaching methods created "a breath of fresh air" aside from my colleagues in Australia. I dabbled in research, more from the practitioner aspect than the pure academic, and found that my strengths were exactly what was required in newly developing nations (Asia and Eastern Europe). However, back in Australia, my views were "outside the square" and questioned the status quo, much to the disgust of my more conservative peers. Australia is still trying to catch up because many academics follow the tried and true path without venturing into the unknown for fear of being ridiculed. Teaching, research, and administration are all necessary, and we change our emphasis as we progress through life, just like parenting. We need to encourage all staff to perform to the best of their ability, and not to dictate to others how, when, or why they should be involved in any particular aspect of the education process.