According to a report in this morning’s Australian,
AUSTRALIA’S academics are disillusioned by corporate management cultures at universities, threatening to drive many away from the profession and worsen a looming staff shortage as thousands of them approach retirement.
According to the survey on which the story is based (which I presume will appear here) 28% of Australian academics have taken concrete action to change jobs to an industry other than higher education.
What we don’t know is how many succeed. My calculations based on the ABS labour mobility survey suggest that education (which includes schools and vocational education) in 2007-08 had the lowest annual rate of labour loss of any Australian industry, coming fractionally below health on 3.5%.
While I doubt that corporate (sic) management culture has much to do with exit – since for all their complaints academics have less management direction than any industry I can think of – higher education is poorly placed to deal with its personnel issues.
It is highly likely that student numbers will continue to grow more rapidly than research dollars. With current practices, this means that casual staff will probably increase in number. Effectively, universities only teach for half the year so it is not economic to appoint teaching-only full-time staff, and in any case the union is against it. So if there is no money for additional research, casuals are the best solution for teaching the additional students.
This is in nobody’s interests – casual staff have no employment certainty, the universities have little staff continuity (leading to an ageing permanent workforce), and the students suffer from uncommitted and underprepared staff. But it is hard to avoid given the current semester system and the financial imbalance.
This situation highlights again the mistake the government is making in restricting the demand-driven system to the existing public universities, all of which claim (with varying degrees of plausibility) to be research universities.
It would make far more sense to open the system to teaching-only or teaching-dominant insititutions which could teach all year, offering teaching staff full-time jobs and letting students finish more quickly.
Commenter Conrad argues that it would be hard to recruit for these positions because academics want to research. The low by international standards preference for teaching reported by Australian academics in the survey supports his argument. However, the much higher preference for teaching reported by US academics shows that there is nothing inevitable about this preference. They have maintained a tradition of teaching-focused institutions, while the insistence on PhDs and research here has screened out people who would like to be career higher education teachers.
The staffing problem in higher education isn’t due to management style. It is due to fundamental flaws in industry structure.