Full-time academics dwindle

Posted By TEU on Nov 6, 2014 | 2 comments


The number of university academics in full-time permanent jobs is declining as casual and part-time employees take over their work. TEU’s University of Canterbury branch president Jack Heinemann has analysed data that TEU acquired from New Zealand’s eight universities for the period 2012-2014 and says the number of academics in full-time permanent employment is shrinking.

He says the academic workforce is experiencing a dramatic shift in its employment standing, and the shift is most extreme at the University of Canterbury:


A shrinking number of full-time permanent academic staff

By Prof Jack Heinemann

TEU has acquired employment data from all eight New Zealand universities for the period 2012-2014. Assuming that the universities have provided accurate data, they seem to be describing a shrinking sector for academics looking for full-time continuing (FTC) employment.

Over the period, the proportion of FTC academics at all the universities has decreased relative to total academic staff (Table 1). Total employment is the sum of the number of those in FTC, part-time permanent and fixed term agreement (FXC) roles. The information was provided as a count of people in these roles rather than as a proportion of full-time activity. As a result, it is not possible to determine whether the overall scale of the academic workforce is changing. Therefore, I restrict my analysis only to FTC positions.

Table 1. Full-time permanent academic staff have decreased proportionally compared to other academic positions since 2012.

University Change (%) proportion FTC academic staff (36 months) to total[1]

Auckland

-55.4

AUT

-28.8

Waikato

-24.1

Massey

-34.2

Victoria

-68.3

Canterbury

-152.7

Lincoln

-25.6

Otago

-33.9

The numbers obscure a high degree of variability from year to year, especially in FXC staff. To address this, I also calculated the percent change in proportion of FTC in 2014 relative to the three-year average FTC and total academic workforce (Table 2).

Table 2. Full time continuing academic staff are decreasing proportionally to other academic positions.

University

Change (%) proportion continuing FT academic staff to total taken relative to average of period[2]

Auckland

3.08

AUT

1.78

Waikato

-19.85

Massey

-20.09

Victoria

-42.32

Canterbury

-57.56

Lincoln

-12.99

Otago

-31.34

Based on Table 2, it seems that in 2014 two universities, Auckland and AUT, were about static (2-3 percent change) in their FTC academic staff numbers overall, and the other six universities were approximately ten times more negative.

The University of Canterbury is a real stand-out even in these depressing statistics. It appears to be shedding FTC academic staff much more rapidly than every other university (Table 3).

Table 3. Rate of change at University of Canterbury relative to each other university in New Zealand

University

University of Canterbury rate of change relative to other over period (average)

University of Canterbury rate of change relative to other over period (from 2012)

Auckland

18.6

2.8

AUT

32.3

5.3

Waikato

2.9

6.3

Massey

2.9

4.5

Victoria

1.4

2.2

Lincoln

4.4

6.0

Otago

1.8

4.5

Based on the change in proportion of FTC academic staff in 2014 compared to 2012 (column 3 of Table 3), the University of Canterbury was shifting academic staff at between two and six times the rate of the other universities, and on average 4.5 times the rate of the other universities. Substituting the change over the average employment of the period (column 2 Table 3), the University of Canterbury was shifting staff faster than all universities, as much as 32 times faster than AUT and on average 9.2 times faster than all other universities.

The limitations to this analysis are both determined by the way the data have been provided and that it is based on only three years. With the exception of the Canterbury region, however, those years have been business as usual. Yes we had a recession, but historically recessions have driven up demand for universities. Any three-year period will have some economic scapegoat to blame, but not many in our history have included a regional disaster.

Moreover, the exodus of students from the Canterbury region should have further buoyed other universities. Despite these two expectations, all universities have decreased the proportion of the academic workforce in full-time continuing positions.

Are the earthquakes the whole story at the University of Canterbury?

Interestingly, general staff in FTC positions, as a proportion of all general staff positions, have increased, as they have at Waikato, Victoria and Otago (Table 4). The total number of general staff holding FTC positions is down since 2012, but up as a proportion of type of employment.

The earthquakes have shrunk the University of Canterbury, but there also appears to be a qualitative shift in kind of employment for mission-specific (that is, teaching, research and critic and conscience) academic staff. To a greater degree, the University of Canterbury is decreasing the depth of its relationship with those who are engaged in the defining activities of the University.

That trend isn’t special to the University of Canterbury, but it is bigger.

General staff have a variety of roles in the universities, with many serving in support or managerial roles that are generic to institutions rather than defining of the university itself. The proportion of FTC positions appears to be much less volatile. Thus, earthquakes alone do not seem to explain the shift from FTC to part-time and FXC contracts at the University of Canterbury.

Table 4. Full time continuing general staff trends.

University

Change (%) proportion FTC general staff (36 months) to total[1]

Change (%) proportion continuing FT general staff to total taken relative to average of period[2]

Auckland

-6.93

-58.12

AUT

-1.15

-1.32

Waikato

17.57

14.88

Massey

-2.91

-2.43

Victoria

6.61

32.15

Canterbury

16.13

14.18

Lincoln

3.12

-0.27

Otago

16.81

3.74

Conclusion

The numbers provided by the universities suggest that the core academic workforce is experiencing a dramatic shift in their employment standing. The commitment of both the academic and the institution is becoming less central to both of them. I suspect that this follows the wishes of the institutions rather than the academics.

It may be premature to read too much into these numbers, especially since they compose only a three-year snapshot of the sector. On the other hand, they are a comprehensive description of the university sector. Moreover, they are not unexpected given trends toward a more casual workforce in universities
overseas.

Footnotes

  1. (FTC2014/Total2014-FTC2012/Total2012)/(FTC2014/Total2014)
  2. (FTC2014/Total2014-FTCavg/Totalavg)/(FTCavg/Totalavg)
  3. (FTC2014/Total2014-FTC2012/Total2012)/(FTC2014/Total2014)
  4. (FTC2014/Total2014-FTCavg/Totalavg)/(FTCavg/Totalavg)
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