An email from a frustrated academic sparked off a debate on whether our universities’ casual teaching staff are cruising freeloaders or down-trodden academic sweatshop workers.

This drew a response from a casual and part-time lecturer who seemed to paint the job as a walk in the park.

Here’s what we ran on 8 August:

“14. GOOD PAY AS A CASUAL LECTURER

A subscriber writes:

“I noticed “Academic Avenger” wrote that Universities have an “extensive reliance on casual, underpaid, demoralised staff”.

As someone who has been casual teaching at an Australian University for eight years, I have no idea where this commonly bandied-about myth came from!

I’ve removed the Universities’ identifying details, but look in the picture below and tell me if these are ‘underpaid’ rates –

Basic (i.e. normal) lectures – $99.90 / hour

Repeat lectures – $66.60 / hour

Basic (i.e. normal) tutorials – $71.25 / hour

Repeat tutorials – $47.50 / hour

Standard marking – $23.75 / hour

You will note in the text of the form it advises that rates are ‘based on one hour preparation, one hour delivery and one hour marking’. It is because of this that when I raise my argument that the rates are hardly poverty-line the NTEU and others respond by saying the rates really involve three hours work – so, a repeat tutorial is considered $15.83 / hour.

That really is such a contrived argument. Firstly, even if it were true, one would still be earning $33.30 an hour for lecturing which I still don’t think is an ‘underpaid, demoralised’ rate.

Nevertheless, it’s not true. Sure, the general principle is that the rates should involve preparation time and so forth, but come on! How much preparation time do you need to give a repeat lecture or a repeat tutorial? How much preparation time do you need to give a lecture or tutorial on a subject you know well, and especially one that you have already taught in previous years?

As to the marking – I’d be interested to know just how many people actually perform one hour of marking per contact hour per week, anyway. You’ll see there is a separate rate for marking – which covers exams and most assignments anyway.

I performed my casual teaching while employed in other jobs – including five years spent working at a University in a non-academic role, and I used to make at least an extra $8000 / year by probably no more than six hours teaching a week, for two semesters, at about 13 weeks / semester, plus some marking time.

I do not believe for an instant that the casual teaching staff are underpaid or demoralised – and remember, I have eight years casual University teaching under my belt!

Another common myth the NTEU spreads is that Universities are so under-funded and short-staffed that they have to rely on casual staff.

Frankly, that’s rubbish.

It was not uncommon in the slightest to pick up extra tutorials in certain weeks because a tutor may have been sick or because a lecturer decided they didn’t want to give a class – because they didn’t have to and wouldn’t get paid more for doing it anyway!!

I have lost count of the number of classes I’ve picked up because the subject co-ordinator decided to hire a casual lecturer or tutor because the normal academic staff wouldn’t get paid anything more for doing what was part of their job anyway.

I enjoy University teaching. I hope to do it for many more years to come. I think I’m good at the subjects I teach and I think the students enjoy my teaching. I think it’s a great source of supplementary income and I get on well with all the full-time academic staff that I deal with.

However, the NTEU really have to stop peddling their stories that casual staff are demoralised and underpaid, and even that there is a huge University cash-flow problem – given that academic staff can freely rely on casual teachers whenever they like.

Regards, David”

– Ends –

Naturally, this email brought a few stern rebukes:

“David seems to really enjoy his teaching and thinks it quite a lark. I also take tutorial and practical classes at University and I have a few issues to raise. In general I agree that casuals are not all demoralised, but his arguments were terrible.

Firstly, if you are doing your job correctly you WILL use three hours for a first tutorial, two hours for a second and one for marking. I very often take more than one hour to prepare a tutorial and each tutorial comes with about an hour worth of student enquiries. In this way, the rates for all the classes are just the same as for marking (about $24 per hour). It is simply the case that some classes take more time than others. Tutors get to know their students better than lecturers (smaller classes) and as a result they are often the first port of call for students who have questions (particularly if they seem like stupid questions to the student).

Secondly, people tutoring in Universities are very well qualified. Most will have graduated with very good marks, most have honours degrees and many are in the process of completing a PhD. These are people who can earn a great deal of money doing other things. In many cases they choose to do it simply because they love it (I know I do). For others, it is convenient because they are already on campus for something.

Classes are rarely allocated in blocks, you clearly have an advantage if you have other things to do on campus. For many tutors, this is not the case. There are no “split shift” provisions and often tutors can be required on one day for just a few hours work. I personally will be working three days a week this semester and I will have just 11 hours work. Today I have come all the way to Uni for just two hours ($48) work.

I love working as a tutor at Uni, and I would not stop regardless of pay. The pay is not the best, but the satisfaction makes up for it. And in the end, you could do much worse.

Cheers

No name thanks”

– Ends –

And in a similar vein:

“Dear Crikey

Sorry to return to the Uni issue.

I don’t know whether David is working for Brendan Nelson or is just a wannabe Dean (or apologist for one), but the fact of the matter is that finding casuals to teach is near impossible at these rates.

I have 4 hours of teaching on one of my courses that I can’t currently fill at the tutorial rate. Most tutors are Ph.D. or Masters students and given the choice, once they have ‘filled’ the CV with teaching experience, would rather get casual employment doing other things.

The problem is all the hidden extras in the face to face teaching payment (beyond the expected 3 hours) that are usually administrative. That problem is becoming systemic.

Some overworked lecturers are increasingly structuring tutorial content so that most of the courses assessment and administration tasks are built-in to tutorials offload work on the casuals (because they can’t cope themselves). On top of that, tutorial sizes are increasing from 20 to 25 to 30 and now even 35. 3 hours for 1 hour face to face soon becomes a hidden 5 hours.

So David, if the pay rate is still good, I’ve got 4 hours work.

Misinformation is not helping nor is blame shifting.

Annoyed lecturer and previous casual.

Name withheld”

– Ends –

And here is an explanation of the difficult lot that university teaching staff face:

“Further to the debate on Universities’ “extensive reliance on casual, underpaid, demoralised staff”.

1. The extensive reliance on casual staff is true and easy to explain:

– As in many public sector organizations, the hiring processes are slow and bureaucratic. Consequently, when you find someone who can do the job, you hire them immediately as a casual.

– A permanent academic job requires that the person have a broader profile than just processing students into graduates. In principle, a full time academic should do research and perform community service in addition to teaching. As a consequence, making a permanent appointment is inefficient if all you need is to get some classes taught.

– Traditionally, making people redundant has been more difficult than in the private sector, so a casual appointment gives you the opportunity to look before you buy.

2. The question of staff being underpaid and demoralized is more complicated.

Rates:

Subscriber David listed the casual lecturing rates at his university, ranging up to $99.90 per lecturing hour (including 1 hour prep, 1 hour teaching and 1 hour marking). This can be anything from a rort to slave labour depending upon the circumstances. If you’re teaching something which has been taught for aeons by your predecessors, and you’re content to maintain the status quo, an hour of preparation is probably fine.

On the other hand, if you’re originating material or revamping it to keep it up-to-date, anything from 3 to 5 hours prep is pretty normal. The time allocated for “marking” is probably more accurately called “admin”. If you’re coordinating a subject with 300 students, you can expect to have to deal with four to five organizational issues per day (I keep stats). So you can see how $99.90 can easily work out to $15-20/hr.

Morale:

Again, it depends on who you are and what kind of department you’re in. Your subscriber David is on top of the world because he’s lecturing a subject where he doesn’t have to put much effort into preparation or administration, so it’s just pocket money on top of his day job.

On the other hand, with that level of effort, I wonder how much value he’s providing to his students?

If you’re working your guts out to do something innovative and improve quality, and your $99.90 is spread over 8 hours, not leaving you time or energy to have a “day job” like David, then morale can be fragile.

Moreover, many of the folk who do casual teaching are trying to make their way into a permanent job because they want to be able to do research as well, consequently what time they have left over from teaching isn’t filled with paid work but unpaid research in the hope of fashioning an attractive CV for the next round of permanent recruitments.

Good on you for rorting the system David, but don’t forget those whose hard work of subject preparation and administration you’re cashing in on, and those who struggled to do research so you can have something to teach!

Yours,

Academic Avenger”

Peter Fray

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