Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Planning the Future of Early Career Academics

Greetings from the Griffin Room at the JG Crawford Building at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. I am taking part in a planning meeting for "NECTAR, the ANU Centre for Early Career Academics". The issues being discussed are, I suspect, not different to those at other higher education institutions. Early Career Academics (ECAs) have the problem of living from short term project to project, funded often by short term research grants. Some research shows that is can be an effective way to promote innovation, but that is little consolation for the individual who has no certainty of career or salary.

One aspect which I would like to see addressed is the professional training and development of ECAs. The ECA tends to concentrate on short term issues of getting the next grant and doing the research, not what they need for the long term. Also there is the assumption that with a PHD they have all the qualifications they will ever need and their career will depend on research excellence. There is also the need to teach ECAs how to teach and be administrators, which is an important part of academia. Most academics have three professions: research in an area of academic specialization, teaching (including supervision of research) and administration.

In terms of support Oxford university has a web site: Promoting Academic Practice. One issue I believes requires addressing is the role of adjuncts in academia. Some adjuncts are late career academics who will be familiar with the system, but others will be form industry and so are in effect early career academics. Also the role of the Internet needs to be considered.

The role of professional bodies, nationally and internationally is not considered sufficiently when dealing with ECAs. The disciplines which have bodies, especially vocational ones (such as Law, Medicine, Computing and Accounting) have influence at the national and international level.

One current issue for Australian academics it is it is not clear which minister in the new government will be responsible for Higher Education, or will different aspects be shared between departments.

Some of the issues are addressed in "The Australian academic profession in transition" (Emmaline Bexley, Richard James, and Sophie Arkoudis, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne, September 2011):
• A deep commitment to scholarship draws people to academic work and lies at the core  of their professional values. The opportunity for intellectually stimulating work, a genuine passion for a field of study and the opportunity to contribute to new knowledge are the
 aspects of academic work most prized.
• Overall, less than one third of Australian academics believe that their workload is manageable, while just under one half indicate that their workload is not manageable.
  Close to half of mid and late career staff indicate that their work is a source of considerable personal stress.
• Early career staff are more likely to be dissatisfied with their job security and income than those later in their career - 60 per cent of early career staff are dissatisfied with their job security compared with less than one quarter of late career staff. In the same vein, 40 per cent of early career staff are dissatisfied with their income compared with less than 30 per cent of late career staff. Access to secure and well-remunerated positions is an important consideration for early career academics.
• Nearly three-quarters of staff intend to continue in their current role and position in the short term (two to three years). However, substantial proportions of academics have medium to long-term intentions (for the next five to ten years) to: move to another   institution (29 per cent); move to an overseas institution (25 per cent); leave the higher education sector all together (26 per cent); or retire (21 per cent).
• The intention to leave Australian higher education is highest among the younger age groups. Close to 40 per cent of academics under 30 years of age plan to leave Australian higher education in the next five to ten years, with 13 to 18 per cent intending to leave in the immediate future. Around one-third of staff aged 30-39 years intend to leave in the next five to ten years.
• Overall, when both short and long-term intentions are taken into consideration, close to half of the academic workforce intend to retire, move to an overseas university or leave Australian higher education at some time in the next ten years.
• While the mobility of academics, especially early in their career, is vitally important for innovation and the diffusion of knowledge in what is a highly skilled and knowledge intensive occupation, and Australia benefits from inward flows of academics from other
 countries, some Australian academics indicate that they intend to move overseas due to workplace issues. Of the range of attitudinal indicators investigated, the major differentiator between those who intend to leave Australia in either the short or long
term to work in an overseas university and those planning to stay, is levels of satisfaction with income and with job security. Of those who intend to leave, 50 per cent are of the view that they do not have adequate job security, compared with 40 per cent of other
academics; and 42 per cent are not satisfied with their level of income, compared with 34 per cent of other academics.
• Over half of those intending to move to an overseas university, or to leave the sector, cite reasons related to dissatisfaction with working conditions. The most common reasons are around issues of job security, remuneration levels, lack of research funding, and dissatisfaction with the institutional or sectoral culture.
• Academics are concerned about the perceived lack of recognition for teaching in existing promotions processes, despite the efforts of some universities to include teaching performance and achievement in promotion criteria: 88 per cent believe that teaching should be rewarded in promotion but only 31 per cent believe it is currently rewarded.
• There is a general disquiet with the leadership and management of institutions, although the extent varies greatly across the institutions involved in the study. On the national  policy front, few academic staff believe the higher education sector is heading in the right direction or that there is strong government support for the university sector. ...

Twelve principles to guide planning for the future academic workforce ...

  1. Stability in higher education policy directions benefits workforce planning. ...
  2. There is a need to establish better pre-conditions for more stable forms of
    employment. ...
  3. Institutions should be cautious about replicating national funding formulae
    at the academic unit level ...
  4. Support for early career academics should be made a national priority. ...
  5. A better understanding of the nature of sessional and short-term academic
    work is needed ...
  6. The primacy of the research-teaching nexus in the work of universities
    should be maintained ...
  7. Appropriate career pathways and promotion opportunities for teaching-
    specialist academic work should be ubiquitous across the sector. ...
  8. A more sophisticated distribution of academic work roles than the
    conventional classification of teaching-only, teaching-and-research and
    research-only positions is needed. ...
  9. The casualisation of academic work needs to be reversed, and sessional and
    short-term contract staff load shifted to longer term and ongoing forms of
    employment. ...
  10. A better understanding of the nature and extent of administration activities
    associated with national and institutional benchmarking and quality audit
    requirements is needed.  ...
  11. There is a need for the development of a new and specialised kind of
    professional staff. ...
  12. Further professional development is needed at senior levels for academic
    staff moving into department and faculty leadership roles. ...
ps: The Griffin Room at the JG Crawford Building at the Australian National University (ANU) has a wonderful view out the window. The building is built half into the ground on one side, so the meadow comes right up to the window, with a view down to  Lake Burley Griffin. Both the room and lake are named after Walter Burley Griffin, architect of Canberra.

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