In the name of public accountability, we call on the vice-chancellors of all Australian public universities to  disclose staff numbers, monthly from January 1 2020. We read a lot about the loss of revenue and cost-cutting but very little about the number of actual people working in the Australian higher education system and the loss of their income.

Currently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines an unemployed person as one who, during a specified reference period, is not employed for one hour or more, is actively seeking work and is currently available for work. Therefore, we seek a public disclosure on the number of people working one hour or more in the Australian university system. This number should include casual teachers, research assistants, PhD students, professional staff and academics.

The ABS definition of “unemployed” in Australia leaves thousands under-employed, and anyone who just gives up looking for work is not counted at all. Therefore VCs “slash and burn,”  strategies will leave many individuals working in Australian universities unemployed.

Currently, Australian public sector universities in the Department of Education, Skills and Employment university staff data and university annual reports disclose a “full-time equivalent staff number”, but how this is calculated in the university setting is not discussed.

Thus, we have to look to the university reporting to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), the national regulator of charities, and the individual universities Annual Information Statement 2018 ,to find out the number of casuals

Our database shows that as of 31 December 2018 there were just over 80,000 casual employees. We found one university  with a ratio of 68 per cent casualisation.

Instead of  knee-jerk reactions, like culling causals and cutting other staff, we propose vice-chancellors call on the “best of the best” from the university sector. That is the staff that have business acumen, core research values, core teaching and leadership values, core engagement/services values (of course there might be different people for each of these rather than any one person being across all of them).

Another possible strategic option is that universities offer an app as a solution to casuals losing their jobs. Culling casuals is a bad idea for two reasons. First, they provide the one on one (or one on 20) face to face  interaction which is essential for good outcomes and also facilitates cohort development. Second many casuals are HDR students using casual work to fund their studies. If they quit their education, we will lose the next generation of academics.

Using an Uber-like app, universities could facilitate a mechanism where they have an endorsed list of people, and students use the app to coordinate face to face tutees of say 20 and 1 on 1 if they feel they need it. For the tutorial, the payment might be $10 (20x$10 gives the tutor $200/hr less the fee from the app provider), and the price for the one-on-one would be higher to make it worth-while for the facilitator.

Now, if you think that is a reasonable idea, imagine what we would get if we got some talented academics putting their heads together and reporting far better options to the VCs than just making many University people unemployed.

Professor Tom Smith and Distinguished Professor James Guthrie, Macquarie Business School


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