With the current financial crisis facing Australian public universities, many casual jobs have disappeared already in the name of cost savings and more are anticipated to go.

Now the ABC  reports disputes and investigations over casual staff pay, including at University of Queensland, University of Technology Sydney, Murdoch University and RMIT University, plus reported payments to previously underpaid staff at University of Melbourne, UNSW and Macquarie University.

Many of these universities have a high number of casuals, as shown below, based on the available 2018 data. These casual numbers would include casual teachers, research assistants, PhD students, professional staff, among others.

Number of casuals employed by these universities*

Macquarie University (1,925)

Melbourne University (6,771)

Monash University (8,100)

RMIT University (1,592)

The University of Melbourne (6,771)

The University of Sydney (2,670)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) (11,671)

University of Queensland (UQ), (976)

University of Technology Sydney (UTS) (6,180)

*Sourced mainly from university disclosures for the Charities Annual Reports. The number of casuals in our database as of 31 December 2018.

In CMM (13 August 2020), we reported on the top-ten universities’ most dependent on international student fees for income from continuing operations.  The ranking of financial risk levels was determined on the basis of the proportion of fee-paying overseas students in Australia during the year ending 31 December 2019 to their total income from continuing operations in that year. This report was only for universities domiciled in New South Wales (10) and in Victoria (8), as our focus was on institutions operating in the two most populous states.

The individual universities are: Federation (1), UTS (2), UoS (3), Monash (4), RMIT (5), Uo Melb (6), Deakin (7), SCU (8), Macquarie (9) and UoW (10).

Six universities appear on both lists. UTS (2), UoS (3), Monash U (4), RMIT (5), UoM (6) and Macquarie (8).

This is not surprising.  They are among the biggest public universities in Australia, often because of their large enrolments of fee-paying international students at campuses in Melbourne and Sydney.

Such universities employ higher numbers of casuals in their learning and teaching programmes to sustain their significant enrolments. Given the predicted significant downturn of fee-paying international students due to the pervasive impacts of COVID-19, impacted universities are revealing cuts to staffing levels, both casual employees and full-time and part-time staff.

The claims of underpayment of staff need to be properly and fully investigated to establish their authenticity or not but we also need to know how many casual staff there actually are at each university.

Australian public universities annual reports and the Department of Education, Skills and Employment university staff data disclose a “full-time equivalent staff number” (FTESM) for counting such staff. This number, however, is calculated in the university setting, and while casuals contribute to the figure reported, it does not provide the actual number of people employed in some capacity as casuals.

Therefore, when a Vice-Chancellor may speak, for instance, about 500 permanent jobs needing to be shed, the underpinning press release is usually silent on the actual number of casuals, and indeed people, who will (or have already) lost work. Casual work in universities, also, is usually slanted in terms of roles undertaken by women, thus providing a gender imbalance of overall employment in society.

Emeritus Professor Garry Carnegie, FCPA, RMIT University and Distinguished Professor James Guthrie, FCPA, Macquarie University.


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