by Marina Harvey
As students arrive on campus they do so with an assumption that there will be a professor teaching them. Yes, there will be a professor, an academic, teaching them. But what these students are often unaware of is that their teacher is likely to be a sessional academic.* We can conservatively calculate that the majority of teaching across Australian universities is undertaken by sessional staff.
Sessional teachers contribute many benefits to student learning such as cutting-edge research knowledge or authentic industry, professional or clinical experience, with a strong commitment to student learning. Yet, our ‘significant reliance’ on sessional staff has been identified as a risk indicator by TEQSA. The risk relates to sessionals being able achieve “effective integration and engagement”; for example, their contracts may not allow time to engage in student consultations and participate in professional learning opportunities for better support of student learning.
What do we need to do?
To manage this risk we need to:
- know our sessional staff, by collecting and maintaining comprehensive data in order to identify their professional learning needs
- increase the provision of support for sessionals’ career development
- engage all universities, including private and non-self accrediting institutions, in benchmarking their practices as regards sessional staff, and
- engage university executive to effect a more systematic approach to good practice for sessional staff. We need proactive leadership for better understanding and support of sessional staff.
Without our sessional teachers we would not have a functioning higher education sector.
* Sessional Academics are “any teachers in higher education who are employed on a casual or contract or sessional basis. This may include lecturers, tutors, unit, program and subject convenors, demonstrators, and markers.” Sessionals are also known as adjuncts, contingent or non-tenured staff.
Associate Professor Marina Harvey
Director, Academic Development Services
University of New South Wales
Australian National Teaching Fellow 2014
ALTF 2019 Legacy Report here