The respect we attach to university staff, especially lecturers, may be the only thing of real value they receive for their profession. Instead of the financial security and benefits one would expect such highly qualified professionals to receive, trade unions have compared their treatment with that of Sports Direct staff. Whilst student fees are rising, university teaching is increasingly being covered using zero-hours contracts, temp agencies and other forms of precarious work. In total, 53% of university teachers have their years of study and further education rewarded with some form of insecure, non-permanent contracts.
Clearly, this is incredibly unfair to university staff. Entering academia is already a long, tiresome and difficult process. The very least they should be able to expect for the years of hard work and dedication to reach this level of expertise would be job security. Yet even this has been taken from them. The trend has been linked to the increased commercialization of education as a whole, ramped up by the introduction of student fees. This now seems to have been just the first of many steps, as student fees are being raised again and staff being incorporated into a business-like model.
Not only is this treatment incredibly unfair to lecturers, but just imagine the widespread impact it will have on teaching quality. The sustainability of the profession is also at risk, seeing as people are less likely to enter it knowing the precarious work life they would be embracing. An anonymous lecturer calculated they were being paid about £5 an hour. Why on earth should they invest in their teaching when it is not even rewarded with minimum pay. Passion, so crucial for teaching, is difficult to sustain for a whole career without appreciation, let alone the blatant disregard for one’s professions the precarious work contracts imply.
You may think this could never apply to our elite, ‘world changing’ institution. In fact, Russell Group universities are right at the top of the list, with Glasgow employing 48.7% of staff on precarious work contracts. So the next time your lecturer seems to be incredibly unprepared and essays are poorly marked, consider the lack of appreciation and incentive they are given. Perhaps the flaw lies not in the individual, but the increasingly commercial, profit-driven approach to education.