How much is this number worth? Representations of academic casualisation in Australian universities

Our new research about how casual numbers are collected and represented


Casualisation of the academic workforce in Australia has increasingly become a pointed issue of contestation between university managements and the union, the National Tertiary Education Union, during enterprise bargaining negotiations over the last decade. The Union has been concerned with the industrial injustice for long-term insecurely employed academics, and its implications for the future academic workforce. Universities, on the other hand, had for a long time maintained that casualisation levels were not at a level detrimental to the sector and that casual employment brought benefits to both the incumbents and the university. However, by 2012, the rapid expansion of the sector, particularly in undergraduate enrolments, had meant the universities could no longer rely on expanding its casual academic workforce to meet its teaching needs. In the most recently completed rounds of enterprise bargaining around Australia, most university managements came to accept that something had to change in the composition of the teaching workforce of the university. The Union capitalised on this to negotiate a new entry level teaching focussed category of continuing academic positions in many of its branches. Ironically, throughout all these negotiations, a reliable estimate of the rate of casualisation of academic work was not available. This paper presents the authors’ detective work in the pursuit of a reliable estimate of academic casualisation in the Australian university sector, and discusses the implications for policy.