Counting the uncounted: challenging distorted casualisation data in the Australian university sector

New research (forthcoming book chapter) on how data about casual work at universities is collected and represented. More details to come.


In the last two decades, insecure work in universities in many countries has grown exponentially, alongside the rapid marketization of higher education. Reflecting the neoliberal ideal of a flexible workforce, research and teaching at universities is now routinely carried out by precariously-employed hourly-paid academics. In Australia, where we work, the bulk of teaching is now carried out by hourly-paid academics, or ‘casual academics’ (Coates and Goedegebuure 2010). Casual teachers are needed to meet short-term needs – to fill in for sick staff, give one-off specialist lectures or provide insights into current practices, for instance – they should not be used to meet on-going teaching needs. Structural dependence on casual academics poses a reputational problem for universities, creates industrial injustice for casualised academics, undermines the academic career path, and devalues the importance of teaching. Universities are highly sensitive to the reputational risks posed by casualization, and obfuscate the statistical evidence. Rates of casualization are under-reported and under-estimated: there is no official ‘headcount’ of the number of casual academics working in universities, and the sector’s ‘Full-time Equivalent’ estimates are systematically distorted. This chapter is based on a case study of our efforts as activist researchers to estimate and thereby challenge the extent of casualisation in the Australian higher education sector.