The Future of Academic Work: a Deliberative Conference

Conference: Wednesday 5 December, UTS

Twenty years ago, one-in-ten Australians had a university degree; today, it’s one-in-four. Over that time, graduations have more than doubled, and universities have become sites of mass higher education. In the changed university, what is the role of academics? This free one-day conference seeks to initiate a debate about the changing nature of academic work in universities and beyond. It debates a landmark report on the emergence of education-focused academics in universities, conducted under the (former) Office for Teaching and Learning.


Successive governments have widened access to higher education, and at the same time sought more output-focused research. Per-student funding has fallen and research has become project-focused and contingent. The result is a rapid rise in casual teaching staff and research-only fixed-term staff. These non-secure staff now comprise at least 46% of the FTE academic workforce in Australia; the bulk of face-to-face teaching is now delivered by casually-employed academics.

For continuing academics, there is greater disaggregation and job specialisation, with a shift to separated teaching, research, and managerial roles. Teaching-focused academics are often entry-level staff with less time for research or scholarship. Research-only positions are allocated to high-level research leaders who compete for research funding. Academic management is separated from both, with Senior Staff contracts, KPIs and reporting lines.

Into this mix, the new Scholarly Teaching Fellow (STF) role was introduced into Australian universities in 2013. The positions were aimed at creating a more stable teaching workforce, while also addressing growing concerns about the injustices of academic casualisation. The STF positions aim to offer a career path for casual academics, and have had an important impact on the sector-wide debate about the relationship between teaching, scholarship and research.

The findings of an Office of Learning and Teaching funded strategic project on Scholarly Teaching Fellows comprising 100 in-depth interviews conducted across several universities with STFs, managers and stakeholders will be presented and debated at the conference. This research reflects on the implementation and experience of the new STF positions, and the opportunities and challenges of changing academic work. The resulting report will be pre-circulated; conference workshops will debate aspects of the report; keynotes will address wider conceptual and policy challenges.