The casualisation of academic labour
Sir, – Prof Diarmaid Ferriter’s trenchant criticism of damaging trends in Irish higher education should be compulsory reading for policymakers (“Universities are preoccupied with market growth as if educators were stocks and shares”, Opinion & Analysis, May 29th).
In particular, Prof Ferriter is rightly scathing of the casualisation of academic labour and the embrace of short-term teaching contracts by college managers.
The precarious employment practices currently in play in the Irish higher education sector are stifling creativity and research, undermining job security and giving effect to a transient teaching core, as a cheaper and more disposable form of labour to replace retiring colleagues on permanent contracts.
This race to the bottom in regard to the working conditions inflicted on those in the early stages of their academic careers is not something the new minister for education should ignore or try to normalise after Covid-19.
There is perhaps some encouragement in the fact that at least one of the parties in the current government formation negotiations has pledged to establish a new “Department of Higher Education”, separate from the running of primary and secondary schools.
Hopefully, this proposal will be implemented, irrespective of the composition of the next administration, as there are myriad issues that need to be urgently tackled regarding the direction of our universities, technological universities and institutes of technology.
Among the fundamental questions that the next minister should ask is whether the time and resources spent in many Irish third-level institutions on bland strategy documents, corporate box-ticking and endless rebranding campaigns is of any added educational value.
After Covid-19, the financial resources available to Irish education will be even more stretched. These resources need to be prioritised on third-level teaching, learning and the generation of knowledge, and not on perpetuating or reconfiguring unsustainable organisational structures that are becoming increasingly bloated by bureaucracy and non-academic administration. – Yours, etc,
Dr BRIAN MURPHY,