Third-level staff being exploited


Sir, – Following your article on the slide in world rankings of Irish universities, I must admit I find the report entirely unsurprising (“Irish universities continue to fall in global rankings”, September 6th). No business would treat its staff in the way in which Irish universities currently do, and expect to achieve any degree of success.

Third-level education is currently run through precarious part-time contracts that do not involve sick pay or holiday entitlement. These are signed on the basis of verbal agreements on teaching hours that can bear little relation to those which the worker eventually ends up being pressurised to undertake.

According to research conducted by Third-Level Workplace Watch on the Irish university sector, the average income of a precarious academic worker is less than €10,000 per year. This has to be supplemented by social welfare payments.

Jobs are also offered on a short-term basis to avoid paying salaries over holiday periods, and so entail regular periods of unemployment. This effectively means that cuts in academic staff costs are being subsidised by the Irish social welfare system. The research also found that the average time spent in precarious, hourly paid or contract work in academia was eight and a half years.

The effect on worker morale has an unavoidable impact on the quality of teaching and research.

Every business school highlights the importance of recognition and reward on staff performance. Given the total failure in academia in this regard, how can we really expect anything other than an ongoing decline in the third-level sector? A business rationale without sufficient funding and ethical foundations, and which lacks a human-focused approach to staff management, simply becomes a rush to the bottom.

This situation will not change until precarious workers and students together start to expect and demand more. – Yours, etc,


Mallow, Co Cork.