Omnibus prik

Part-time lecturers – are they a dying breed?

Heading for extinction? The number of part-time and assistant lecturers at the Department of Business Communication has been cut by half during the past few years, and the trend looks like continuing in the wake of the demand that all the university’s teaching should be research based. The part-timers would like to be given better opportunities for joining in the department’s research activities.

There were 150 of them a few years ago, but the number of part-time and assistant lecturers at the Department of Business Communication has now dropped below 75. This is partly due to the demand of the Danish Public Accounts Committee that all the teaching at universities should be based on research. But it is also because the School of Business and Social Sciences wants to achieve Triple Crown accreditation – something which is only awarded to the world’s leading business schools.

“During an accreditation visit in 2011 it was pointed out that we have a large number of part-time lecturers who are not obliged to do any research. So ensuring that all our teaching is based on research is a major point of concern,” explains Christa Thomsen, who is the head of the Department of Business Communication.

This has an impact not only on the number of part-time lecturers, but also on the kind of staff the department will be appointing in future.

“The external lecturers we’ll be recruiting in future will have some kind of connection to the business community. Their main job will be outside the university, so it is their practical experience that they will be contributing,” says Thomsen.

The future looks bleak for part-time lecturers who have relied on teaching at AU as their main source of income.

The baby and the bathwater

Jette Eriksen-Benrós, who represents the part-time lecturers on the local liaison committee, says she understands why this development is necessary. But she feels that it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater: the department will be losing a great deal of teaching experience when it says goodbye to its part-timers.

“You can’t argue against the value of research-based teaching, which must surely be the goal of any university. And we don’t feel that keeping a big group of part-time lecturers is a goal in itself. But the university and department do have some responsibility for a group of staff that they have been employing for many years now.”

“Part-time lecturing shouldn’t be the end of the road for anyone: the goal should be proper tenure at some point. The way to achieve this is by setting up ad hoc appointments as academic assistants, or by improving people’s chances of doing a PhD,” says Eriksen-Benrós.

This would make it easier for part-time lecturers to base their teaching on research if they cannot draw on their practical experience from jobs in the private sector.

New staff policy

Jette Eriksen-Benrós has been working on this issue in connection with the task of drawing up an independent staff policy for part-time lecturers at the Department of Business Communication – something which she has helped to design in collaboration with Christa Thomsen.

Eriksen-Benrós is pleased that the part-time lecturers are going to be given their own staff policy in addition to the circular letter that governs their terms of employment. But she is not satisfied with the failure to give part-timers better opportunities for taking part in research activities.

“The official reason is that part-time lecturers are not expected to do any research, although they can take part in research activities if they want to. But I think the real reason is a wish to conceal the kind of work that is actually done by our part-timers. What they do is academic work. For instance, they are sometimes given responsibility for subject coordination and subject development.”

If you want tenure, get a PhD

The only way to get tenure is by getting a PhD first, explains Christa Thomsen. And she rejects the idea of using the position of academic assistant to involve part-timers in research.

“The position of academic assistant will only rarely be offered to people who do not have a PhD. And when we do appoint staff in this way, it won’t change the fact that PhD fellowships will always be advertised and people will have to go on applying for them.”

So will part-timers be given any sort of job security in the future?

“No, they have no long-term job security. It depends on how things work out. I think there will still be some work for part-time lecturers, but there is no security. You are only secure when you have tenure. That’s just the way it is – and we aren’t the only ones. If you want tenure you have to apply for a job which offers tenure.”