Part-time and temporary academic staff struggle with financial issues, report finds

Jamie Mc Carron

An article from investigative journalism platform Noteworthy, found that a significant proportion of staff in Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) struggle with job instability and financial problems.

The investigation, released on the November 15th, found that approximately 11,200 staff in HEIs work on these temporary or “casual” contracts, at a cost of €67 million each year.

This is an average yearly salary of less than €6,000 each, although some of these lecturers are not paid at all.

Dr Ingrid Holme, a research fellow in sociology at UCD, told the investigation that “there’s a turmoil to that constant movement and the lack of investment you can make in your own life.”

Holme has worked as a lecturer and research assistant across Ireland and the UK for the past decade but her current position at UCD is unpaid and she applied for jobseeker’s allowance at the end of her contract.

“I’m 45 and there’s no way I’m going to get a mortgage on a house. That’s not going to happen…. At the end of the day your colleagues have a permanent contract. They will be there next year and you won’t,” she explained.

University College Dublin paid the most money of any university to its “casual” employees last year at €19.6 million being paid to 1,368 people.

Trinity College Dublin was a close second, paying €18.6 million to 2,268 non-permanent academic personnel in the 2019-2020 academic year.

243 of these Trinity College staff made an average yearly salary of nearly €60,000 while the remaining 2,025 staff received an average of €2,159 each.

DCU stated that “a figure for total remuneration is not available,” however it had the second lowest amount of “casual” staff of any university in the country, at 666 people in non-permanent roles last year.

There are currently 25 vacant positions available in DCU, 11 of which are for contract periods of less than two years, while another open position is permanent but part-time . This means that close to half of the positions available are deemed “precarious” by Noteworthy.

DCU Students Union Vice President for Academic Affairs, Lucien Waugh-Daly, told the College View that an effort could be made to improve the situation for these employees.

“We at the Students’ Union are always happy to speak to part-time staff who are having issues and help them liaise with a trade union if necessary. It’s important for both staff and students to feel like they have security during their time in DCU,” he said.

The Noteworhty investigation also found that although male lecturers make up close to 60% of full-time academic jobs, the majority of  low-paying “casual” roles are filled by women.

In universities women make up 71% of these non-permanent positions, as well as 63% of non-permanent jobs in Institutes of Technology.

Dr Theresa O’Keefe, a sociology lecturer in University College Cork and researcher of inequality in higher education, found this gender divide highly concerning.

“Women who go into academia often get trapped in exploitative forms of precarious work in the sector,” she said, noting that these jobs also have “few exit points into secure work”.

Jamie Mc Carron

Image Credit: Pxhere