ACOLA Report highlights investment needed to fix Australian research careers
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has welcomed the release of a report today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) which has confirmed that job insecurity is the number one problem facing Australian researchers.
More investment in Australian universities and research institutions is needed to address this ever accelerating problem and stop the brain drain, says NTEU National Assistant Secretary, Matt McGowan.
“Uncertain job prospects’ stood head and shoulders above other issues when the 1200+ respondents were asked to nominate the single ‘worst thing’ about a career in research,” McGowan said.
“The findings reinforce concerns that have been highlighted by the NTEU for some time. In the sector we call them treadmill researchers – casual and sessional academics and fixed-term contract-based researchers running on soft money, often without any real career progress for years on end.
“Scholars finishing their PhDs are often between a rock and hard place – scrambling for short-term contracts and often competing against their old supervisor when it comes to getting grants. They’re often unrewarded after three or four years doing a doctorate. Some are forced into different fields or have to leave Australia to find work.”
McGowan said the NTEU drew attention to these workforce issues during the Howe Inquiry into Insecure Work in 2012 and plans to bargaining and campaigning on job security issues in 2013.
“The real story, however,” McGowan said, “is that the problem is endemic and the sector needs significant workforce investment to fix this problem.
“This is why in our budget submission the NTEU will again call for an Academic Workforce Development Fund in order to assist universities in meeting the cost of reducing their reliance on casual employees.
“We agree that as a nation we need a greater investment in the system – more funding for fellowships and grants; more funding for universities so they can ‘carry’ researchers over the lean times between winning grants; more time to allow early career researchers to publish and establish themselves; and more support to reduce workloads in the mature stages of a career.”
According to the ACOLA report, the worst thing about a career in research was “too much reliance on short term contracts” with 83% of the survey group choosing this option irrespective of discipline, age, gender or institution. This stood well above any of the other options for the worst thing about a research career, although workloads and lack of career path were the two other key concerns pinpointed.
“This report highlights that it is not only PhD graduates who are facing career bottlenecks. Researchers in the university sector face insecure employment conditions throughout their careers,” McGowan said.
“The report also importantly highlights that as researchers progress in their careers, they face major challenges in balancing heavy teaching loads with the increasing expectation to produce research and win competitive research grants.
“The problem is that the more researchers understand their employment conditions do not support excellent research or teaching, the more they will look to employment in other sectors or overseas. Australian universities will face a human capital crisis unless they begin to understand that initiatives to generate greater employment security needs to come soon,” McGowan concluded.
Media enquiries: Carmel Shute, NTEU Media Officer: 0412 569 356; firstname.lastname@example.org
Media comment: Matt McGowan, NTEU, Assistant National Secretary: 0417 054 110