Stuffing the Classrooms

In trawling through the Times Higher Education Supplement rankings list published recently, I found that of the ten universities in the English-speaking world with the highest student-staff ratios, seven are Australian. This suggests that recruitment has not kept pace with the growth in student numbers in the era of the ‘massification’ of higher education.

Indeed if one looks only at universities in Australia and the UK universities, nine of the ten highest student/staff ratios are Australian universities. Only the Open University, with its mass distance-learning model, makes the list, despite the fact that Britain has more than double the number of universities. The same ratio applies when measuring overall student numbers. Again only the Open University makes the top ten. While numerous Australian universities enrol more than thirty thousand full-time equivalent students in the UK only Nottingham and Open Universities do so.

George Morgan

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2 thoughts on “Stuffing the Classrooms

  1. Government statistics collection classifies an “FTE” casual “position” to be 25 (yep, twenty-five!) tutorials in a week. Or nine lectures. All of the universities report on that basis, I believe – but the devil is in the detail of course. That is, what counts as an “hour” of employment might be different in different universities. Either way, it’s a rort that makes casual employment look like a much lower component of staffing than it actually is. No-one employed in a continuing or fixed-term capacity – even a teaching-only fixed termer with no research workload allowance – would be scheduled to do 25 tutorials in a week (maybe 25 hours of demonstration/workshop classes, but not tutorials), or if they are, they must be working way above the standard 35-38 hours a week (not that there is a limit of hours in the academic award currently, but there is in most if not all EAs).

    It’s very difficult to get actual head count figures for casual academics – the WGEA reports have them but they are grossly underestimated and may be indistinguishable from general staff casuals depending on how the university classifies its staff (the WGEA report classifications don’t fit universities well). Sometimes there is a headcount figure in University Annual Reports but I haven’t seen one in my university’s report for some years – and the report now looks more like a marketing brochure anyway, there is precious little actual information in it about staffing. Based on the 25-tutes-a-week “standard” and what we know about casual academics’ work allocations we would usually estimate that one FTE = 4.5-5 head count.

    Whichever way you look at it, it’s a bloody disgrace.


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