Researchers from 28 countries met in Moscow recently to review and compare each other’s research on academic compensation. The project is a collaboration between Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education and the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. This is the first comparative study of academic salaries that has been undertaken on this scale. Many fascinating patterns emerged. Among the most interesting were the very large gaps in available data about who is teaching and the remuneration they receive. In most countries national data are collected and compiled by the Ministry of Education, but they are generally incomplete. One consistent pattern in all of the country studies was that there has been a dramatic increase in part-time contracts but with virtually no national data available about their number, profile or remuneration. As a result we are left to guess at what percentage of the teaching faculty is part-time, who they are, and how they are compensated.
The increased dependence on part-time teachers in higher education is the inevitable result of the massification of enrollment without a corresponding increase in revenue. This trend will undoubtedly continue to shape higher education in the short and long term yet without data, it cannot be tracked or researched.
Researchers reported anecdotal evidence that reflect wide variations in practice both within and between countries. Where part-time hires are used to stretch limited resources for increased enrollment they tend to be underpaid and marginalized, often obliged to teach in multiple institutions to piece together a living. The same individuals sometimes cross boundaries between the public and private sectors, teaching in both. They work year to year (often semester to semester) with no security whatsoever. They rarely receive any fringe benefits (medical insurance, pension, leave). They are a critical part of the academic work force but become permanently temporary, rarely offered opportunities to enter the academic hierarchy and enjoy a more stable scholarly life.
Other circumstances sometimes lead to part-time hires. Professionals in some fields such as law, accounting, and medicine teach part-time for different reasons. In many countries, the university cannot hope to offer a competitive full-time salary so must “settle” for part-time service. In other instances, professionals view part-time teaching as a social contribution teaching for the love and satisfaction of it and/or to contribute to the flow of experience and current practice to institutions of higher learning. In still other cases, the university may choose to combine practitioners with scholars intentionally in applied fields, strategically combining part-time professionals with full-time scholars.
The reason for hiring part-time faculty has considerable bearing on how they are paid. It was suggested at the conference that in this current period of fiscal austerity that the expansion of lesser-paid, part-time teachers effectively “underwrites” the cost of maintaining a cadre of full-time professors. Since part-time hires dedicate their time exclusively to teaching, they also free up time that full-time faculty can devote to research and administrative service.
While in nearly all countries, part-time faculty tend to remain at the margins of the professoriate, in some countries, they are gaining recognition as an important constituency. In Argentina, part-time hires are gaining a voice and respect within many universities and increasingly likely to be considered members of the academic community. In India the University Grants Commission now fixes remuneration for part-time teachers. In Canada a separate union represents the interests of part-time faculty.
There are many reasons why part-time faculty need to be more formally integrated into the institution(s) where they teach. Because this group tends to be devoted exclusively to teaching they have important experience to contribute to the review of curriculum and degree requirements but rarely included in those discussions. While they remain outside the academic hierarchy there are few formal processes for evaluating or supporting the improvement of the services they provide. The evaluation of their performance tends to be more perfunctory than the process followed for their full-time colleagues. Likewise, they are given few incentives to improve the quality of their work and they are seldom, if ever, supported for attendance at conferences or other scholarly activities.
At the Moscow conference concern was expressed for those people who will never be research stars but whose contribution to higher education is invaluable in other ways. Given the growing reliance on part-time faculty who will only teach and probably not conduct publishable research, there is a need for new schemes for recognition and reward that will provide job satisfaction and encourage this very necessary constituency to improve the quality of their activities. In many instances they are the unsung heroes of higher education today.
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