Uneven development: the disjointed growth of university staffing since Dawkins.

Author:Dobson, Ian R.

The Australian university sector has grown rapidly over the past two decades but the acceleration in numbers of students has far exceeded that of staff. Moreover numbers of staff in administration and support roles have grown more sharply that those of teaching staff. The key reason for the disproportionate growth in administrator is the way in which federal governments of both persuasions have introduced polices that require mare and detailed accountability from universities.


The past two decades have seen unprecedented growth in Australian higher education. Universities now have many more students and, understandably, they have also appointed many more staff. During this period, universities changed from being elitist institutions through the process described by Trow as 'massification'. (1) In fact, the overall number of individual students enrolled at Australian universities has increased from about 441,000 in 1989 (2) to over one million enrolled at 38 universities and myriad private institutions in 2007. (3) Expressed in full-time equivalent terms, in order to control for those students enrolled part-time, and to match staff numbers which are also expressed as full-time equivalents, there has been a growth in the student body of just over 100 per cent. (4) About 26 per cent of the expanded student population by 2007 were overseas students.

Given the doubling of the number of students to be taught, one might have expected a similar increase in the number of teachers. However, this is not the case. As shown in Table 1, teaching staff numbers increased by about one-third overall, but over half of that growth was in casual staff. Teachers with continuing or longer time-limited contracts increased by only 19 per cent. This casualisation of the academic labour force is a story in itself and has been dealt with elsewhere. (5)

Table 1: University students (FTE) and staff by staff type (FTE), 1989, 1998 and 2007 1989 1998 2007 Growth Per cent Students FTE (1) 350,000 524,000 702,000 352,000 100.6 Academic teaching staff Continuing and time-limited 21,898 24,036 26,056 4,158 19.0 Casual 3,162 5,544 7,440 4,278 135.3 Sub-total (2) 25,060 29,580 33,496 8,435 33.7 Per cent casual 12.6 18.7 22.2 -- -- Teaching per cent of total 38.2 36.9 34.2 -- -- Academic research-only staff Sub-total (2) 2.105 4,971 9,531 7,426 352.7 Research per cent of total 3.2 6.2 9.7 Administration and support staff Academic staff 1,285 1.625 1,864 579 45.1 General staff 37,209 43,922 52,994 15,785 42.4 Sub-total (2) 38,494 45,547 54,859 16,365 42.5 Administration and support 58.6 56.9 56.0 per cent of total Total 65.660 80,098 97,885 32,226 49.1 Source: DEEWR aggregated datasets STAG and ULAG, various years Notes: (1) Excludes approximately 25.000 FTE students enrolled at institutions for which staff numbers are not reported (2) Includes staff employed on continuing, time-limited and casual contracts. Table 1 shows that there were 65,660 full-time equivalent (FTE) academic and support staff in 1989 and 97,885 in 2007, an increase of over 32,200 or 49.1 per cent. These numbers include casual staff which, by 2007, represented 22.2 per cent of teaching staff and 14.8 per cent of staff over all.

In 2007, these staff were divided between the academic activities of teaching (34.2 per cent) and research (9.7 per cent), and administrative and other activities (56.0 per cent). This represents a considerable redistribution since 1989 between teaching and research (38.2 percent and 3.2 percent respectively), with administrative and other activities at 58.6 per cent. As shown in the Table 1, the number of teachers grew by a relatively modest 8,435 or 33.7 per cent and, given the growth in student numbers, the student to teacher ratio increased from 14 to 21 students per teacher. The number of research-only academic staff increased more spectacularly, growing by 7,426, or 352.7 per cent. The number of staff involved in administration and support increased by 16,365, or 42.5 per cent. It should be noted that some of these support staff occupy positions classified as academic, such as vice-chancellors, their deputies and an ever-expanding number of pro-vice-chancellors who, in most instances, would previously have been academics engaged in academic work. These support academics are employed under academic conditions, but their universities have reported that they have a 'non-academic' function. The number of these grew by 45.1 per cent, but their proportion of the total has remained relatively unchanged.

It is clear that total staff growth has not kept pace with the growth of the student body. Moreover, the staff most directly linked to students, that is, the teachers, have increased in number at only one-third the rate that student numbers have increased. Much of the growth that there has been is in the number of casual teachers. This outcome also has an impact on staff who are on continuing appointments as they will usually be responsible for the supervision of casual staff. (6) Although the number of research academics has increased spectacularly in proportionate terms, these staff make up less than 10 percent of all staff.

Of course, universities do not live by teachers and researchers alone; considerable numbers of staff are required to provide direct support to teachers and researchers and to provide central administrative support. Table 1 shows that the biggest increase in university staffing has been in staff involved in administrative and other support. In effect, 16,365 new FTE positions have been created, an increase of 42.5 percent. This represents a considerable increase in university stall, but it is rather less spectacular than the increase in the number of students.

A more detailed explanation of the staff statistics used in this paper can be found in the references. (7)

The principal focus of this paper is the distribution of the staff described in...

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