Previously, I’ve touched on universities’ hopes to exploit their graduates to mentor their students through online courses without pay, and to conduct unpaid research internships (or “non-stipendiary fellowships“). PhD students and postdoctoral researchers are ‘cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour‘; there is a great over-supply of these low-paid, insecure and temporary workers; and of the few who enter “regular” academic work, most remain in precarity.
At the end of the USI Live interview, when we were discussing the need for collective struggle, I squeezed in some statistics on labour in academia. Here, I want to note the consequences of the long-running precarisation of scholarship in the United States, then present the stats on the academic precariat in the United Kingdom (as precisely as possible).
Contingent academic labour in the United States
For years, adjunct/contingent academic labourers have constituted the majority of faculty in the United States.(1) Grimly funnily, even labor studies is undergoing adjunctification. As they have found (predictably), a contingent academy is bad for academic governance (and thus for the production of knowledge and the quality of education of students) as well as for the well-being of the contingent academics themselves. They are organising, building solidarity, struggling to establish their rights to living wages and economic security, healthcare and their other basic rights.
Precarious academic work in the United Kingdom
Officially, about 180,000 academics are employed (as academics) in the UK (2); and (far) ‘more than a third‘ (so, more than 60,000 (3)) of them are employed on temporary, fixed-term contracts.
In addition, around 80,000 are employed in ‘atypical’ ways, ‘such as hourly paid teaching’ (4), who are excluded from the official statistics. (Moreover, that count does not include entirely unpaid “honorary” (non-)employment.) So, in fact, there are more than 260,000 academics in the UK; more than half (more than 140,000) are somehow precariously employed; and nearly a quarter are very precariously employed.
Academics are uncommonly precarious
The Guardian has found that zero-hour contracts are more than twice as common in further education and higher education than they are in other fields of work (and has discussed how academics become trapped in precarious positions).
1: The numbers can be somewhat confusing. According to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (based on the U.S. Department of Education’s data), ‘(75.5%) were employed in contingent positions off the tenure track, either as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members, or graduate student teaching assistants’; and part-time staff alone have constituted a majority since 2011.
Yet, in terms of the number of staff in secure (tenured or tenure-track) positions versus those in insecure (temporary contract) positions, non-tenure track faculty and part-time faculty (including or excluding graduate student teachers) appear to have formed a majority since 1989. However, precisely because their work is so piecemeal, they might only have taught a minority of classes. Still, at least since 1999, contingent academic labourers have done most of teaching work too.
2: There are 181,385 academics in the UK.
3: Again, the numbers can be confusing. The UK’s Higher Education Statistics Authority’s published statistics only distinguished between full-time and part-time employees (wherein there are 63,540 part-time academics in the UK). So, if the Guardian‘s figures were accurate, none of the full-time staff would be employed on temporary, fixed-term contracts. More than a third are on temporary, part-time contracts; and a (large but unknown) number are on temporary, full-time contracts; so far more than a third of (officially-recognised) academics in the UK must be somewhat precarious workers.
4: There are 82,000 atypical academics in the UK. Indeed, alongside their temporarily-contracted colleagues, they are precisely typical academic labourers.