to some staff over 55 at one of our universities. The same sort of thing is occurring in a slightly less public way at the other two universities in the state.
I am not surprised. I am worried. The universities already rely on far too many "casual" (paid by the hour) staff. As one of those "casual" people I also know that the "casual" system simply doesn't work as well as it should.
There is something very wrong with our universities now. When I was a student there was just one university in the state. The second one was being built. It was thought there was a need to expand. Naturally it was filled with young staff - all of about the same age. They are now almost all gone. A few of them still do a little research. Most of them have simply retired.
There is now a third "university". It was created by amalgamating the "colleges of advanced education" - not the best way to design any university. It is still spread out over more than one location.
The "arts" type courses at all three have dwindled in popularity. Students are discouraged from doing them because "it won't lead to employment". University is now about that - about employment. It is about studying something that will lead only to employment. It is not about learning for learning's sake. It isn't about inquiring and the students look at me in a puzzled sort of way when I suggest they might do some "research". They believe that reading the set texts should be sufficient.
The universities are about to embark on a project to "find out why so many students drop out of their courses at the end of their first year". Do they really need a research project to tell them that? Students are dropping out because
(a) some of them should not be at university in the first place
(b) they have been pushed into courses they have no interest in but will lead to employment
(c) they don't have the necessary language and study skills
and (d) the courses they are doing don't actually relate to potential employment even though they are supposedly designed for that.
There are other reasons as well of course but that's a start.
We need to change our ideas about universities, about teaching in them, about what is taught and how it is taught. I would like to see students who are eager to learn more and who are able to develop the skills which will allow them to go on learning - and learning for the sake of learning not just in order to get a job at the other end.
And, among other things, that means having good staff - not just casuals who might care but cannot always be there.
And yes, I'm a "casual". I put in more hours than I am paid for but I can't be there as often as the students would like.