For me the biggest impact of precarity is the effect it has on my capacity to plan my academic career. Unlike many others my age (late 30s), I don’t have a family to support, and am lucky to have some financial back-ups I could rely on in the event that I had to change career direction, or drop back to casual work for a while. But there’s still a loss of dignity in being almost 40 and not feeling like I know where my career is heading, as well as an impact on my capacity to be an effective academic. There’s time wasted on looking/applying for more secure positions, and on weighing up whether it’s worth putting in grant applications that might come through after my circumstances have changed (and therefore prove to be unnecessary). I’m currently stalling on making improvements to some of my courses, because it’s not 100% clear whether I’ll be teaching them next year – depends on what happens with my contract. I also end up spending time ferreting around for information about what’s happening with funding streams and faculty budgets in general, as a way to get insights into what the most likely options might be, and whether there’s a way I can position myself in order to ensure a good outcome. All of that adds up to a bunch of wasted time and energy, which I doubt would be taken into account in any economic assessment of the relative benefits of offering contract vs. secure employment options. I feel like the current shift towards casualisation significantly underestimates this kind of wastage – which must of course be much worse for those on shorter term contracts / casual roles. I’d love someone to do a test – set up two parallel programs, one with contract staff and one with ongoing – and see what the productivity outcomes of the two are after, say 5 or 10 years. Not even close, I suspect. Then translate that added productivity into outcomes like greater grant success, higher student satisfaction – and you’d see a bunch of improvements to things that universities currently claim to care about a great deal (and are spending big dollars on trying to improve). I realise there are significant budget pressures for universities, driven by poor government policy, but I still suspect there’s the capacity to shift the needle on this a fair bit – if only the real costs were fully accounted for.
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