News Article

“They keep having to reapply for their own job, again and again”: Why your tutors are on strike

“I’ve always loved the ideal of the university as a place of learning, as a place of new possibilities...” Scott, a doctoral student and casual tutor in the School of Social and Political Sciences, describes witnessing the disintegration of this ideal with “growing horror”. Despite initial misgivings in the lead-up to the Week 6 strike, his concerns over the persistence and precarity of academic work compelled him to take part.

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“I’ve always loved the ideal of the university as a place of learning, as a place of new possibilities...”

Scott, a doctoral student and casual tutor in the School of Social and Political Sciences, describes witnessing the disintegration of this ideal with “growing horror”.

Despite initial misgivings in the lead-up to the Week 6 strike, his concerns over the persistence and precarity of academic work compelled him to take part.

“You have jobs that basically should be continuing and ongoing, being parcelled out as casual jobs. So someone’s doing the same job, year after year... and they keep having to reapply for their own job, again and again,” he explains.

“It makes it very difficult for staff to commit to their jobs, or know where they’re going to be, this year or the next.”

Scott is enthusiastic about research and teaching. And two and a half years into his PhD, he always knew the workload of writing a thesis and teaching classes was going to be demanding.

But the University’s failure to substantially decasualise academic positions has made him question whether it’s worth it.

“So we’re doing all this work, and then what’s waiting at the other end? Just this endless, insecure work? It can be very demotivating, and demoralising.”

Desperation to secure one of the limited ongoing roles available means doctoral candidates often push themselves well beyond the already full-time capacity required for a PhD.

Besides the core task of researching and writing thesis chapters, many are churning out additional journal articles and taking on extra classes for teaching experience.

“I’m looking down into the future in academia, and that’s what really stresses me out,” says Scott.

“There’s all these things I’m going to have to do within the next year and a half, if I’m going to have any hope of getting decent work afterwards.”

He says this pressure to constantly improve their chances of gaining full-time work has led to a decline in the quality of scholarly research.

“People saying, ‘I wish I actually had time to read. I wish I had time to think. I wish I had time to do quality work’... That’s not a reflection on their intellectual abilities, or their dedication. It’s a reflection on the model that we’re working under.”

Although the Week 6 strike was followed by some limited concessions from the University on a secure work target, Scott acknowledges any chance of a complete upheaval to the current model remains uncertain, and will require continuing escalation.

“I was not optimistic that this particular strike alone would change their [the University’s] position... What we need is something that’s sufficiently disruptive,” he says.

Scott is striking again this week alongside thousands of other staff and students to maintain pressure on University management to meet their demands at the bargaining table.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. But I know what the outcome will be if we do nothing, which is that things are going to keep getting worse.”

 

 
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