Rising precarious employment threatens quality of university education, say Ontario professors

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New research demonstrates that precarious employment has a major impact on individuals and their families. As many contract professors are trapped in precarious positions, these findings are a major concern for professors and academic librarians in Ontario. Beyond the personal harm, precarious employment also puts the quality of the province’s universities at risk.

The findings were released on Thursday, May 21, 2015 as part of the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) report, The Precarity Penalty.

According to the report, middle income earners who lack job security experience higher levels of stress and poorer mental health than lower income workers who have stable employment. Precarious employment also means limited access to health benefits, limited pensions, and a significant amount of unpaid work. Many precarious employees must also pay for their own job training.

This is the reality of an increasing number of workers, including contract faculty who are employed in larger and larger numbers at Ontario universities.

“While the skills and academic achievement of contract faculty members are excellent, being paid by the course means that the research and student mentoring performed by contract faculty often goes unpaid.” said Kate Lawson, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). “Universities don’t even pay contract faculty to attend departmental meetings or to update and revise course materials. The rise of precarious academic employment exploits young academics and is changing the culture of Ontario’s university system, putting its long record of student success at risk.”

Ontario already has the lowest level of per-student public funding in Canada alongside the highest tuition fees. As per-student funding declines, the hiring of full-time professors has not kept pace with increases in enrolment. Instead, universities have turned to large numbers of contract faculty with no job security and low pay to do a growing proportion of teaching. The working conditions of faculty are the learning conditions experienced by students, so this shift has serious implications for the quality of university education in Ontario.

“We are very concerned about the ability of our students to thrive as precarious academic employment rises,” added Lawson.

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