A Recap on the State of Higher Education in Australia

It’s time to pull a number of disparate pieces on issues facing the academy into one place, so why not do it here on my nuts eclectic blog?

Finally, I’d like to finish by pasting in the feedback I received to an email I sent out to a number of sessionals (all postgrads or ECRs, mostly from Arts) at Melbourne University. I asked them: 1) are they paid for guest lecturing, 2) are they provided with office space, and 3) are there other issues with underpayment or unpaid work? Here are their responses in full, with identifying details removed:

December 2009


I have done guest lectures this semester at Melbourne and was paid for them- they were repeats from the year before. I also did some at Deakin and was amazed by how little I was paid as they didn’t seem to have a rate for new lectures (i.e. that you have to write the whole damn thing up and spend about 10 hours on it if you’re never given it before). In this regard, Melbourne seems to be taking into account the work required to generate a new lecture.

At Deakin there is no office space per tutor, but you can apply for a room throughout the semester at a specific time so you can set up a regular consultation time or work before or after classes. I’ve never taken advantage of this, but it’s a nice gesture. You would know the score in Culture and Communication where there is little provision even for sessional coordinators. I’m sure Melbourne would want to at least meet what Deakin is offering.

The biggie in terms of unpaid work at Deakin is the online components of subjects. They have many off-campus students and the students in general seem to use the online sites (the equivalent of the LMS) much more than I’ve ever seen at Melbourne. We don’t ordinarily get paid for this time, but I would always spend maybe 8-10 hours per week on there.

The biggest problem is using sessionals year-in, year-out. In the study I did at Deakin, I found that there were people who had been sessional tutors for 5-10 years, many of whom wanted an ongoing position. One guy at Deakin just got an award for 14 years service or something similar. People should not be sessionals for this long and there needs to be “stepping stone” positions that have a little more job security, but may not have all the trappings of tenure.


  1. I have given a 25 minute lecture (there were three of us making up the entire lecture with 25-minute talks) and no one was paid — as far as I can tell.

    2) we don’t get space as a casual tutor, but I have one as a PhD student, luckily.

    3) I was tutoring in a subject that required us to post and respond to an LMS question every week. This took up a fair bit of time, with no payment to account for it.


    1. Yes I am paid to give lectures. But unless lectures are asked for they are not given to postgrads in our department. I only got one lecture this year and I had to literally beg for it. This is not the coordinators’ fault, the school has no money!
    2. We have office space but it is shared. The worst I experienced this year was one desk and computer for 25 tutors!
    3. I had to mark blogs this semester and I was only paid for 1200 words each while the blogs were supposed to be 2000 words each. It was also made clear to students that they wouldn’t be penalised for writing more than the 200 words. I was marking up to 5000 words and being paid for 1200.

    My main gripe is that there is no way a department (particularly in Arts) can give you any sort of career path or reward long service. I have tutored 10 semesters of classes and will have to apply with everyone else next semester while rationing my money over the summer break with no guarantees.


While I was paid an hourly rate for guest lecturing, the figure really didn’t represent the work in preparation to give the lecture, so I would say that in my experience guest lecturing is pretty underpaid. Especially if, as a tutor for a subject, you are asked to give multiple guest lectures. Instead of recognition as co-coordinator, or what have you, it seems cheaper and easier to be designated as a guest lecturer…

I had office space, but this was only because I’d applied for one as a postgrad through my department, i.e. there was no relation between my work as a tutor and having this office space. Even though I was one of the lucky ones, and I do realise this, the conditions were definitely less than ideal, since students would come for consultations while office mates would be in the room. An uncomfortable inconvenience for all involved – and who’s to say which of us had the most right to the room at the time?

There is a finite provision for payment for student consultations – you probably know what this is, I’ve forgotten. Perhaps five hours per semester? Anyway, this is supposed to include all email correspondence, as well as a weekly office hour, which we are obliged to offer. That’s right – the school/coordinator creates this expectation in the students that there is a weekly office hour to meet with tutors, but at the same time, tutors are told by admin at the end of semester that they will only be paid for 5, or 8, or whatever the set figure is. Let me say that this is a pretty clear example of pressure to do unpaid work! In any case, students come by outside of this office hour, and email traffic is enormous. QOT forms at the end of the teaching period ask so many questions about whether students felt like their teaching staff were supportive/available if they didn’t understand material, etc, so obviously this is a major issue to do with the quality of the school. But not one they are willing to their staff pay for.

I’m sure I’m merely one in a large chorus, but hope this helps,


1 – Yes, I’m paid to give guest lectures and have never been asked to do so without pay

2 – As a casual tutor I share an office – there are two small offices between 20 tutors which is woefully insufficient and despite the timetabling of office hours to try and ensure they don’t clash, they often do. It it is very difficult to listen to student concerns when other tutors are coming and going at the same time.

3 – I think that casual academics in this particular school are basically treated with respect and fairness. We could always get paid more but more of an issue is the lack of career paths – in other areas (eg natural sciences) there are a lot more research fellow positions that people can move into post PhD before going on to an academic B (academic A appointments seem to have died out) but in the Arts/social sciences these are few and far between. The university should be doing a lot more to create early-career academic positions as they will need these people to take over when the baby-boomers all retire.


I would love to respond to your questions! I have been employed at the university as a casual lecturer and tutor over the last two years.

1) I have always been paid for guest lectures and they are offered as paid work.

2) But with no office space. I have been using the communal postgrad office space which can disruptive to others if students wish to discuss anything.

3) The main issue i have with payment for work is pay negotiations that are still happening when a job is offered, which holds up a contract being drawn up. Postgrads should have time to be able to consider these details before accepting the job, but unfortunately there have been instances where this has not yet been resolved before teaching begins.


  1. We are not paid to give guest lectures, but we are told in advance that
    they will be unpaid. So far I have successfully negotiated with individual
    course coordinators that I be paid out of their teaching relief fund. I
    cannot speak for others.

    2. The school offers casual tutors use of two shared rooms with shared
    pcs, but tutors can only use them temporarily (i.e. to the best of my
    knowledge there is no lockable space )

    3. Tutors are not paid to attend lectures, although many do, especially in
    their first year of teaching a subject. More alarmingly, tutors are
    expected to attend meetings with their course coordinators but are not
    paid to do this. I have managed to wrangle pay out of one coordinator,
    declined to meet AT ALL with another for the entire semester of teaching
    (to the course’s detriment) and had to pay one of my own tutors out of my
    own pocket when I was the coordinator for a course.


The issue I have with sessional teaching at Melbourne perhaps doesn’t easily fit into some of the questions you’ve asked – even the last one.

Tutorial and lecture preparation time is underpaid. The simple rule here is to only work for the hours you get cash for. However, it’s completely unrealistic, and prone to cases of self-exploitation from dedicated sessionals with a commitment to high standards. The University knows this, and it’s a difficult issue maintain an argument on – for one thing, it gets caught up in the differing perspectives on the quantity and quality of ‘knowledge work’ measurable within a particular time frame. This is different from a set period of delivering material to a class.

Semester bleed is another issue I’m sure that you’ve heard about already: cases of late work, plagiarism and administrative commitments drag on well beyond the last paycheck.

Something else that bothers me is the inflexibility of coordination of course materials, subject descriptions and course design. To some extent, this covers both sessional and tenured staff – for cutting-edge programs to be developed there needs to be some modification of the massive lead-in to subject proposals (two years advance for the structure of assessment criteria in some cases) – nevertheless it impacts more on the quality of teaching from sessional coordinators since they often cannot deliver material effectively within an outdated framework and have little authority or recourse to adapt structures or the security to take risks (or even the paid hours to manage innovating subjects). This affects labour practices in the sense of morale and quality of teaching, paid or otherwise.

Oh, and also – don’t get me started on new media and labour! The celebrated blogging software from University of Melbourne is a time-sink and massive case of exploitative teaching practice. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet.


I’ve just finished up as a sessional lecturer/tutor/course co-ordinator this semester, and wanted to give some feedback.

Overall, I think I had things comparitively good – office space, good admin support etc – but there were a couple of points I think it’s worth raising. The main issue I encountered was the assumption that teaching stopped with the final lecture. Given that both the major essay and the exam were after this date, I was effectively not paid at all for the fairly extensive consultation I felt obliged to give students in those weeks. More importantly, from both mine and the students’ perspectives, I think there’s a problem with the assumption that casuals will always be available both during holidays and well into the following semester. When a student has, say, special consideration and is submitting after the due date, there may actually be no one connected with the course around to mark it. Hope this of some help!


No i have never been paid to give a guest lecture – I’m always just told that it will look good on my CV but it doesn’t really to put down a whole lot of separate guest lectures when i have also had an actual lecturing position.

Usually there is one space offered for all the tutors but cause so many people use it i often had to find another space for tutor consults outside of my allocated hour.

The extra assignments or short answer questions that some of the subjects have on a weekly basis take up a lot of time and are mostly unpaid for tutors.


1) did not have an office

2) did more work than the hours I was paid for. That was mainly preparation and marking.

Now – what’s your experience? We need as many voices as possible if we ever hope to have an impact! Collectively, we have power to see real sectoral change – individually, we might be able to fight for ourselves, but we won’t see institutional and national improvements.

Why I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council

Here’s the article I had published in Crikey on Wednesday 9 December 2009.

Melbourne university post grad student Tammi Jonas writes:

On Monday, I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council in protest against the University’s exploitation of its casual labour force, which is largely made up of postgraduate students. I myself was asked to teach a seminar for free that I had previously been paid to present, and chose to use my own example to fight for the many others who are all too frequently put in this untenable position.

You can read my resignation in yesterday’s Crikey, or else on my blog, as well as the email inviting me to teach for free. The withdrawal of my labour from an exploitative system is a strategic and ideological choice I started to make a few years ago when I opted out of tutoring in the Arts Faculty, where remuneration and conditions are woeful, as they are at so many Australian universities.

So a few facts: casual staff are delivering about 50% of the university sector’s teaching, Data from DEEWR also shows that there are more women than men employed as casuals, which has particular implications for women with children, who we know are still doing the lion’s share of caring for children. Casual staff have no paid leave and no job security, let alone a clear career pathway. As the sector grapples with understanding how it will replenish its ageing workforce, it continues to employ people under casual contracts with no plan to integrate them into the future workforce. Meanwhile, some 60% of Australia’s PhD graduates leave the sector entirely, a figure that has been climbing steadily for many years.

So what does all of this mean to the average postgrad who thinks, ‘great, I’d love to teach!’ There is great disparity in wages and conditions between institutions – I’m assured that Melbourne University is by no means the worst offender.

Many tutors attend lectures as part of their preparation for tutorials, but at most institutions this is unpaid. The Head of the School of Political and Social Sciences at Melbourne has informed his casual staff that “Tutorials are not designed to go over lecture content – they should be capable of standing alone. Where they are merely going over lecture content, they are not doing what they are designed to do.”

This is a total furphy – of course tutorials are designed to support the lecture content, though not to slavishly ‘go over’ it. Would he be happy if the lecture that week was on racism in the media and the tutorial was on feminism in India? This same head of school also asserts that there is no need for face-to-face meetings between subject coordinators and tutors, and that the “LMS [an online space for learning materials, with discussion forums] seems a suitable format in which staff can communicate with each other.”

This is his justification for not paying for meetings – whilst tutors spend MORE UNPAID time on the LMS. Tutors are also often asked to give guest lectures without pay, sometimes ‘lucky’ to receive a bottle of wine. A lecture can take up to a week to prepare when you’re doing it for the first time, so even when it is paid at the rate of 3 hours per hour of delivery, it’s totally insufficient.

Many tutors are not provided with any office space in which to work or consult with students, and those who are must share an office, which can be very awkward if meeting with a distressed student. Those without offices meet with students in cafes or other public places, which is even more awkward with a distressed student.

Many casual staff talk about ‘semester bleed’, whereby they must attend to issues around academic misconduct and students contesting their marks well after their contract has finished. And a number of universities don’t even pay for end of semester marking, which can take dozens of hours to complete. It is unconscionable that institutions whose very raison d’etre is to contribute to the global public good are exploiting their least powerful members. The old ‘we don’t do it for the money’ argument has worn thin.

I say no matter WHY we do it, they’re going to have to pay us.

Stop the Exploitation of Casual Labour in Universities!

At the recent State of the Industry conference in Sydney, there was a great deal of talk about the exploitation of casual labour in universities, especially that provided by postgraduate students. The very next week, I was invited to teach a seminar for free that I have been paid to deliver for nearly two years. In outrage and out of solidarity with others in similar situations, I decided to resign immediately from my position on Melbourne University Council and use the example to reinvigorate the long-standing campaign to improve remuneration and conditions for casual academics. I somewhat naively thought that I would send my email to the University Council, receive a dismayed response, and continue with the campaign in my role next year as President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA). I say naive, because somebody immediately leaked the email to Crikey. Since it’s now public, but behind a paywall, here is the email, with two minor omissions to attempt to protect the privacy of staff members who are not willingly complicit in this system of exploitation, and who should not be placed in such a position as to have to ask postgrads for free labour.

CAPA will be very active next year in attempting to secure better remuneration and conditions and improved career pathways for casual academics, as well as more access to resources and collegial cultures, and we hope to work closely with the NTEU on this. I urge all casual academics to make your voices heard, and to withdraw your labour if it is not being appropriately rewarded, if you are in a position to do so. For those in better circumstances, I urge you to show your support for the others!

The email in question:

Dear Chancellor and fellow Councillors,

It is with disappointment that I submit my immediate resignation as a member of the Melbourne University Council.

Below is an email I received from a staff member at the Melbourne School of Graduate Research inviting me to teach a seminar for which I have been paid these past two years for free, due to lack of funding. (The staff member, by the way, was mortified to be put in this position, and has always been a great proponent for paying the presenters, as well as an excellent coordinator.) As most of you will know, I have been campaigning against the exploitation of casual labour, especially that of our postgraduate students, at both the campus level as President of UMPA (now the GSA) last year and nationally as VP for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) this year. I was elected 2010 President of CAPA last week, and intend to continue advocating for casuals in that role.

You may or may not know that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying for guest lectures last year, which has put countless postgraduate students in the position of offering or agreeing to teach the lectures for free in the belief that it will be good for their careers – never mind the many unpaid hours it takes them to prepare and teach, which is often in addition to paid work elsewhere. The GSA and CAPA believe this situation is absolutely outrageous and indefensible.

I will not be teaching any of this or other universities’ subjects for free, and nor do I encourage any other students to do so. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a scholarship are, as CAPA publicised last year, living just below the Henderson Poverty Line. The small increase in APAs won by CAPA for next year will nudge the scholarship just above the poverty line. And yet a university with a billion dollar budget has the gall to tell us that it does not have the resources to pay for our labour. I for one am responding by withdrawing my labour entirely from this system of exploitation, and strongly encourage others who can to do the same. We can all at least agree not to teach for free, but also where possible, not to teach under the appalling remuneration and conditions facing casual tutors.

As a Councillor, I am clearly not in a position to speak out about the outrageous, unethical management decisions being made by Melbourne University, and so I would like my resignation to be accepted immediately. It is also against my own ethical position to remain on a governance body that will allow the University to continue to move in this direction, where its least powerful members are so desperately undervalued. I would also bring to the Council’s attention that across the sector, sessionals are doing over 50% of the teaching, and postgraduates make up 57% of the sector’s research and development output. What is strategic about disenfranchising this labour force?

I wish you all well as you endeavour to govern an unmanageable state of affairs.



Dear Tammi,

Many thanks for your participation in the eResearch training program for graduate students in 2009. I have really appreciated your enthusiastic participation and feedback from participants for your Web 2.0 & Social Media for Research Students: Wikis, Blogs and Beyond has been very positive. The University of Melbourne seems to be leading the pack with this type of training and [there was a presentation by Melbourne] at the eResearch Australasia conference earlier in November. [We] believe that the program has been instrumental in raising awareness across the university of the importance of equipping our research students with eResearch skills and tools. At the e-Volution eResearch Symposium at the University in September, the DVC-R, Professor Peter Rathjen, highlighted the need for a University-wide strategy to educate and train RHD candidates in eResearch. He identified the need for all RHDs to be aware of and to incorporate into their daily practice, elements of University policy on data research management, including data access and integrity, and to develop their eResearch skills. The program also features in the draft eResearch strategy for the University.

Planning is underway for 2010. I am hoping that you will be able to participate in the program next year. However I need to tell you that MSGR are unable to pay presenters next year. So I understand that this and /or study demands may be a barrier…or any other reasons…. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you can participate and if the nominated date suits.
Face-to-face classes will continue – and we are planning to expand, adding some new topics, e.g. Video collaboration: EVO & other collaboration tools; Overview of HPC and Visualisation Services; and Digitization. In addition MSGR and Learning Environments will develop an eResearch ‘toolkit’ in the newly launched Graduate Research Portal on Sakai. All research students will have access to the portal in 2010.

Tammi Jonas
PhD Candidate, Cultural Studies
University of Melbourne
Vice President (National Operations), Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA)

“I awake each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan my day.” E. B. White