So long, & thanks for all the theory!

Eight years and still no degree.

Eight years, hundreds of texts, thousands of words, millilitres of tears, a handful of original ideas, hundreds of friends (made and lost), and so many poems – and still no degree.

Eight years, six good jobs, leadership of first a campus and then the national postgraduate association, where I fought long, hard, and loudly for everyone’s right to an excellent higher education experience, and still no degree.

Eight years, a deep understanding of cosmopolitan theory and the importance of food and foodways in society and politics, and an even deeper praxis from mindful eater to mindful farmer (and mindful meatsmith…)… and still no degree.

My PhD got me where I am today, but I don’t have a PhD, and I probably won’t because I’ve already arrived at my destination, and my work doesn’t require those letters at the end of my name.

I have loved my PhD for eight years, and today I’m letting it go.

When I switched disciplines from literature to cultural studies a decade ago it was a response to the latter’s explicitly articulated project to build public intellectuals – to be socially useful. 10 years immersed in cultural studies have aided me enormously in my desire to be socially useful.

While I have a very small regret not to pursue my agrarian intellectual life with a bonus three letters after my name, currently I’m shackled by them as I try to get on with doing my bit to transform Australia’s food systems.

I need hours each day to farm, butcher, deliver, and engage with eaters and fair food pioneers everywhere.  I need to do more of exactly what I am doing, not cloister myself to write something three people will read.  It’s a worthy project, but it’s no longer the right one for me.

Thank you to my long-suffering supervisor John Frow, those I’ve interviewed, and the many many colleagues and friends who have discussed, debated and nibbled at the edges of what our engagements with food really mean to any of us.  I wouldn’t be here today without your support, knowledge, critique and interest in this project.

I finally worked out how to savour the world while saving it, and it’s not in chapter three of my thesis, it’s here on the land, knife in one hand, pen in the other.

¡Viva la Revolución!

Kids on tramp

On Quality: You get what you pay for

This article was originally published in Advocate: Journal of the National Tertiary Education Union, where I now have a regular column, “Knowledge *is* the Economy, Stupid”.

Everybody’s talking about quality. We’ve had the review of the Australian Qualifications Framework, the establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and now the Government’s Higher Education Base Funding Review, which intends to benchmark course quality and student engagement. This latest review posits quality against cost in its very first dot point. If ‘you get what you pay for’, it would seem Australia has a problem given our lack of investment in higher education over the past 20 years.

The Base Funding Review echoes the higher education reforms in the 2009 Budget, which “stated the purpose as enabling Australia to participate fully in, and benefit from, the global knowledge economy.” All of this may well be laudable so long as we have a shared understanding of what is meant by ‘knowledge economy’. In a knowledge economy, human capital is highly valued, as people are the keepers of knowledge, and we are the connectors in an economy that is globalised and fluid. A knowledge economy should create critical, engaged, cosmopolitan citizens. It should value fairness and civility. If it is truly a knowledge economy, it must surely promote greater levels of participation in higher education as knowledge begets knowledge.

So how is Australia faring in its performance as a would be knowledge economy? Will our recent focus on quality improve our performance? Not so long as we continue to undervalue the human capital driving the economy, which we have systematically done for decades. While the current Government promises reform and has demonstrated some commitment by increasing higher education funding in the 2009 Budget (but not the 2010 Budget), it has a long way to go to recover from chronic underfunding by previous governments. Between 1995 and 2004, Australia was the only country in the OECD to have reduced public expenditure on higher education in real terms, leading to a situation where less than half of the sector’s funding is now public money. Private contributions are amongst the world’s highest, and we are now much closer to the USA than the UK in our reliance on student contributions (though the recent Browne Report there has signalled their intention to increase student contributions as well). While there are reasonable arguments for requiring some level of student contributions in a rapidly expanding higher education system – the most compelling being that one should contribute to a degree that virtually assures one a private benefit in the form of higher salary – there are equally compelling arguments to cap student fees and maintain public investment to ensure the broadest possible participation in a burgeoning knowledge economy.

On campuses, we all know what the consequences of decreased funding and increased reliance on student fees has meant. Australia’s staff to student ratios are now amongst the world’s highest, we perform poorly in international comparisons of student satisfaction surveys, more universities are offering voluntary redundancies than pay rises, and the sector has the second most casualised workforce in Australia. Remuneration, conditions and career pathways are woeful for casuals, many of whom are postgrads, the present and future leaders of Australia’s knowledge economy. Meanwhile, they live on stipends that sit at or below the poverty line, working far more hours than they’re paid to, as institutions consistently knock back requests for greater job security, recognition and participation in a collegial environment. Universities tell us they can’t afford to pay casuals more because of lack of government funding, as government tells us universities are not getting their priorities straight by investing in human capital.

Whose fault is this? Ultimately, we’re all to blame. Each time a casual academic accepts another exploitative contract, offered by a permanent staff member suffering workload issues that are exacerbated by a head of school who is ensuring the faculty dean will be happy with her bottom line, we get it wrong. And when the Australian public votes for a government that doesn’t invest seriously in the nation’s education and accepts that 25% of our educational dollar will fund private education, we get it wrong. And when peak bodies for the elite argue for a blurring of our qualifications that would allow doctorates to be situated on two of the 10 AQF levels, thereby damaging the integrity of the globally recognised PhD, they get it wrong. And when the Government continues to fund education in short, uncertain grant cycles and expects Australia to be a leader in research and innovation, they get it wrong. And when the Government makes grand plans to improve access to higher education for all, but fails to appropriately fund the increased numbers of students in real dollars that provide real lecturers and tutors and real desks in classrooms that are not overcrowded, they get it wrong.

The only way to fix our current broken system is to take all this talk of quality and cost and invest in people, for we are the knowledge economy.

Democracy Matters

It will surely surprise none of you that I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy this year. There are a few particular reasons I’d like to share for my musings on democracy:

  1. I’m an elected President of a national organisation.
  2. I was deeply uncomfortable with the word ‘democracy’ before this year.
  3. I was involved in the establishment of a new peak body for international students in July.
  4. I have the honour of being an Ambassador for Aung San Suu Kyi through the Burma Campaign Australia.
  5. I’m an elected member of my children’s primary school council.

I’ve taken my roles on various councils very seriously these last five years – some might even call me a governance junkie (I do).

I understand democracy to mean a system where people are free to speak their views, insofar as they are not harmful to others, and to vote for elected representatives who will do their utmost to work in the direct interest of those they serve. When the constituency’s views are not well understood, democratically-elected representatives will do all in their power to survey the population to ensure they are truly aware of majority views. They will also ensure that minority views are well understood and their needs met.

Let me begin though with my second point – I was profoundly uncomfortable with using the word ‘democracy’ until this year. There is a fairly simple reason for this, which is that I was raised in the United States and swung heavily to the left during my undergraduate years at UCSD, whereupon I first heard Chomsky’s famous line that “America is the most brainwashed nation in the world”, as I protested the 1991 Gulf War. I won’t expound at length here on why I think democracy in America is broken, but essentially, I have thought so for a long time.

But stepping carefully away from that Big Conversation, let’s jump to this year. I’ve now been on a number of governance bodies, all related to the education sector, and so obviously believe in the system of democracy. I believe in the importance of voice, and of using it well. Having a voice is a privilege, and not one I take for granted. I’ve often been called a ‘squeaky wheel’, and it’s true, I usually get the oil. I’m quite proud of this fact, especially given I use my voice regularly and resoundingly to help others.

So in July there we were down in Hobart, having managed to get about 100 international students from all levels of post-secondary education to a three-day forum, which resulted in the establishment of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA). As the chair for the three days, I was constantly amazed and impressed as I led the democratic process. And I had the opportunity to reflect on the many students present who had never participated in democracy. It was exhilarating when the constitution was adopted, and inaugural office bearers elected.

Perhaps what heightened my awareness of the diversity of political experiences of those present at the International Students Forum was that in June I had the great honour to be invited by the Burma Campaign Australia to be an Ambassador for Aung San Suu Kyi. The primary role of the ambassadors has been to ‘use our liberty to promote Burma’s’ – to use our voices to bring attention to the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house detention on the 13th of November 2010, having spent 15 of the past 21 years imprisoned in her home by the military dictatorship. The elections held just days before her release saw the UNDP maintain power in a process widely regarded as rigged. Democracy does not exist in modern Burma, but Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), intend to keep fighting for it. And in my limited capacity, I’ll keep using my voice to raise awareness of Burma’s plight.

I’ve learned a great deal about democracy these last few years, and I’m now able to comfortably say I believe in it. Even in America, where the system is limping along, people have a voice, if they would only use it. A weak education system certainly does not enable a healthy democracy, and nor does a failure of the state to look after its people’s health or ensure they all have safe housing. And yet the right to speak and to vote still exists in real terms, which must surely give one hope for a brighter future. In Burma, such rights are at best limited and at worst subverted by unscrupulous so-called leaders.

Aung San Suu Kyi perhaps best summed up the people’s essential role in democracy during her speeches after release:

“Please don’t have the attitude that politics do not concern you. […] Everything is politics. Politics is not just coming here and supporting us. The housewife, who is cooking at home, also has something to do with politics because she is struggling to feed her family with the money she has. Struggling to send children to school is politics. Everything is politics. No one is free of politics. So saying that politics does not concern you and that you do not wish to be involved in politics is a lack of awareness of politics.”

Hear hear. Every purchase you do or don’t make, such as buying green power, is a political act.

I’ll close, predictably, with a reflection on the impact of so-called Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) on student voice. Some of you may have seen today’s article in The Australian about my organisation, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) closing down our offices in Trades Hall due to lack of funds. The article highlights the decline of our members as their funding dried up, even in cases where universities have tried to support them by diverting money from teaching and learning funds.

I must reassure everyone that CAPA will continue to lobby at the national level, continuing our 30-year history of transforming national policy for Australia’s 270,000+ postgraduate students. We’ll just work from home. In fact, even with our limited financial resources, we’ve just released our Benchmarking Report on Minimum Resources for Postgraduate Study 2010.

There are many who supported the VSU legislation in 2005 based on the fallacy that the Amenities Fee only supported radical student politics and free beer. In fact, the fee paid for many essential services on campuses, as well as independent representation and advocacy.

Who cares whether there are student reps on university committees, some may wonder? Well, if coursework postgrads are worried about the quality of your degrees as class sizes increase, who would you like to voice that concern? Perhaps you’re a research student with supervisor woes and no office space? In more dire circumstances, maybe your supervisor is wrongfully trying to claim your IP?

Student representatives canvass a plethora of issues at committees regularly and relentlessly, leading to significant improvements in policy and practice. Advocates working for student associations identify themes in their casework and alert representatives to issues that are not unique, so that they may lobby for change across the system. Where they are not well resourced and not able to work together, it’s difficult to notice themes, let alone take them to central committees. On far too many of Australia’s university campuses five years into life with VSU, there are student organisations barely surviving and unable to maintain a strong voice as their funding has disappeared.

Most of those campuses without independent postgraduate representation have lost their link to CAPA, the peak body, meaning their voices are disappearing at the federal level. Those who have lost their postgrad associations include members of the Go8 – it’s not just small and regional universities who are suffering. (For those interested, you can read all of our submissions to Government on the VSU and current SSAF bill.)

CAPA is aware of instances of postgrad associations being overtly threatened with a withdrawal of funding and/or disbanded by universities because they didn’t like what the student reps were saying about their institution. A return of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), with a proviso that some of the fee be used to directly support independent representation and advocacy on a per head distribution between undergrads and postgrads, would ensure that such unethical and undemocratic behaviour could not occur.

Again, to quote Aung San Suu Kyi on the day after her release, “Accepting that there can be a difference of opinion is a democratic principle.

Too slow, says CAPA

Below is a piece run in the Campus Review yesterday, reprinted here with their permission.

02 Aug 10 by John Ross 

There’s more danger than hope in this month’s election, according to the peak postgraduate body.

There are two big dangers on August 21, according to the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA).

One is that Labor could win the election, and continue to implement its reforms at a snail’s pace.

The other is that the Coalition could win and slow the reform process even further – maybe stop it completely.

CAPA’s assessment follows its review of the outcomes of 20 higher education and research-related inquiries conducted since early 2008.

These reviews yielded over 300 findings relevant to postgraduate students, CAPA found, with the government so far responding to less than a third of them.

National president Tammi Jonas stressed that CAPA didn’t back any particular party. But she said the best-case scenario for CAPA was a returned ALP government with the Greens holding balance of power “to help push for faster reform”.

“If they hold the balance we will see the student services and amenities fee finally go through, for example. That would be extremely welcome to students across the country.”

Jonas said a Labor government with Greens influence would also be more likely to commit funding to research workforce strategy recommendations, and to extend the duration of Australian Postgraduate Awards (APAs) to four years.

“It seems that the two major parties are unwilling to fund things,” Jonas said.

“We’re hopeful to see enough change in government to get the funding behind the will.”

Jonas said CAPA’s worst-case scenario would be a Liberal win with the Coalition holding the balance of power.

“Then not only wouldn’t we see the student services and amenities fee go through. We’d see a complete dismissal of the importance of higher education in Australia as we saw under Howard – an anti-intellectual climate that doesn’t value a knowledge economy.”

She said the “middle ground” scenario would be “a government that looks very similar to what we have now”.

Such a government would “continue at a pretty slow pace, but at least with some goodwill to start to improve what has been in decline for 15 years”.

CAPA said postgraduates had won some major reforms to scholarships and income support in 2008 and 2009, with the number of APAs doubling between 2008 and 2012 while they attracted better indexation and a 10 per cent increase in payment rates.

All masters by coursework students will also gain access to income support by 2012.

But CAPA said unfinished business for postgraduates included further reforms to scholarships and income support, implementation of a national research workforce strategy, new quality arrangements, evolution of the “third phase” of international education and research, and better student services and advocacy.

Go to

The importance of independent representation

I had my first ever article published on the ABC The Drum site, which they titled A Foreign Despair. It’s predominantly a look at the welfare issues facing international students, and points to policy gaps and lack of action, as well as inadequacies in our national infrastructure. I finish by highlighting the importance of an independent, national voice for international students in Australia, something that’s been missing since Master Sheng and his crew took over the old NLC in a truly unscrupulous way (and some might argue there’s a legal case in it). CAPA has been very active in supporting international students, and has had international student officers for decades on our Council, but we believe this student population needs its own independent national body once again, with whom we will work closely to cover postgrad issues for internationals.

This brings me to the importance more broadly of democratic representation, especially where there is taxation (yes, that old phrase). Of course I’m referring to the devastating effects of so-called Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), whereby universities have had to fund student associations, leading to the closure of many of them across the country where uni administrations have failed to be supportive. Too many that are surviving are doing so by amalgamating the postgrad and undergrad bodies, and sometimes also the overseas student associations (OSAs), leading to the bizarre situation where undergrads are the presidents and typically hold the majority of the elected positions with postgrads usually only having one dedicated spot on these councils.

So I made a claim at the Universities Australia conference last week that if there must be amalgamations, there should be a constitutional requirement that the presidents be postgrads. One can imagine the response from undergrads, but even a postgrad campus president asserted that this would be undemocratic and elitist. I argue that it is simply ensuring that representation is done by those best placed to represent their constituents – that is, postgrads by definition all have undergraduate qualifications and so are well able to represent that cohort, but undergrads are clearly not in a position to represent their postgraduate colleagues. How can a 19 or 20 year old in the middle of their first degree, often still living at home and having never had a career possibly represent the average 34-year-old postgrad? How could they represent someone like me – a 39 year old mother of three doing my fourth degree (1 undergrad, 2 postgrad coursework, & now the PhD), having had a couple of careers, including management experience?

Now imagine a postgrad officer on the amalgamated bodies, which in all the examples we’ve seen in Australia consist almost exclusively of undergraduate members. These undergrads make their factional deals about electing office bearers, as they are party political. The postgrads by and large are issues-focused people who got involved in representation because they’ve seen, heard and experienced firsthand the many things that can go wrong in the academy. They’re put off by the intense party political environment of the council, and can’t get much support or resources specific to postgrads, as the undergrads don’t see the need for such things (eg dedicated postgrad facilities and advocates, postgrad-specific publications, or indeed, in the case of a number of these amalgamated bodies, paying CAPA’s annual fees to ensure national representation for postgrads, though they continue to pay their NUS fees).

Why do postgrads allow ourselves to play subaltern to undergraduate hegemony? I know some out there will attest to the hegemons’ relations with the government… and Imma let you finish. I don’t know of any student association that would allow men to serve as women’s officers, nor local students as international officers. It’s time we insisted that undergrads stop serving as peak representatives on bodies responsible for postgrads. And although postgrads could represent the undergrads, quite honestly, most of us don’t want to. We believe that those currently undertaking undergrad degrees are best placed to represent themselves, and we ask for the same recognition in return.

In these times of severe resource scarcity due to the disastrous VSU legislation and the Opposition’s continued stonewalling on the Student Services and Amenities Bill, we’re going to have to speak up for our right to independent representation, advocacy and support. Postgraduate students, both coursework and research, are already important, active members of Australian society, and they’ve returned to study to increase their value in the knowledge economy. They make the difficult choice to live with financial stress and insecurity through additional study in hopes of a return on that investment later, and for some, simply because engagement with learning and critical thinking is a lifelong passion. As a society, we need to collectively value the contributions made by students during and after their period of study, and one of the many ways we can do this is by insisting on independent representation.

Who’s going to help me get this #RIOT going?

Food and the art of representation

This article appeared this week in Campus Review – an interview with me about the year ahead as CAPA President. 🙂

Julie Hare

February 15, 2010

Campus Review

I am what I eat. You are what I feed you,” Tammi Jonas’s bio on Twitter asserts. When the new president of the Council of Postgraduate Associations is not cooking – or thinking about, talking about and communicating about food – she’s completing a PhD (with a food focus – of course) and representing the country’s 270,000 postgraduate students.

Jonas’s blog, called ‘Tammi Tasting Terroir’ and subtitled ‘The infrequent and imperfect yet impassioned musings of a PhD candidate, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and would-be cultural commentator with a penchant for food and community …’ sums it up.

The blog is a random mix of recipes for sourdough and passionate monologues on the state of higher education.

Food frames most aspects of Jonas’s life – even the political. Two years ago she held a soup kitchen for University of Melbourne tutors under vice-chancellor Glyn Davis’s office window to draw attention to poor conditions and unpaid work that their lot in life.

“We got everyone to come down with their fingerless gloves and I made a giant pot of potato and leek soup. I literally fed the tutors,” laughs Jonas.

More recently, she drew national attention to the issue of casual teaching when she resigned from the University of Melbourne council – and then wrote about it in an article for New Matilda.

Now her penchant for the big political statement is due to find its fulfilment in her role as president of CAPA – and she hope’s individual branches will follow suit.

While she likes the publicity, Jonas says her resignation from Melbourne University council was more than just a stunt.

“I certainly wanted the publicity to keep shining light on the issue [of exploitation of casual staff], otherwise no one will realise we need their sympathy,” she says.

“It wasn’t so much a stunt as a principled and ethical resignation, because I was no longer willing to be part of a body that wasn’t in my view behaving ethically by leading the way and ensuring all members of the academic community are being treated fairly.”

The issue, which Jonas says she had been campaigning on for years (and is itemised on her blog), revolved around postgraduate students being asked to present unpaid “guest lectures”, lack of adequate office and desk space, and unpaid work in other areas such as marking.

However, she would like it known that Melbourne is not the worst culprit – and can point the finger at any number of the other universities which she considers even more exploitative.

As Jonas takes up the top gig with CAPA, 2010 might be the year that some of the more pressing issues to do with postgraduate workforce issues get resolved. The government’s research workforce strategy reference group is due to report in the first half of the year.

“We’ve had the Bradley and Cutler reviews, but there are still many issues around lack of sustainability [of the research workforce] if things don’t change,” says Jonas.

“We have too many people leaving the sector because it’s not attractive enough. We are particularly interested in seeing conditions improve for research students both as casual labour and also in terms of their own basic minimum resources – computers, desks and so on – when they are doing their study. And then, of course, there are follow on effects of that on coursework postgraduates such as having better funded teaching programs so everyone is getting better quality courses.”

Jonas says other key items on her agenda for the year include the welfare of international postgraduate students and the quality of coursework programs on offer.

Originally from the US, Jonas moved to Australia 18 years ago after meeting her husband Stuart while backpacking around London.

“Being a migrant explains my interest in national identity,” she says. “My passion for issues around international students I’m sure [is partly inspired] from being a migrant myself – although I’ve never been identified as one because I’m white and sound a lot like the people here.

“I often assert my migrant status to highlight for people the diversity of what migrants are.”

Jonas recently chaired a working group to set up a new national representative body for international students and is hopeful it will be launched later this year.

The CAPA and National Union of Students initiative came about in the aftermath of the hijacking of the former representative body, the NLC, by a group led by a Chinese businessman Master Shang (CR, 27.04.10 and 11.05.10).

“It’s such an important job – they have no independent national voice right now and we would like to see international students representing international students again.”

Jonas said the third big ticket item for CAPA is student services and student organisation. CAPA’s finances have been savaged since VSU legislation introduced by the Howard government. With the Student Services and Amenities Bill currently being held up in the Senate, there is uncertainty as to whether the government will get the support necessary to get it passed.

“CAPA is really struggling to survive. If you look at some of our achievements last year such as making sure that postgraduates got the stimulus funding, the rise in APAs and getting income support for masters students, these are really big achievements. If we didn’t exist, none of these things are likely to have happened.

“I find it extraordinary that people [politicians] who are in the business of representation themselves don’t understand the importance of the representation we provide.”

While Jonas has a big year ahead, she said there is no way her PhD (on multicultural foodways and cosmopolitanism in Melbourne) will get put on ice. With an invitation to submit an article to the Australian Humanities Review and another to present a paper at the international food ethnography conference in Finland in August, Jonas says she will plough on.

In the meantime, there is also CAPA, the family and food, beautiful food.

Find Jonas’s blog at

The University of Melbourne’s Response to my Resignation from Council

I only just discovered this on Crikey from the 10th of December – it’s Melbourne University’s response to my resignation from University Council (and paywalled, so full text below) – my responses are in italics:

Melbourne University:

Christina Buckridge, Corporate Affairs Manager, University of Melbourne writes: Re. “Why I resigned from the University of Melbourne Council” (yesterday, item 15) & “Leaked email: Teach for free? Melbourne uni councillor calls it quits” (Tuesday item 14).It is regrettable that Tammi Jonas has decided to resign from the University Council where, as member elected by graduate students, she could have raised concerns and had them thoroughly and sympathetically considered.

How disingenuous to suggest that the Melbourne Graduate Student Association (GSA, formerly UMPA) had not been lobbying on the issue of exploitation of casual labour for YEARS – well before my time as President and certainly during. You can read blog entries from that period here. And as an elected member of Council I had repeatedly raised these issues, as I did on just about every university committee before that. The response usually takes one of two forms: a) we don’t know what you’re talking about – our policies don’t allow such things or b) tutoring is all part of training, so of course it’s not going to be that well paid. See the uni’s response below for proof.

Ms Jonas is wrong in claiming that the Arts Faculty made a ‘strategic decision’ to stop paying postgraduates.

Have a look at this blog entry on what was going on in Arts in 2008. To my knowledge, it wasn’t official ‘policy’ to stop paying, but subject coordinators were told not to offer any paid positions guest lecturing, and passed it on to their postgrads, who expressed the quandary it put them in.

Dean of Arts Professor Mark Considine says it has never been suggested that graduate students should give lectures or tutorials for free. While Schools within the Faculty experiencing straitened circumstances might have cut back on the number of guest lectures, it is not the Faculty’s policy to ask people to give tutorials/lectures without payment. Postgraduate students are an important — and paid — part of the Faculty’s tutorial program which rolls on as usual.

Again, the company line simply doesn’t match the reality. See my earlier blog post with stories from real postgrads, some of whom had been asked and were giving guest lectures for free. Is the University suggesting these people are LYING?

Of course, some guest lecturers — retired honorary staff, for instance – may elect to present a lecture pro bono.

The email inviting Ms Jonas to take part in the Melbourne School of Graduate Research (MSGR) 2010 programs should not have been sent; no other postgraduate students have been invited by MSGR to teach into 2010 MSGR programs without payment. MSGR does not condone requiring postgraduate students to work without payment. However, some staff, and very rarely postgraduate students, may volunteer to take part in MSGR student enhancement programs but that is their decision alone — there is no compulsion.

My word. Compulsion is interesting, don’t you think? Of course nobody is strong-armed into working for free, but they’re not employed if they don’t work for too little, or in some cases, don’t agree/offer to guest lecture for free. And for those who believe that tutoring is important to developing their career as an academic, surely such exploitative practices amount to compulsion.

The University’s position is that if people are in employment, they are required to be paid in line with University policy.

Can somebody PLEASE pass that information on to the lecturers who are simply grateful when someone will teach for free since they will otherwise need to fund them out of their already limited grant money (if they even have any)?

Current rates for casual tutors at Melbourne are $104.84 ($125.37 with a PhD) an hour for the initial tutorial and $69.90 ($83.57 with a PhD) for repeat tutorials. These are standard for the industry and comparable to other countries. The hourly rate is way above average wages.

NB: $104.84 is for three hours work, not one – preparation, contemporaneous marking, student consultation & delivery. That is, it’s the same as the pay for marking at $34.94/hour, and some tutors are not paid for marking. Here’s the text from the University’s Personnel and Procedures Manual:

‘Tutorial’ means any education delivery described as a tutorial in a course or unit outline, or in an official timetable issued by the University. A casual staff member required to deliver or present a tutorial (or equivalent delivery through other than face to face teaching mode) of a specified duration and relatedly provide directly associated non contact duties in the nature of preparation, reasonably contemporaneous marking and student consultation

However it is important to note that postgraduate study is usually a full-time occupation and tutoring should not be used as a prime source of income.

And yet if you’re fortunate enough to have a scholarship, you’ll be living below the poverty line, and if not, you’ll certainly need to work, preferably in your field… a conundrum? I have heard sympathetic senior academics make the argument to pay tutors better to management: “We don’t want them to have to work in petrol stations, do we?”

In recent negotiations towards a new enterprise agreement, the University has agreed to increase the casual loading, ensure that all casual marking is paid at a separate marking rate (currently $34.94 per hour) and that casual academics have access to University facilities over semester breaks. The University is committed to improving conditions for casual staff during this round of bargaining.

This is good news, of course, though insufficient. What about paying casual academics when they continue to respond to students out of semester? Or attend student academic misconduct hearings? Or respond to online forums on the uni’s Learning Management System? Or attend meetings?

Also where there is evidence that a casual staff member, or any staff member for that matter, is not being paid in accordance with University policy or that there is a mismatch of expectations about the work they are required to do, the University acts to correct it.

It seems to me that the only action the University usually takes is to quickly deny there was ever a problem. If you believe their official responses, whether at Council, on committees, or in the media, academics (both casual and permanent) are just prone to whinging and are seriously misguided about the ‘reality of the situation’. How patronising, insulting and wrong. Until they stop denying there is a problem, what hope is there that conditions will improve? Analogies with national denialists abound here.

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