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Academic staff's first place of employment

CEPES seminar co-sponsored by the Magna Charta Observatory, Berlin, October 2005

Background

After the decision taken by the Observatory in September 2004 to tackle the question of academic malpractice, Jan Sadlak, the Director of UNESCO-CEPES, proposed the Magna Charta to co-sponsor a meeting organised in Berlin on the question of staff management, particularly in terms of the loopholes existing in national regulations that could entice improper behaviour - above all when teaching staff moonlights in various jobs to multiply their gains in terms of global income. At the Berlin seminar, 'first' did not refer to an early position in the academic hierarchy.

As Ken Edwards, the Chair of the Observatory Board, is also an active member of the Advisory Committee of CEPES, Magna Charta co-sponsorship seemed obvious, all the more so as Michael Daxner, as member of the Collegium, had been asked to be the main speaker in Berlin. In terms of background material, the file prepared by CEPES was particularly rich: participants were given a 285 page dossier comparing laws and institutional practices in several European countries and in the US and Canada (that are part of the UNESCO European region) à propos
- staff recruitment and contractual arrangements in terms of employment
- multiple employment and additional sources of income
- the institutional governance of academics' positions in higher education.

This was certainly an interesting information basis that should be used as reference in daily work - although it relies heavily on Anglo-Saxon data because such data does not need to be translated and because many institutions in the British isles or in North America have been very explicit (in their mission statements and their regulations) on the possible arrangements staff can enter if they want to work part-time for a second or third employer.

 

The Seminar

Some 20 participants (coming from 12 countries) and four persons from the Bucharest office took an active part in discussions organised as a series of plenary sessions, the first two proposing a debate on the principles while the next five focused on case studies usually balancing Central and Eastern European situations with 'Western' ones - in Britain, Finland or the US.

Michael Daxner presented several of the arguments the Magna Charta could use on corruption. In particular, he insisted on the interrelations between the scientific, academic and professional allegiances of university staff - systems that do not necessarily coincide, thus opening loopholes in which improprieties can easily flourish. And ethics cannot be the overarching link that would bind together the academic identity since morality in science, in academia or in professional terms certainly diverges from one perspective to the next. This philosophical contribution was often quoted later when the discussions moved to more socio-economic considerations on the changing role of higher education in the emerging knowledge society - a topic eloquently addressed by Ken Edwards when he underlined the efforts made in universities to define academic freedom and institutional autonomy as ways to structure the process of staff management.

Interestingly, the difficulties met by Central and Eastern European countries, faced by the low salaries and lowered recognition received by academics trying to make the most out of a poverty situation, were put in a different light than simply survival strategies when the Finnish arrangements for side employment were explained by Ossi Lindqvist, the present head of FINHEEC, the Finnish evaluation agency for higher education. Considering that, twelve years ago, Finland was on the edge of bankruptcy because of the disruption - if not the disappearance - of its traditional markets in the former Soviet Union, and in view of its present wealth and dynamism as 'the good pupil' of the European class, there is hope for countries that see themselves at present in European backwaters. The turn around was due to the decision taken in the mid 90's to put the little money available on future oriented activities only - which meant abandoning most of the traditional areas of economic strength the country was known for. It also meant giving priority to the formation of the people, be it in primary and secondary education and, concurrently, in higher education. Thus, as show the PISA enquiries, young people entering higher education in Finland speak languages and are fluent in maths and natural sciences - and the country does not know the gap in science vocations that is common to most other countries in Europe. Academic staff - also as the trainer of the secondary and primary school teachers - proved essential and the task was enormous. People, everywhere in the country, were also encouraged to target the PhD as their educational aim - in universities and in enterprises (like at Nokia, for instance, where promotion in the firm is linked to higher education standards). Academics had thus many opportunities to diversify their employment but clear rules were adopted to ensure transparency in the field: any salaried activity, even temporary, must be approved by the university acting as the first employer, the rector seeing to it that the complementary assignments enrich - content- and pedagogy-wise - the academics taking them. All money flows go through the university - that collects an overhead and thus ensures that the extra income is declared to the tax office. To be transparent, all 'side jobs' are also recorded in a public register that the press or state administration can consult at any time. Examples were given of academics who had to resign because of improper behaviour.

The other main strand of discussions was around the growing precariousness of academic employment, in particular in the US where the AAUP (the professional union of university professors) uses the term of 'disposable academic' now that 65% of faculty has no tenure (43% in 1975 and 58% in 1995). The question for the seminar was the protection of staff and the dangers run by academic freedom when precariousness can make people reconsider the risks of dissent and originality - i.e., not to speak up to their convictions. For lack of representatives from French, Italian or Spanish academia, there was not much of a discussion on the status of civil servants - an indirect form of tenure - even if the Beamte question is also important in Germany, the host country of the meeting. This 'lack' became particularly obvious when the group moved to the question of management of academic positions on the basis of English practice considering that the role of the State in many Latin countries has been usually taken over by the institutions themselves in Anglo-Saxon systems of higher education, a trend that is perceived as extending since there is a growing disaffection of governments vis-à-vis a university world they can no longer subsidise fully. Can then the devolution of power to the institutional level increase the capacity of academics to fully dedicate their time to their first employer and what does it mean in terms of describing the work load of academic professionals? In the knowledge economy are academics to become simple knowledge workers - in a subservient position - or can they retain a professorial dimension as exponents of uneasy truths? What are the structures of management that ensure openness and trust in the values of academic work?

 

Conclusions

The conference was a good forum for an exchange on different practices but called for a further exercise if the constraints and conditions of the academic professional of tomorrow are to be defined, especially in the European Higher Education Area, since the questions linked to staff are still rather marginal in the Bologna process. The status of the teachers, their regional and international mobility and the upgrading of their competencies should be used to counterbalance the malpractices that, in a vicious circle, are downgrading the prestige and credibility of intellectual work - in science, in the university as an institution and in the professional guild that represens its fundamental value for society and the development of citizens and nations, in Europe and beyond.

CEPES - with the support of the Magna Charta - should use its position as a member of the Bologna follow-up , to ensure that the value and values of staff as one of the main pillars of the future EHEA are being further investigated and discussed in terms of convergence and compatibility so that the mobility of people, methods and ideas does shape the European dimension of higher education and academia in the area, now and after 2010 especially.

 

See conference final report