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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/1997   
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Contents >> Education >> Education & Work: Academics

Education & Work: Academics

In 1995 there were 32,900 academics in higher education: 24% were in research only; 6% were teaching only; and the rest performed both teaching and research functions.

Academics working in higher education are responsible for educating our future labour force, for maintaining and improving the skills of our current labour force and for supporting life-long learning goals of students. They are also responsible for considerable research production, particularly in fields which the private sector is less likely to support (such as the arts and humanities). The academic profession has been affected by substantial changes over the last decade through the restructuring of the higher education sector and as a result of large increases in student numbers.

In 1995 there were 32,900 academics working in Australian universities. This was an increase from 25,900 in 1988.

ACADEMICS


Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, Selected Higher Education Staff Statistics, Selected Higher Education Statistics.

Defining academics and their work

Academics are members of staff at universities who undertake teaching, research, a combination of both functions, or who are responsible for staff undertaking such functions. Academics may include some staff who work part of their time at TAFE institutions. A small number of research-only staff who are not classified as academics, have been included when discussing the balance of teaching and research staff.

Academic teachers are those who perform a teaching-only function or a combination of both teaching and research. For those who do both, the balance of teaching time to research time is not known.

Student/teacher ratios are the ratio of full-time equivalent student units to full-time equivalent (FTE) academic teachers. While a useful measure of change in resources over time and between fields, care should be taken when interpreting this measure because the balance of teaching to research time is not known.

Academics who undertake teaching and/or research, work within academic organisational units (AOUs). AOUs are grouped according to similar subject contents. They are referred to by various names including schools or departments, e.g. agriculture, education studies.

Fields of study are groups of courses of similar vocational emphasis or principal subject matter, e.g. parks and wildlife management, primary teacher education.

Academics are usually employed for a limited term which is an appointment for a fixed period of time, or a tenable term which is a permanent appointment that would normally last until retirement age. It is possible for academics to have substantive tenable term appointments while their current duties may be on limited terms. For example an academic may have tenure as a senior lecturer but be appointed to a limited term of three years as a Head of School.

Academic classification is the level of the current duties of an academic (rather than the level of duties of an academic's substantive position). Levels comprise: above senior lecturer, senior lecturer, lecturer, below lecturer.


Characteristics
Men accounted for 67% of all academics in 1995. However the proportion of female academics increased from 27% to 33% between 1988 and 1995.

Academics had an older age profile than people in other occupations. In 1995, the median age of academics was nearly 45 years compared to 40 years for all professionals and 37 years for all employed persons. The older age profile may be associated with the lengthy training period needed to enter this occupation.1

Of the 49% of academics who were aged 45 years and over, 73% were men. Thus older men (those aged 45 years or over) made up more than one third of all academic staff.

AGE-SEX PROFILE OF ACADEMICS BY CURRENT DUTIES TERM, 1995

Academics with tenured terms




Academics with limited terms



Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, Selected Higher Education Staff Statistics.


Academic classification and term of appointment
The level of classification of academics and their term of appointment are closely related. Generally tenured terms of appointment are attached to the more senior academic levels. For example, in 1995, 80% of academics at the senior lecturer and above senior lecturer level held tenure, compared to 12% at the below lecturer level.

Although the number of tenured positions increased from 17,000 to 19,000 between 1989 and 1995, their proportion declined over the period. In 1989, 64% of academic positions were tenured, compared to 58% in 1995. This decline has occurred across all academic classification levels except the below lecturer level. In 1989, 11% of below lecturer level positions were tenured compared to 12% in 1995.

There is also a relationship between the age and sex of an academic and their classification and tenure. For example, male academics are more likely than female academics to hold senior academic positions and hence tenured terms. This is partly related to the older age profile of male academics. In 1995, only 27% of academics with tenured terms were women. In comparison, among academics with limited terms, 42% were women.

The number of female academics has risen from 7,400 to 11,000 between 1989 and 1995. While most lecturers are appointed at the lower levels, the promotion rate of female academics appears to have exceeded their appointment rate, with increasing numbers of female academics at the senior lecturer and above senior lecturer levels. However, men still had greater representation than women at all levels except the below lecturer level.

SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF ACADEMICS

Numbers
Distribution
Median age
Tenured term
Persons
Academic classification
'000
%
years
%
% female

1989(a)
26.5
100.0
43
64.2
27.8
    Above senior lecturer
4.5
17.1
51
85.5
7.9
    Senior lecturer
6.8
25.5
47
89.8
14.4
    Lecturer
10.3
38.9
41
63.4
34.3
    Below lecturer
4.9
18.5
33
10.7
51.0
1995
32.9
100.0
45
57.6
33.5
    Above senior lecturer
6.0
18.3
52
79.5
12.2
    Senior lecturer
8.0
24.4
48
80.4
23.2
    Lecturer
12.1
36.8
42
57.1
40.6
    Below lecturer
6.7
20.5
35
11.6
51.9

(a) 1989 data used because of data inconsistencies in the 1988 Selected Higher Education Statistics.

Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, Selected Higher Education Staff Statistics.


Balance of research and teaching work
In the 1980s Australia had a binary system of higher education comprising colleges of advanced education and universities. In the late 1980s a unified national system of larger institutions was created. This was done to provide greater economies of scale and to create greater opportunities for students and staff. It also aimed to improve the balance between teaching and research work in all higher education institutions. Between 1988 and 1995 this balance changed. The proportion of all academics who performed research-only functions increased, from 20% to 24%. Moreover, only 6% of academics had a teaching-only function in 1995 compared to 29% in 1988. In 1995, 71% of academics performed both functions.

Much of this change was the result of the restructuring of the colleges of advanced education (which mainly taught) into universities (where both teaching and research were carried out). For example, in 1988 in New South Wales, only 7% of academic staff in the former colleges were associated with research functions. By 1995, this had risen to 84%.

PROPORTION OF ACADEMICS BY FUNCTION


Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, Selected Higher Education Staff Statistics


Academic teaching
In 1988 there were on average 12 students to every full-time equivalent (FTE) academic teacher. By 1994 this had increased to 15. Because casual academic teachers were excluded from the calculations for 1995, student/teacher ratios for that year can not be directly compared with previous years. To overcome this problem, student/teacher ratios for 1994 can be recalculated excluding casual academic teachers to provide a comparison. The student/teacher ratios (excluding casual academic teachers) for 1994 and 1995 were 17 and 18 respectively, showing a continuation of the trend since 1988.

Student/teacher ratios differed significantly between academic organisational units (AOUs) in 1995. There were 25 students to every FTE teaching academic in the administration, business, economics and law AOU. In comparison those AOUs with the fewest students per teacher were agriculture and renewable resources (12), health sciences (15), and visual and performing arts (15). The humanities and social sciences had student/teacher ratios of 18 and 20 students per teacher respectively. Differences between AOUs may be partially explained by differences in teaching methods in the different disciplines, e.g. laboratory work or lectures.

Male academic teachers generally outnumber female teachers in the various fields of study. This is so even in areas where women have dominated student numbers for many years (e.g. humanities and education). Only in health sciences were more than half (54%) of the FTE academic teachers women. The under-representation of female teachers is most evident in the field of engineering. In 1995, 5% of FTE academic teachers in that field, were female. This is largely explained by the fact that engineering has not attracted large numbers of female students. In 1995 only 13% of engineering students were female. Thus the pool from which female academic teachers are largely drawn has been relatively small. This may change in the future as increasing the number of female students in non-traditional areas such as engineering, has been a national goal since at least 1990.2

FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT (FTE) ACADEMIC TEACHERS, 1995

Academic teachers
Student/teacher ratios
Academic organisation unit (AOU)
no.
% female
ratio

Humanities
2,886
39.7
18.3
Social sciences
2,682
39.5
19.8
Education
2,396
43.4
18.6
Sciences
3,407
19.0
15.8
Maths, computing
2,180
19.0
19.3
Visual and performing arts
1,337
33.7
15.2
Engineering, processing
1,834
5.5
15.6
Health sciences
2,911
53.7
14.7
Administration, business, economics and law
4,266
29.5
25.4
Built environment
579
16.6
19.3
Agriculture and renewable resources
666
15.6
11.6
Total(a)
25,607
31.4
18.2

(a) Includes other academic teaching staff not categorised by AOU.

Source: Department of Employment, Education and Training, Selected Higher Education Staff Statistics and unpublished data.


Academic research
In 1994 academics spent 10,200 person years on research. As part of their work load, academics also oversaw the research work of postgraduate students. In 1994, 22,000 person years were spent on research by postgraduate students.

Research within the broad field of natural sciences, technologies and engineering attracted the most research effort (63% of all person years and 72% of total research funding). The share of funding going to these fields has increased slightly from 70% in 1986, with substantial increases evident in the field of medical and health sciences (the largest field of research). Those fields which received a lesser share of funding in 1994 than 1986 included: biological sciences; humanities; and economics.

Some of these changes may have been affected by the ability of different research areas to attract private funding. Government reforms to the higher education sector in the late 1980s have resulted in a larger share of research being privately funded. In 1986, 7% of research was funded by sources other than the federal government (such as State governments or private business) and by 1994 this had increased to 11%. A further 18% of research funding in 1994 was through competitive research grants from the Commonwealth.

In 1993 there were 50,800 publications produced in universities3. This was equivalent to 1.6 publications per full-time equivalent academic researcher. The most prolific academics were those from higher education institutions in Victoria and the Northern Territory both with an average of 2 publications per academic, and New South Wales with 1.8 publications per academic. However, the amount of research published varied greatly between institutions even within States. The main publications produced were journal articles and conference papers. Only 4% of all the publications produced were books.

There is some debate as to whether numbers of publications produced by academics is a reasonable measure of academic effort, as it does not account for the time spent on, nor the value of, research4.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT EFFORT IN HIGHER EDUCATION, 1994

Research funding(a)

Academics
1986
1994
Selected fields of research
Person years
%
%
%

Natural sciences, technologies and engineering(b)
6,409
62.6
69.6
71.7
    Medical and health sciences
2,025
19.8
15.4
20.5
    Biological sciences
999
9.8
14.7
11.7
    General engineering
527
5.2
n.a.
7.2
    Information, computers and communication technology
515
5.0
n.a.
5.0
    Chemical sciences
436
4.3
6.1
5.3
    Agricultural sciences
412
4.0
6.5
6.0
    Mathematical sciences
404
3.9
n.a.
2.5
Social sciences and humanities(c)
3,822
37.4
30.4
28.3
    Humanities
1,126
11.0
11.6
7.9
    Education
578
5.7
2.8
4.2
    Economics
381
3.7
4.1
2.9
    Psychology
234
2.3
n.a.
2.1
    Accounting and finance
211
2.1
n.a.
1.2
Total
10,230
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Data may not be strictly comparable as categories for fields of research changed slightly between 1986 and 1994.
(b) Includes physical science, earth sciences and applied science and technology.
(c) Includes political sciences, sociology, law, and other social sciences.

Source: Research and Experimental Development: Higher Education Organisations, Australia (cat. no. 8111.0).


Endnotes
1 Department of Employment, Education and Training 1990, Study of the Labour Market for Academics, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Department of Employment, Education and Training 1990, A Fair Chance for All: Higher Education that's within Everyone's Reach, AGPS, Canberra.

3 Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee (AVCC) 1995, Research Capability and Performance in Australian Universities, AVCC, Canberra.

4 Maslen, G. and Slattery, L. 1994, Why Our Universities are Failing: Crisis in the Clever Country, Wilkinson Books, Melbourne.



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