Friday, 21 November 2014

Academic decline

I knew that the numbers of academics at U Canterbury had dropped. I didn't know that it was this bad. The Tertiary Education Union reports on the numbers:
Based on the change in proportion of FTC academic staff in 2014 compared to 2012 (column 3 of Table 3), the University of Canterbury was shifting academic staff at between two and six times the rate of the other universities, and on average 4.5 times the rate of the other universities. Substituting the change over the average employment of the period (column 2 Table 3), the University of Canterbury was shifting staff faster than all universities, as much as 32 times faster than AUT and on average 9.2 times faster than all other universities.
The TEU also notes that it isn't just the earthquakes but rather a re-focusing within the University: the proportion of full-time continuing administrative staff is up 16%. The number of administrators per academic has increased substantially as the number of academics has dropped.

They report also that the ratio of full-time continuing academic staff to all staff has dropped substantially since 2012: if my algebra isn't wrong and their numbers are right, it's about 40% of what it was.

Their figures look at the change since 2012. I know that the Economics Department was shedding staff very shortly after the September 2010 earthquakes: we lost two to Waikato really quickly. Those early shifts won't be in the TEU figures.

Kudos to the TEU for putting this out. As I understand things, they represent both academic and administrative staff; I never joined partially because of worries that they did a bit more to protect the general staff against restructuring than they did to emphasise the academic side. That they're now noting the decline in academic staff as proportion of staff is significant.


  1. Don't have any issues with your main point but there's a growing trend in comparing percentage changes (displayed in the underlying paper you cite) that's getting on my wick and that needs to be squashed: if A grow by .001% and B grows by .01%, "B has grown ten times faster than A". Formally true, but meaningless in any real sense. Also the article quotes a percentage decline (in a ratio) of -152.7%: hmmm.

  2. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is the "re-focusing within the University" something that other universities did years ago? Because I would imagine that at the very least the Earthquake would have required some refocusing. Then, in the recent past there was a very silly Vice Chancellor, and the aftermath of him would have needed a lot of reoccurring also. Are there reasons for the change?

  3. More bosses, less academics.

    Unfortuante trend through most academia and into the whole R&D industry. Surely it has to hit the deep end at some point and start to rise?

  4. Thanks. I also yesterday noticed the proposed statement on academic freedom and funding, which looked really rather good.

  5. Yeah, that ratio change made no darned sense to me either, which is why I turned it into the 2014 fraction of the 2012 ratio instead.

  6. Looking at percentage changes (or differences in ratios) in isolation is always problematical, e.g., a big drop could just indicate the number was too high to begin with. But think about the statistic being analysed here--it's the ratio of full-time academic staff to total staff. Given that the denominator has decreased only slightly, the only way the ratio can have fallen by 60% (assuming one believes the TEU numbers) is if there's been a wholesale substitution of administrators for academics.

    In no known world is this a 'good thing'. Administrators teach no students, produce no research, and attract zero income. They are simply a deadweight cost on a university's operations. Like any organisation, a university must incur a certain amount of this cost in order to allow things to run smoothly, e.g., library staff. But the picture painted by the TEU figures goes way beyond that.

  7. For some context on the decline, see