Here in the UK, the adjunct lecturer is known as an HPL – an hourly paid lecturer, on a zero hours contract. When I first entered academia, as a student, I was surprised to learn that some of my lecturers were ‘HPL’s’, and that in fact, many of the staff in the subject area had begun their lecturing lives that way, to be offered ‘fractional roles’ later. A fractional role is a permanent post, often referred to as ‘FTE’ (full time equivalent) and can be full time, or part time fractional.
My subject area leader, a wonderful and supportive woman, offered me an HPL contract back in summer 2006 to help with staffing issues and to help me out as she knew I needed a job. I jumped at the chance to start on the road to becoming a ‘proper’ lecturer. Over coming semesters I ended up teaching for 23 ‘student facing hours’ a week (8-9 modules) – more than the allocated 18 hours per week expected of full time staff. This went on for several years (2007-2011), and I took it as a compliment that she thought I was capable of this intense work load – let’s be clear, I did it willingly and was not forced into it in any way – and I consequently learned a huge amount about teaching in a university very quickly, and relished that opportunity. I loved students, and they loved me, as far as I could tell. Attendance rates improved, pass rates and grades improved, and I thought (foolishly as I now realise) that this would all stand me in good stead for being offered a fractional role.
Then it all began to go wrong. While I watched my immediate predecessor HPL colleagues enjoy their new FTE posts, I languished, along with several others, being offered less and less work as budgets shrank and full time staff were now expected to teach the full 18 hours per week in their AWAM (academic workload allocation model?). Over time, the degrees I taught were discontinued, and I was left without any safety net. Oddly, all the work I had done to improve student attendance and grades was not even considered relevant to my continuing to work in the faculty. I was not alone in this, but certainly my workload had been the largest.
Needless to say, I began to panic as needed income. I took a job in a support unit – and though the role was in theory academic (I am now an ‘SL FTE.06’ – senior lecturer 3 days per week) I do no academic work, that being in limited supply and being offered to a colleague and an HPL (ironically) in preference to me. I again languish as currently am mainly only involved in technical work. Not bad in itself but a death sentence when looked at in the light of developing any sort of academic career.
This serves to highlight why HPLs will do anything to carry on with their teaching in preference to moving into some other ‘safer’ roles, which do not offer the same academic pedigree. Now I don’t teach or do any academic work as such, I am no longer considered by many to be an academic, but to have crossed over into that netherland, the PSD (professional services department) employee. When I now apply to other institutions for academic work, my CV has begun to look very shaky, as I do not currently do any measurable academic work in my present role. I am slowly being consigned to the sideline of educational technologists, a role I feel wholly unsuited for, it offering little in the way of intellectual merit and certainly not ‘my field’.
This in a nutshell is the dilemma of the HPL. I had the chance in recent years to take HPL work in other institutions but did not (for reasons best left undisclosed here) and now I wish I had. The opportunity to move forward into better academic positions from HPL teaching is infinitely superior to that of any support or PSD role, and this far outweighs the risk of no pension or permanent contract.
Pay, contracts, fairness
In terms of salary, if you work a lot of hours as a ‘Rate A’ HPL you can certainly earn great money. But increasingly this is being tightened up so that the highest rate of HPL pay (£42-£52 per hour) is not offered except for very limited time or tasks – though if you’re lucky you can still find pockets of positive HPL discrimination and be paid what amounts to twice what any full time staff would be paid for the same work. The HPL lecturing contract position states that for every hour you are paid as an HPL (at Rate A) you are also expected to work an hour of preparation or marking. This seems understandable, and is practical when the role is actual teaching in a ‘normal’ setting, but it begins to fall apart when classes are in excess of 50 students, or conversely, when you are working in non teaching roles (for example HPL work for support or strategic work). For the former, the marking load is not comparable with a two-for-one pay system, it being far too large a workload, and the latter is the exact opposite, you are only working one hour for every one hour paid, as there is no preparation or marking involved. In other words, the contracts are woefully inadequate and too general. This, in my opinion is where new thinking is most required.
Universities are now moving to employ teaching assistants on the lowest rate of HPL pay (Rate C), so a significant reduction in earnings (approx £29 per hour). This is cheap lecturing by the back door, and many in academia should be very wary of this, including the FTE staff. Once you begin the process of replacing permanent staff on £45k+ with teaching assistants on a similar hourly rate but without the permanent contracts, you are on a slippery slope. As students are now paying in excess of £9000 per year to study it seems inconceivable that universities are actually downgrading the quality of the lecturing role, as they struggle to survive in the cut-throat world of open market competition that now passes for academia in the UK.
I and many colleagues are left without much hope in terms of developing real careers here in the UK. While for me this is less significant, I’m older and have already had two or three working lives before this one, the younger staff, in my opinion, would be much better off looking abroad to develop their careers, as other european nations (Germany, Holland) have begun to realise that open market competition is not the way to go for tertiary education, and they all predominantly teach in english.
A final comment
I have partaken in two HPL research surveys recently, and have been shocked and disappointed at the appalling level of bias or simplification that was evident in the structure and questions involved:
These types of questions are an embarrassment and cannot contribute to the problem facing HPLs. It only takes a cursory look at many institutions employment structures to see that not all HPLs are treated the same, many do have opportunities to move into fractional roles after a length of service (but not all). The problem here is the progress of all HPLs across all institutions, the management of their workloads, and their systems of pay. Until these things are discussed fairly and intelligently, we will not move forward, and HPL adjunct staff will continue to be a political football for this sector.
[img: Teaching 2nd years, 2010]