Trends in Non-academic Staff for Australian Universities 2000 to 2010
20 June 2012, by Professor Emeritus Frank Larkins
Frank Larkins is Professor Emeritus in the School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne. His current interests are in research, education and energy policy developments. He has recently published a book entitled Australian Higher Education Research Policies and Performance 1987-2010 (MUP 2011) and a series of analyses on Australian higher education research policy.
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In previous articles published by the L.H. Martin Institute and in media commentaries trends in academic staff numbers in Australian universities have been extensively discussed in response to the very considerable growth in student numbers during the past decade. Little attention however has been given the trends in non-academic staffing profiles. The relevant data are published by DEEWR* in annual reports of staffing profiles for Australian universities. The non-academic staff are reported by universities in several categories reflecting the important roles they are responsible for to support the academic organisational units (AOUs) and to pursue other university agendas. Staff are categorised in six areas as – Non-Academic in an Academic Unit, Academic Support outside AOUs, in Student Services, in Public Services, in General Services or as supporting Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) staff. In this article the staffing trends for the period 2000 to 2010 are examined for these staff categories and compared with changes in the academic staff profile for the same period.
*On occasions concerns are expressed about the accuracy of data submitted by universities, especially with respect to the categorisation of staff. While the DEEWR statistics are the publicly available data, it is wise to use them with some caution.
General Non-Academic and Academic Staffing Trends
The Full Time Equivalent (FTE) data for academic and non-academic staff for the years 2000 and 2010 are shown in Appendix 1 along with the percentage increases over this period. The data are provided for both the Full and Fractional Time (FFT) staff and for casual staff. The percentage of non-academic and academic staff as FFT, casual and total staff are presented in Figure 1. In 2000 non-academic staff represented 52.0 percent of the total staff employed, while in 2010 the proportion was 52.4 percent. Universities employed slightly more non-academic than academic staff throughout this period. The staff balance has changed only marginally with there being a small relative increase in the growth of non-academic staff compared with academic staff growth. The proportion of non-academic FFT staff has increased by a small amount from 54.2 percent to 55.0 percent, while the proportion of university staff classified as non-academic casual staff has decreased from 39.5 percent to 38.6 percent.
Figure 1. Non-Academic and Academic FTE staff as a Percentage of all University Staff by Category for 2000 and 2010
Another way to examine the trends is by the actual percentage increases in total FTE academic and non-academic staff over the period. They were similar at 34.2 and 36.2 percent respectively; however, on closer examination the profile of the staff growth has been somewhat different. For academics, FFT staff increased by 31.3 percent and casual staff by 46.7 percent, while for non-academics FFT staff increased by 35.6 percent and casual staff by 41.0 percent. Overall, in 2010 there was a higher proportion of casuals among academic staff at 20.9 percent compared with among non-academic staff at 11.9 percent. Since 2000 these percentages for casuals have increased by nearly two percent for academic staff (19.1% in 2000) and by less than one percent for non-academic staff (11.5% in 2000). Part of the explanation for the trend may be that in some universities some FFT staff previously classified as academic staff have been reclassified as non-academic staff. Academic profiles have been adjusted to accommodate policy developments such as the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise and the quest for improved international rankings.
In an earlier article it was highlighted that during the 2000-10 period academic Research-Only staff had increased on an FTE basis by 72.7 percent while Teaching-Only and Teaching-and-Research staff had increased by only 23.4 percent leading to the overall increase of 34.2 percent referred to previously. DEEWR data are not available to enable a similar analysis to be made for the services that non-academic staff provide to support research and coursework programs. Some indication of this trend may be gleaned for the Australian Bureau of Statistics Higher Education Research and Experimental Development (HERD) statistics of higher education human resources devoted to research and development. The support staff numbers in person years increased from 6780 in 2000 to 8568 in 2010. A 26.4 percent increase, while the academic research staff numbers increased from 11,854 to 21,239, a 79 percent increase, during the same period. Since overall academic and non-academic staff growths are similar at around 35 percent, it can be concluded that non-academic staff growth supporting research activities has not keep pace with the overall non-academic staff growth. That is, greater staff emphasis has been placed on supporting other areas of university activities.
The average salary for a non-academic staff member has retained the same relativity to the average academic salary over the period considered. In 2000 the average non-academic salary at $58,791 was 81 percent of the academic salary, while in 2010 at $94,435 the average salary was 80 per cent of the academic salary. Salaries have increased in real terms over the period by some 20 percent after adjustment for consumer price index increases.
Roles of Non-Academic Staff by Function
The non-academic staff undertake many major functions in universities both within AOUs and for the university at large. The staffing trends for the six categories of non-academic staff identified are presented in Appendix 2 for the 2000-2010 period. The number of staff increased in all categories over the decade except for CRC support (Appendix 2, row 12). The distribution of staff in these six categories and the variations from 2000 to 2010 are shown in figure 2. The relative variations in the proportions in each category over the period are small.
Figure 2. Distribution of FTE non-academic staff in the six categories for 2000 and 2010.
Around one third of the staff are classified as within academic organisational units with a staffing increase of 41.9 percent (Appendix 2, row 12). The next largest category is General Services also with around one third of the non-academic staff and a staffing increase of 37.6 percent. Both these categories, along with student services, proportionally increased their numbers, while academic support, public services and CRC support proportionally declined as shown in the table within figure 2, although absolute numbers in the first two categories increased by 23.3 and 13.0 percent respectively. Student services had the largest increase in FTE numbers at 69.4 percent, but only 6.6 percent of all staff are in this category.
The overall increase in non-academic FTE staff at 36.2 percent must be appraised in the context of student enrolments increasing by 71.5 percent on a person basis and by 54.4 percent on an Effective Full Time Student Load Basis (EFTSL) during the period. Student Services at 69.4 per cent growth is the only category of staff that has experienced growth approximating the student enrolment growth. The student enrolment (EFTSU) to non-academic support staff (FTE) ratio has increased over the period from 13.0 to 14.8. There has been a need to improve the efficiency of service delivery assisted by the new technologies to preserve the quality of services in an environment of increasing student to staff ratios limiting professional engagement.
The major growth in professional roles for non-academic staff since 2000 has been in information technology services, marketing for domestic and international student recruitment, research support services, compliance services, advancement including external relationship building and fund raising. While important, these roles are largely ancillary to the core teaching responsibilities of academic staff and the direct support services they have traditionally received. Academic staff do express concerns about the lack of administrative support services in their departments, especially support for coursework activities including laboratories and technical services, even though from the statistics non-academic staff numbers in departments and faculties and their proportion as a percentage of total university non-academic employees have increased. The explanation would seem to be that non-academic staff in departments and faculties now have many other roles, as indicated above, beyond direct support for academics and their coursework programs. The proportional decline in academic support services outside AOUs reinforces the negative views held by academics. In areas such as research management and performance accountability staff numbers have increased in most universities displacing staff that performed other supporting functions.
The number of CRC support staff has always been relatively small with the decline of 40 percent since 2000 reflecting the decreased involvement of universities in CRC programs relative to a decade ago. Non-academic general services staff cover a wide range of university functions including new infrastructure and on-going maintenance, financial management, strategic planning and compliance activities. The level of employment in this area has been proportionally maintained.
Some universities have developed management models that involve an increase in outsourcing of selected services to contracted external parties. Examples include, cleaning services, grounds maintenance, security services, traffic management and printing and publishing. These outsourcing practices have increased over the past decade and therefore may affect any conclusions that are drawn about non-academic support trends of staff in particular universities. If staff providing services that have been outsourced were able to be included then overall increases in non-academic service staff will be greater than the situation presented here.