CCPA Report: “Heavy reliance on contract faculty in Canadian universities is a structural issue, not a temporary approach to hiring”

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Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives

Contract U

There is a growing body of literature documenting the rise of precarious work in Canada, including among university faculty—once among the most secure professions in the country. But little is known about just how prevalent precarious faculty jobs are in Canadian universities. This report offers the first-ever snapshot of how many university faculty appointments are precarious jobs, where they’re located, what types of academic departments are more likely to offer precarious jobs instead of permanent, secure academic appointments, and how much precarious work among faculty has increased since 2006-07.

This information is not collected by Statistics Canada, so the authors used data obtained through Freedom of Information requests sent to 78 Canadian universities to examine the extent of their reliance on contract faculty appointments.

Among our key findings:
• Our data reveals that more than half of all faculty appointments in Canada are contract appointments. In 2016-17, 38,681 faculty appointments,
or 53.60 per cent, were contract positions compared to 33,490 tenured and tenure-track appointments.

• Among contract faculty, part-time appointments predominate, accounting for nearly 80 per cent of all contract appointments in 2016-17.

• Universities’ reliance on contract faculty varies significantly by discipline. Among nine of the 14 subject areas that we examined, contract appointments accounted for more than half of all faculty appointments. Within the three core areas of science, social sciences, and humanities, rates of contract faculty appointments ranged from 39 per cent in science to half in the social sciences and 56 per cent in the humanities.

• There are significant differences in universities’ reliance on contract faculty by province. Quebec relies on contract faculty far more than any other province, with 61 per cent of contract faculty. Ontario (54 per cent) and B.C. (55 per cent) also have rates of contract appointments that are above the national average.

• Contract appointments also differ between universities within a single province, even when universities are similarly situated. Overall, there are 13 universities in Canada where contract appointments are more than two-thirds of all faculty appointments, and nine universities where they represent fewer than one-third of appointments.

Overall, our data suggests that while public funding cuts may have played a role in universities’ reliance on contract faculty, austerity alone cannot explain this decision, since rates of contract appointments vary so much between universities in similar circumstances. The trend also does not appear to be a result of changing market demand for certain disciplines, nor, on the whole, the result of personal choices by tenured faculty or contract faculty.

Rather, reliance on contract faculty appears to be largely driven by choices made by university administrations, raising questions about the role of universities as employer and educator. Our findings lead us to the conclusion that the heavy reliance on contract faculty in Canadian universities is a structural issue, not a temporary approach to hiring.

To keep reading, download here: CCPA Report – Contract U

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Notably, UVic failed to provide adequate data to the researchers: “The University of Victoria provided four separate data releases, but after reviewing the information we determined that we could not ensure the accuracy of the data and did not use it” (page 36).