Do Academics Only Work 15 Hours a Week?

This is a touch on the navel-gazing side but, at the same time, since everyone seems to agree that having high-quality universities is an important element in future economic growth, it seems worthwhile explaining how academics actually work.

The Irish Times reports today that Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association.

said academic staff spent 40 per cent of their time on research, 40 per cent on teaching and 20 per cent on contribution work, but did not have minimum working hours.

Labour TD Roisin Shorthall reckoned that

based on Mr Costello’s formula, staff would work a 15-hour week. She said the matter was of considerable concern to parents and was dispiriting for students who expected to be challenged at university, but were finding themselves with only six or eight hours of lectures a week.

An appropriate response to this claim might be to point out that over the year ending in September 2010, the Dail was in session for 863 hours, meaning that in the extremely unlikely event that Ms. Shorthall was present for every session, one could claim that she worked a maximum of 16.6 (=863/52) hours per week. And, given the circumstances we’re in, one might point out that this lack of work by our politicians was dispiriting for the citizens of this country.

But that would be silly, right? Ms. Shorthall needs to do many other things to fulfil her role as a public representative than simply being present at Dail sessions.

In addition to teaching and teaching preparation (and the latter takes far more time than the former if you want to do it well) let me explain some of the things that academics need to do if they are to have careers that are in any way successful:

1. Research: The research requirements for academics should be interpreted broadly.  Certainly, the best academic departments contain people who do cutting-edge research published in leading peer-reviewed journals. This requires huge investments of time in preparing the research, as well as presenting it and dealing with all the difficulties involved in the peer reviewed publication process. However, those who rubbish academics usually also don’t see the point in academic research either. But, at a minimum, you would hope that the people who teach our students follow current events in their areas of specialisation and attend conferences and read new academic papers to keep up with developments in their field. All of this takes time.

2. Professional Responsibilities: I could decide if I wanted to that I wasn’t going to supervise PhD students, or edit journals, or referee journal articles, or comment on papers or research proposals by colleagues. However, the profession simply wouldn’t work if everyone decided to be like that and I would be viewed as a bad colleague, which might be bad for my career progress.

3. Administration: Universities don’t run themselves. Someone has to decide what should be taught, and when, and where, and by whom.  Mostly, the people who do this stuff do it voluntarily as part of their obligation to the university that they work for. This story about “unauthorised payments” refers to UCD’s attempts to incentive people for taking on demanding administrative roles with the university. The government doesn’t want such payments to be made. Fair enough but there are consequences: I might make a good Head of Department or Dean of Faculty or whatever, and spend a number of years improving the quality of degrees that we offer. But it’s demanding and highly administrative work, so why would I drop my research and teaching that I enjoy for a position that wouldn’t pay me anything extra. Relying on people’s sense of obligation only gets you so far.

4. Engagement with Non-Academic World: If academics only published papers and taught students, Ms. Shorthall would undoubtedly condemn us for being ivory tower types with no engagement with the real world. Well, some of us are and that’s fine as long as they make useful contributions along other dimensions.  However, many academics do take the time to communicate their research findings and (hopefully) informed opinions to the public and also to engage in the public policy process and with other people outside the academic sphere.  This blog is an obvious example but there are many others.

I don’t want to defend all academics as saints. As with all professions, there are under-performers who don’t contribute as much as we would like in terms of teaching or any of the other four dimensions mentioned above. But the constant focus on hours in the classroom as a measure of the output of the educational sector is ill-informed.  And to the extent that it has some influence, the focus on classroom hours is dangerous for the future of our universities and, by implication, our economy.

77 thoughts on “Do Academics Only Work 15 Hours a Week?”

  1. If you got elected to the Dail and just sat in the chamber for the 80-90 days that it sat, you would not get re-elected. In a University, if you had “tenure” and barely met the minimum service levels, presumably career advancement would not be an option but would anybody sanction you. In most private sector jobs if you were in the bottom decile year after year, you would be managed out. Is there an equivalent in a University?

  2. @ Tull

    Good point. I assume you mean is there an equivalent in Irish universities. Most US universities have up-or-out tenure systems. I’d be all in favour of introducing such a system here.

    Still, let’s not get hung up on the equivalence or not between academics and politicians — one of these issues alone is enough to get people going! The only point being made there was that Roisin would be more aware than most of spurious arguments relating to evaluations of how hard people work.

  3. @ Richard

    In my experience there are certainly a few that use the above mentioned conferences, simply as junkets, under the cunning guise of ‘networking opportunities’.

    @ Karl
    Maybe you’ve done a piece in it, if you have I apologise for repeating, but can I ask you how you feel about the current attempts at ‘centralizing’ research.

    i.e. the TCD/UCD combo etc…
    Does this sort of thing go far enough, are we pooling enough resources, how many universities do you think the country should have or can sustain?

  4. Karl, I’m well aware of the demands of being an academic and there are very few of my colleagues who wouldn’t be working more than the 40 hour week. There is a question however as to why it is UCD in particular that needs these unauthorised payments. A full professor salary in the Irish system is tied to the civil service scales as a head of department/unit (that’s why traditionally there was only one HoD per dept and it was an until retirement post) – it is loaded for significant administration duties, as are the scales for VPs and Presidents. Whilst it might seem voluntary, the university is quite within its right to insist that any full professor takes a HoD job (though not Ass. Prof). The tops of these scales are very significant – all above 145K per year. Why should an academic need additional incentive do an administrative job when it is a) built into the scale, b) is very generous, especially in a European context? And we are talking about the senior grades in UCD where this is happening. I wouldn’t consider supervising PhDs as a professional responsibilty/optional extra either, its a core part of the job. As for measuring workload by equating it simply with teaching, I agree this is a nonsense. This from the same people who want universities to drive the smart economy through research and move up world rankings, and yet seemingly spend no time doing it.

  5. @ Karl

    quick query for you – how are university prof’s employment contracts structured – do they just say “you have to teach the following courses” or are they a bit more specific in the other stuff you mentioned – ie research, helping out PhD’s etc?

    Only thing i would somewhat disagree with is the “engagement with non-academic world” – i would have thought thats often as much to do with your own intellectual curiousity as anything else, and i dont think you could say “i set up a blog” as a way of justifying your position (though im from the more cynical professional finance industry to be fair!!). I’d think the kudos for this blog belongs squarely with Prof Karl Whelan (and others), rather than with Prof Karl Whelan, Dept of Economics, UCD.

  6. In general, Karl does a pretty good job of outlining the duties of lecturers in general. I think he misses a couple of duties though, which are perhaps more important in the sciences than the humanities.

    The big duty of academics in the sciences is building and running a research group. One is expected to raise substantial amounts of research funding, which is used to pay stipends and fees for PhD students and the salaries of postdoctoral researchers. A very substantial amount of time goes into preparing research funding proposals, as well as networking with other researchers and industry contacts for joint funding proposals. Many of our best scientists devote a lot of their time to fund raising.

    Once the money has been raised, one finds suitable PhD students and postdocs, and leads them through their research. PhD students and postdocs are trained in a sort of apprenticeship system, where the academic mentors and manages them through a research project over a couple of years (postdocs) or 3-6 years (PhD students). Academics in the sciences are expected to have at least a couple of PhD students, and many have 4-8 PhD students and a postdoc or two. As with any endeavor where one is managing people, you need to spend time thinking about research ideas and direction (mostly at the weekends – there’s no time at work) and meeting with the students/postdocs to discuss progress and direction, and of course writing research papers.

    Given that PhD students and postdocs must be paid, and there are budgets for equipment, travel and so forth, there is lots of paperwork to do. You need to keep track of budgets, and report back to the funders on progress. Some funders, especially the EU, require so much reporting that it consumes a very large proportion of the time that the academic can devote to the project. There is also plenty of routine administration to be done when managing a research group, such as fighting for lab space, sorting out computer access, and so forth.

    In general, building and leading a research group is the single biggest job of academics in the sciences. It encompasses both teaching (training and mentoring of PhD students) and research.

    Another important duty that is also perhaps more important in the sciences than the humanities is engagement with industry. For many companies, especially larger US companies, engagement with the local universities is important. At the very least, they want to know that they will be able to hire people with the right skills. And in many cases it is easier for the companies to bring R&D work to Ireland if there is a strong local research group training PhDs in the area. The public may be sceptical about the value of scientific papers in top international journals, but big companies that do significant research are not. When big announcements of research jobs are made, the IDA has usually at the very least brought the companies around to meet some of the relevant academics in universities.

    Engagement with industry is great. It introduces us to new technologies and research problems. In many cases the researchers and technical people in the companies have huge knowledge and experience which makes them valuable and satisfying to work with. It helps us to find jobs for our completing PhD students. And companies also have access to resources, and make good partners for research funding applications. There is also a feeling of satisfaction for doing something that might help bring investment to Ireland. But engaging with companies takes time, and really meaningful engagement is a really meaningful amount of work.

  7. A few comments: –

    1. Research actvity: needed for appointment, tenure, promo, etc. May or may not be relevant for undergrad teaching. Postgrad supervision goes with research.

    2. Teaching activity: needed to transmit factoids to the Great Unwashed. No specific training or qualification required: ‘seat-of-pants’ knowledge suffices. An activity to be avoided/evaded. Timeconsuming of other ‘needy’ activities. “Those who can, teach. Those who cannot, research. The residuals get promoted” (unknown).

    3. Public engagement: only if you are a realy artful communicator. General public has very low regard for academics: bad image problem.

    4. Admin work: again, as for teaching, no training or qualification required. Curious this! GPs are useful, but you bring your family pets to the vet!

    Brian P

  8. As a side note, re: the dispirited students expecting to be challenged and actually complaining about the dearth of weekly lectures.

    Where are these students and would they please join my classes?

  9. “She said the matter was of considerable concern to parents and was dispiriting for students who expected to be challenged at university, but were finding themselves with only six or eight hours of lectures a week.”

    This point has been quoted but not addressed.

    Regardless of the hours worked by faculty, some students are unhappy with the hours they work. Of course students have a responsibility to investigate the course they will study. However I feel there is some negative competition (linked with grade inflation perhaps), that universities don’t want to challenge students too much as they won’t attract students if the course is perceived as hard.

    I’m thinking in particular of a university that tries to remove as much maths as possible from its economics course. This results in those with an economics degree and even a masters not being able to read mainstream economic journals.

  10. @ Rob

    I agree with you on full professor salaries and their motivation — the issue mentioned in the post does arises though when a department has multiple full professors. Note though that most of the UCD supplements are paid to people doing positions above full professor and applications for these positions are entirely voluntary.

  11. @All

    ……. in terms of public engagement and general contribution to the Irish public sphere, and in the midst of an unprecedented national crisis in policy and decision making (and excepting a tiny few around here and elsewhere – and no matter whether one agress with this tiny vanguard or not ) …………

    … the THUNDERING SILENCE of the general mass of Irish academics (of all disciplines) is what I find most depressing …

    On Ned & Roisin: no comment

  12. Very good point on raising research funding by David. also “six or eight hours of lectures a week?” What course are these students on? Our typical teaching/demonstration/tutorial load is 30+ hours a week and the students are always complaining about too much work and not the other way round!

  13. Rory: the amount of maths that we teach economics students is a constant issue for the profession. We would all like them to know more but one has to be aware of how difficult they find it. Being mathematical for its own sake is daft & teaching a high level course with no students in the class is rather pointless. I have looked at under-grad exam papers in French universities and they are far more technical than what our guys do but my colleagues there assure me that their students would have great difficulty doing our papers which emphasize economic intuition over technique.
    The fact that someone with a degree, even a masters, cannot read a mainstream journal article is not surprising but its not an issue. Actually a good graduate could probably understand the non-technical bits but it takes a PhD to write such a paper so it takes a PhD to be able to read one.

  14. Ms Shorthall gets a quote in the paper and a kick at a ‘priviledged group’ and presents herself as an advocate for two groups: parents and students.
    Win, win and win for her?

    I have to object to this:

    “She said the matter was of considerable concern to parents and was dispiriting for students who expected to be challenged at university, but were finding themselves with only six or eight hours of lectures a week.”

    If shows a severe ignorance of what higher education is and in what direction it seeks to propel the student, and a valorisation of student/parent expectations over academic standards apparently.

    I am concerned that there is a move towards some form of management of academic resources that may will cause serious damage to the whole sector.
    If our potential future Minister of Education’s main concern is with some form of on campus parenting by academics then there are interesting times ahead.

    There is a duty for academics to explain their time commitments to the job a little better as it seems easy for the media to whip the whole higher education thing.

    For example, IOT Assistant Lecturer contract is 18 hours a week lecturing….
    Does that work out at 45 hours a week….

  15. @ kevin denny

    I agree it takes a PhD to read a paper, but why should it? As a rule of thumb I think that for any subject after a degree you should be able to read a paper, masters write a bad paper, and a PhD a publishable paper. Can anyone shed light on how it is for other subjects like biology/physics/archaelogy/sociology/German?

    What is the point of a degree? I am just mentioning econmics because it is what I know about. Surely for any subject being able to read papers should be a basic goal, and if we get smaller class sizes so be it.

    Of course some students just want the intuition of economics, and will never in their life go near AER or Econometrica. Econolics can be made accessible. I’ve no problem with that. They can do business studies or a diploma (ordinary degree).

  16. Thanks Karl for explaining things, but I feel that a few points are necessary by way of response, or clarification.

    First, tenure: from the tone of some remarks, one would think that this was a privilege enjoyed only by academics and not by most schoolteachers, Gardai, nurses, civil servants, etc. Tenure has been mentioned in another thread and its relevance to academic freedom and independence has I hope been accepted. Generally tenured positions in Ireland (for many years) have been offered to those with at least PhD and with some proven track record. Serving on a tenure committee in UCD, I quickly noticed that the median age at which tenure was granted was quite high, not far off 35 years. Taken together with a quite rigorous assessment system for promotion, the image of tenure being followed by a life on the doss does not represent reality.

    Second, allowances. Rob seems to think that Professors of Subjects are Heads of Departments for life and deserve no further compensation. It’s not like that any more, and has not been like that in Economics in UCD for 30 years!: Heads serve for 3 years, usually. They need not be of Professorial rank. The job brings no real power, but a whole load of administrative chores, and is generally regarded as an interruption of a good academic career, if not a downright pain in the neck. Pay no allowance and you will find it difficult to get people to volunteer for the job. And supervising PhDs has nothing to do with being Department head, by the way.

    Third, the HEA-UCD spat reported in to-day’s newspapers. I am pretty sure that the HEA know all about routine (Head of Dept) allowances all along as well-understood custom and practice. The reason why they are being economical with the truth is that they are afraid of looking a bit like the financial regulator – asleep at the wheel. (They may also be conscious that they have attracted the unfavourable attention of An Bord Snip and need to be seen to be worthwhile). Maybe what alarmed the HEA was the new and hugely expensive senior management structures in the Universities and their grossly over-inflated system of allowances and bonuses. Their crackdown has punished the innocent as well as the guilty.

    University staff have reason to feel betrayed by the greed of their senior management.

    As for Roisin Shortall: her complaint that students have only 6 contact hours per week is totally daft. UCD undergraduates take 6 modules per semester with between 2 and 3 contact hours per week.

  17. @ John S

    One could identify a mob mentality at present.
    FAS, quite rightly got nailed,
    Now who next….
    This may last a few months, unearth a few interesting ditties, and lead to new management…

  18. I would say that UCD have dug a hole for the University sector with the very large extra payments and an increasing salary package for the President who may think he is still in the US where vast resources are available from benefactors.

    The Big Issue as I see it in University and lower levels of education is the issue of malingerers and useless teachers. In business you are only as good as the last set of financials. If the business is not performing to norms then your bank manager, tax authorities and creditors will put you in your place. Because the Education sector here is mostly publicly funded the Taxpayer is expected to pick up the tab for downright laziness,inefficiency and waste of taxpayer money with impunity. I would like to hear from the Universities for a start who talk about “tenure” how they propose to deal with bad staff. It seems to me that the notion that Academic freedom is under threat if the wasters are fired needs to be rooted out of the psyche. Bad staff are bad staff and have no place in any organisation. I know of cases where the Trade Unions in industry have not backed the wasters. But in teaching the Unions are very powerful and political and tolerate this behaviour. In these difficult times is it not fairer to get rid of the bad staff and to replace them with good motivated academics.

  19. @TRP

    What evidence do you have that there are large numbers of what you call “bad staff” doing nothing? This is the Big Issue, is it? Well, let’s have the evidence that it’s the big issue you claim it is.

    This witch-hunt has got to stop. And I use the word “witch-hunt” advisedly: just as witches are mythical (though there are a few out there), the dossing lecturer is a mythical creature (though there may be a few out there).

    In all of this, it doesn’t seem that any of those joining the witch-hunt have given even a moment’s thought to this question: what if you’re wrong? I believe you are wrong and here’s where you ought to think long and hard before you continue (and I address Roisin Shortall here and any other thoughtless commenters on the subject). Think about the following:

    1) What is the effect on the vast majority of lecturers who are committed to their vocation of treating them all as if they would, if left to their own devices, all try to get away with doing nothing? What is the effect on morale?

    2) If you start micromanaging and measuring everything lecturers do, you may find that they don’t do as much as they used to. Start making her punch the clock and the dedicated lecturer who used to work 60-hour weeks may just say to herself, “well, if it’s like that, then I’ll just do the minimum.” Is the cost of this sort of alienation greater than the benefit from the imposition of “management by control” on a tiny minority of dossers?

    3) What exactly is gained by making those who don’t (yet) have something they want to publish rush such publications into print to satisfy some bureaucrats that they are being “productive”? How is society served by the assurance that everyone is beavering away on things that may not be worth publishing (even if they find a publisher)? And how does the rise of this sort of neo-puritanism do anything to help with the growing awareness of the problem of overpublication. (Parenthetically, you would think economists might have something to say about the perversity of an economy where producers are spurred to produce ever-greater quantities of a “product” for which there is virtually no demand. The average university press book now sells about 200 copies, invariably to libraries that can’t afford them. The average scholarly article is not read).

    4) Whom would we rather have in our university: A) a thoughtful and patient scholar who might work for a decade on a groundbreaking piece of research or B) a scholar who churns out reams of make-work that nobody reads and duly documents all of his “production”? Which one is management by control likely to encourage and which one is management by control likely to push out of our universities?

    5) What about the fact that the marketplace for academics is global. Irish Universities have to compete internationally for talent against universities where 6 contact hours per week would be considered a ridiculously heavy teaching load. Start messing with contact hours, salaries, pensions, tenure and best of luck attracting anyone here.

  20. The focus on working hours is perhaps a little like the other management bugbears, league tables and citation indices. They’re measured because they *can* be measured, not because they necessarily relate to the quality of the people, School of institution being measured.

    This is an economics blog, and taking that broadly as the study of incentives its easy to see how academics have responded to the pressures laid down by government and universities. Prioritising volume of work over impact simply means that intelligent people produce more rather than necessarily better. It’s been very interesting for me to move to the UK and see the effect of differing incentives: the RAE and REF are relentless about quality, and it shows in people’s publication lists.

    None of my academic contracts (I’ve had three, two in Ireland and my current one in St Andrews) has mentioned working hours at all, minimum or maximum. One of them specified my duties as “as required by the Head of School”, which seemed rather open-ended 🙂 My current one stated my areas of duty (teaching, research mentoring, management, outreach, community contribution) but didn’t give any weightings or priorities.

    Regardless of the current fad for management metrics, viewed from inside the university I suspect the main (and perhaps only) thing we should worry over is morale. Once staff morale collapses it’s a long way back, an no amount of management will guarantee it’ll recover; conversely, people who feel valued and trusted will achieve things with nothing that no amount of funding could bring about.

  21. @ trp
    I have to object to this notion of a business caste of noble warriors both effective and efficient….
    There is just as many wasters and bullshitters in all walks of life.

  22. Rory:isn’t obvious?if you have to know economics to PhD level to do publishable research (which is what a PhD “qualifies” you to do), how could it be possible for a non-PhD to pick up our papers & read them comfortably?
    In some cases yes because paper’s aren’t that technical but most are: its intrinsically complicated and many PhD’s would struggle to understand papers outside their sub-field (& maybe inside too).
    I think this is true of any technical field. A BA in Maths will not be able to understand a maths journal paper I think (ask Karl…). In non-technical areas I don’t know.
    A problem for economics is that people assume that our research should be easily understood by anyone hence the whining about jargon and maths etc. For some reason, people don’t expect to be able to read papers on quantum mechanics or cell biology.

  23. @Kevin Denny

    I came across a quote on some article on the web within the past week, discussing mathematical creativity. I cannot locate it now. But to paraphrase from memory:

    The Princeton undergraduate mathematics curriculum brings the student to the
    frontier of research – where it stood on the death of Poincaré in 1912.
    A year of very intensive graduate study will bring one up to the 1950s…

    It is probably fair to say that, in some developing fields of mathematics, there may be research papers that might be accessible to graduates.

    In other well-developed areas like, say, algebraic geometry, many years of graduate work and private study are required before the advances of the 1970s or 1980s (say) become in any way intelligible.

  24. Academics are people and subject to all of the failings of people. But the qualification for the job is high grades and a PhD, pretty much excluding someone disposed to laziness. In my immediate experience everyone is doing their bit, the balance between research and administration may vary, but all make a contribution. There is no big issue of malingerers in general in the modern system. There is an issue with those with big egos getting into positions where they can pay themselves big salaries and divert money from the front line to their pet projects.

  25. “how could it be possible for a non-PhD to pick up our papers & read them comfortably?”

    The point I’m trying to address is students not being challenged (across disciplines), and I am weary of extrapolating from economics to oter subjects. However I know from my own experience that students in other countries who do pure economics finish their masters and can read journal articles. You shouldn’t need to be able to write something before you can read it. My written Irish is terrible, but I can read a newspaper article in Irish.

    @ Ernie Ball

    You sound very defensive there. What do you suggest. Maybe have some instructors who do no research? How about a some pedagogical training for lecturers? I don’t see any point in lectueres clocking in, but if they are paid to teach and research then why not assess these things? Sure no method of assessment is perfect, but should we then scrap exams and projects?

    I followed a US style PhD programme and it was only at the end of the first year of the programme that I could seriously tackle reading a paper. So students from other countries had a one year head start. Should this be desireable?

    Maybe Ireland is following the best practice, get the intuition and if they want to go farther let them do a US style PhD programme. My preference would be just to make the course more intensive so that after at least 5 years someone can read the important articles and do matrix algebra.

  26. ^above post messed up, here is the proper one.

    @kevin denny

    “how could it be possible for a non-PhD to pick up our papers & read them comfortably?”

    The point I’m trying to address is students not being challenged (across disciplines), and I am weary of extrapolating from economics to oter subjects. However I know from my own experience that students in other countries who do pure economics finish their masters and can read journal articles. You shouldn’t need to be able to write something before you can read it. My written Irish is terrible, but I can read a newspaper article in Irish.

    I followed a US style PhD programme and it was only at the end of the first year of the programme that I could seriously tackle reading a paper. So students from other countries had a one year head start. Should this be desireable?

    Maybe Ireland is following the best practice, get the intuition and if they want to go farther let them do a US style PhD programme. My preference would be just to make the course more intensive so that after at least 5 years someone can read the important articles and do matrix algebra.

    @ Ernie Ball

    You sound very defensive there. What do you suggest. Maybe have some instructors who do no research? How about a some pedagogical training for lecturers? I don’t see any point in lectueres clocking in, but if they are paid to teach and research then why not assess these things? Sure no method of assessment is perfect, but should we then scrap exams and projects?

  27. @Rory

    1) I resent the implication that because I have a professional interest in these questions I’m somehow “defensive.”

    2) I raised what I feel are some pretty cogent objections to what’s going on in Ireland. You didn’t address them but instead insist that we “assess these things”. Part of my point is that “assessing these things,” at least in the case of research, perverts the whole enterprise and, further, there is no evidence that it’s needed. If you have some evidence that slacking off in third level is a big problem, maybe you’d like to provide it and then we can have a discussion. Or you could address my points.

    3) As for what I suggest: how about the status quo? Again, is there any evidence that it hasn’t served us and the globe perfectly well? Where exactly is the fire here? You will note that most of the best universities engage in very little of the sort of heavy-handed management that’s coming down here.

  28. @Ernie Ball

    “If you have some evidence that slacking off in third level is a big problem”

    Bad teaching needn’t be due to slacking off, simply that lecturers get almost zero pedagogical training.

    There is no witch-hunt of academics in Ireland.

  29. @Rory O’Farrell
    course evaluations etc suggest that most teaching is satisfactory, not a widespread problem.
    There may not yet be a witch hunt of academics in Ireland, but there may be. Just as people believed that witches caused bad crops etc, there seems to be a view that everyone paid from the public purse caused the present mess.

  30. @dearg doom
    “course evaluations etc suggest that most teaching is satisfactory”

    I suppose that applies to a particular institution. Anyway I see no good reason why people who spend a significant portion of their time teaching/preparing lectures shouldn’t undergo pedagogical training.

    The present mess clearly stems from the banking sector and I certainly am not against public sector workers. But productivity can be improved in the 3rd level sector and I consider pedagogical training a fairly straightforward way to achieve that. Maybe some institutions do that. From my own experience the lecturers who had the training were much clearer and better prepared in their lecturers (but then seeing as it was voluntary to do the training they were probably just more motivated).

    Maybe we should follow a liberal arts model for some institutions and having staff focused on good teaching. Then the people with an aptitude for research rather than teaching can do research and supervise PhDs etc.

  31. @ Michael Hennigan. You ask “Is it possible for an academic to put in the lecture hours and then operate a private business the rest of the time, using university facilities?”. There is a provision in all employment contacts that up to 20% of working time may be spent on outside work. In all cases permission must be sought, and even if no outside work is done you have to return a form stating that. A big pain in the neck for the huge majority with a nil return. I doesn’t matter if you spend Saturdays at such work: you have to report it.

    Perhaps in the old days when a Professor was HoD for life with almost God-like powers, it might have been possible to misuse university facilities with impunity. Nowadays, the controls are vastly different and the fact that the HoD is a short-term appointment means that the scope for mis-use of resources is vastly reduced (quite apart from the reporting requirements),

    @Rory O’Farrell: in recent years Universities have spawned a Teaching and Learning industry. Most academics seem to have a very low opinion of it, especially economists, and that includes people who by all the evidence are excellent lecturers and are well-organised. In saying that I suppose I will incur the wrath of those who view academics as having too much power and too little responsibility, but you really have to experience these things….

  32. @ RO’F

    CC: dd: “course evaluations etc suggest that most teaching is satisfactory”

    Totally incorrect dd: course evaluations are as useful as those ECB Bank stress tests. I know, I used to fill them out!

    “I suppose that applies to a particular institution. Anyway I see no good reason why people who spend a significant portion of their time teaching/preparing lectures shouldn’t undergo pedagogical training.”

    Very sore point: Pedagogical training should be a mandatory requirement for appointment as a teaching lecturer. Regular re-training should be mandatory for tenure and promo.

    “But productivity can be improved in the 3rd level sector and I consider pedagogical training a fairly straightforward way to achieve that. Maybe some institutions do that.”

    Some attempt it. Its mostly useless. I spent five years in a Teaching and Learning Unit. Academics were the most arrogant bunch of learners I ever encountered. Knew it all!

    “From my own experience the lecturers who had the training were much clearer and better prepared in their lecturers (but then seeing as it was voluntary to do the training they were probably just more motivated).”

    The lucky few undergrads got those teachers who were not only subject scholars, but could dissagregate the subject into meaningful (for the undergrads, that is) chunks.

    “Maybe we should follow a liberal arts model for some institutions and having staff focused on good teaching.”

    Absolutely.

    “Then the people with an aptitude for research rather than teaching can do research and supervise PhDs etc.”

    Absolutely x 2: This is what they wer trained to do.

    Brian P

  33. In the private sector, I know people who can work 15 hours a week and make a huge impact….. while the guy sitting next to him does 60 and you wish he hadn’t bothered…..

  34. @ bw

    I have to disagree with mandatory training.
    I could equally point out that I have met as many supposed T&L experts who thought that their presumed expertise gifted them the ability to teach anything regardless of any skill deficit.
    Can be a little like catholic sex education at times.
    And unforgivably politically correct.

  35. One question, how many salaries do the top academics pick up in the course of a year…..

    for example, if I am a senior lecturer, an associate professor of pharmacology in UCD, a lecturer in an M.Sc. Taught Masters in DCU, an external examiner in Edinburgh University, Student relations office in my department in UCD, A Dean of some sort… you know the way everyone seems to have multiple roles in academia… are they getting one wage or do they get paid from several sources simultaneously while technically on their primary employers time ????
    Would one job one academic free up jobs for graduates

  36. @ Al

    I once did a some training before being a TA. It was terrible. It was all wishy washy personal development (a bit like being on a school retreat) and a little bit on time management (for which the instructor arrived 15 minutes late).

    I agree there is no point in forcing people to go on a bad course. However, I do think money should be invested in developing a good course for pedagogical training in 3rd level. That way students can be challenged more.

  37. Course evaluations are not a precise measure, but they directly assess customer perception of the service provided by an individual, something that is not often found in the private or public sector. Students are not well positioned to assess what you teach, but they are sensitive to whether you are teaching it well. Of course course evaluations are not universal and most likely are found where the teaching is decent. Pedagogical training is desireable on appointment, but compulsory retraining to address problems that don’t exist is a waste of time and money.

    Some of the stereotyes here, people misusing facilities, bad teaching etc might have described some people 25 years ago, but times have changed. As @Simon Dobson says morale is important and broad brush approaches on false premises that problems exist where they do not will do enormous damage. You can have a trained lecturer, but there is a lot of evidence that best teaching is done by an enthuasiastic lecturer.

  38. If one expects that primary & secondary teachers benefit from training, why would one not expect the same to be the case for 3rd level? When I joined UCD there was a series of workshops on teaching at 3rd level. They were not mandatory. I went along & found them very useful.
    If someone is going to cost the taxpayer north of €100k a year for perhaps 30 years, requiring them to do a few days training does not seem unreasonable.

  39. @john de fox delacey: you ask about multiple-jobbing. Part of the answer is in the 20% rule referred to earlier. If one gave a course in IT Tallaght that might be OK provided you got permission, and you would probably get paid their hourly rate. Being an external examiner will probably get you a small payment ( c. €500, but I don’t really know) and you will of course be paid for expenses; generally universities rely on getting external examiners so that they have to be prepared to supply some externs as well. As for the other categories: student relations, deanships, etc no payment is made under the new allowances regime. In many if not most such cases allowances would never have been paid.

  40. When we talk about teaching hours – we are talking about two terms of 12 weeks or so. What about the rest of the year?

  41. There is some recognition that course need to be prepared, although the inaccurate public perception exists that this is only an issue for the first year of delivery. But all courses have grading, so your 12 week teaching term is extended in many cases by another 4 weeks of grading, exam boards and the like. Staff reductions mean that this is increasing.

  42. fair enough, those activities would be beyond what the 12 week , but 4 solid Weeks? No Way!! you are trying to pull my leg.

  43. @ KOB

    I have no intention of touching you, but allow me to put some background to the job.

    Lecturer ‘A’ delivers a module from a programme. This module will be X weeks long and have an assessment based of exams, and assignments, along with repeats…
    The job will be to deliver the module, present and recieve the assignments and exams. Along with this will be contact hours for the students of this module, although nowadays most of this communicaton is done through email.
    This module will be reviewed every X years to assess its relevance and this process involves external reviewers.

    So, this is one module, and a lecturer could be doing anything from 1-5 per semester. Along with this are other duties- academic council. subcommittess, etc

    The notion that lecturers are like airline pilots that arrive, fly the plane and leave is false. There is plenty of stewardess work, mechanics and air traffic control.
    If you accept the metaphor…

  44. I do accept what you are saying, but I want to put this contention under a more stringent scrutiny. There is a tendency to be a lenient judge of oneself.

    Lecturers does 2 modules max. If the modules is for a big class they have Teaching Assistants. In my experience it is the TAs who do all the donkey work, not the lecturer.

    For STEM subjects there is subject material that has just got to be there. Normal Distribution, Ohm’s law….the material never really changes much at all (well – once every ten years)

    [What does “touching” me mean? – stick to your guns!! lets duke it out and go for beers afterwards!]

  45. There are a number of blogs run by Irish university lecturers updated during the working day with lengthy,well researched articles.

    I dont dispute lecturers put in a lot of research and hard work but I dont see the benefit to the taxpayer of blogs indirectly financed by the taxpayer.

    Many other professions simply dont have the time during the working day to run a blog centred on their expertise so its a fair question t ask.

  46. @ Sean O’

    Ok then, let me ask you a question. Would the Irish taxpayer’s outlay on academic economist salaries be better or worse value for money if we wound down this blog? (Perhaps a good blog\bad blog split may be the appropriate mechanism 😉 )

    Also, for what it’s worth, I’d point out that many of the contributions on this blog are not written during most people’s definition of the working day. Let’s look at the time-stamp on some of the most recent ones:

    This entry was posted on Saturday, September 25th, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    This entry was posted on Saturday, September 25th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    This entry was posted on Saturday, September 25th, 2010 at 2:25 am

    This entry was posted on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    This entry was posted on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Would we be better off if these folks just watched TV?

  47. I also accept what you are saying also.

    I think that we need to dehomogenise ‘Lecturers’ also.

    IOT lecturers on an agreed contract
    -Assistant Lecturer 18 lecture hours
    -Lecturer 16 lecture hours

    University
    -Not my cup of tea, perhaps others will input here.
    Depends on specialisation/generalisations etc.

    I have never seen a TA, in all honesty……
    It is also proably worth pointing out that lecture material that remains constant doesnt reflect badly on that particular lecturer.
    It isnt necessarily a bad thing in all situations?

    Best case: someone who has constantly re-edited their material to a point of contentment and whose focus is on the delivery of the material as an equally important component of the process.

    Worst case: static material and delivery as method of minimising work for lecturer.

    I cant argue that both examples dont exist….

  48. @ sean o’:
    “I dont dispute lecturers put in a lot of research and hard work but I dont see the benefit to the taxpayer of blogs indirectly financed by the taxpayer.”

    Scenario 1: lecturers put in a lot of research and hard work. They tell their students what they’ve learned by teaching courses; they tell their peers what they’ve learned by writing in academic journals.

    Scenario 2: lecturers put in a lot of research and hard work. They tell their students what they’ve learned by teaching courses; they tell their peers what they’ve learned by writing in academic journals; they tell the Broad Mass of the Ordinary Working People about it in blogs and on the wireless and in newspapers.

    Looks to me like taxpayers benefit. So big it up for the academic bloggers.

    bjg

  49. I totally agree ; The False Homogeneity Fallacy to coin a phrase.

    I made the point on previous threads, but decided to play devil’s advocate on this one.
    I deal a lot with Mature Students , who are more questioning than school leavers – and consequently get to see their perspective on the university experience.

    @KW “Would the Irish taxpayer’s outlay on academic economist salaries be better or worse value for money if we wound down this blog? ”

    Easy – Worse. This is a great blog, with great content. Some would argue that this sort of thing is the future of peer review.

  50. For the record I think you are one of the good guys so my comments are not personal .

    To answer your question,I dont know is the answer.
    What I have observed is the number of academic economists who run blogs and who regularly appear on tv and radio recommending what economic and political actions should be taken.

    We have gone through a period where economists tied to various financial institutions were advocating people to buy houses they could nt afford;”….never a better time to buy’..’ etc.
    These economists were hard working ,who researched their materiial etc.
    But they were kept people and it was in their interest not to reach conclusions which would adversely affect their paychecks.

    Similarly during the last Lisbon treaty referendum all the University college heads ,to my knowledge,came out in favour of the treaty and some lecturers became very involved in the YES political campaign (eg Brigid Laffan of UCD).
    What bothers me is these lecturers became politiscised in a campaign to change the result of a previous vote and yet there was no apparent dissent in their ranks.

    I think Think Tanks along the lines of those in the US might be a better allocation of resources . Academics can make their contributions through these according to their political affiliations and we the public will have a better idea of any agenda they themselves might be pursuing.
    For example another academic economist Constantin Gurdiev has posted a political manifesto for a new Ireland on his blog.I dont think taxpayers should be funding academics who involve themselves in politics .
    If the colleges were self funding then this critiscism would nt arise.

    Again I enjoy and learn a lot from your blog which I will continue to read .

  51. @Sean O
    It is quite common for public servants to be involved in politics in their free time. Why single out lecturers? They should get the same treatment as everyone else.
    “yet there was no apparent dissent in their ranks.” What does that mean? Economists are not under any “party discipline”.

  52. Sean o : the Russian its actually not an academic economist but is an exceptionally hard working adjunct who has a full time day Jon worth IBM as their chief Marco chap for emea.

  53. @Brian Lucey:
    “a full time day Jon worth IBM as their chief Marco chap for emea.”

    It’s a long time since I passed an Economics exam, so that baffles me (though I know that “emea” is American-speak for “the colonies”). The nearest I can get is to assume that “Jon” = “job” and “worth” = “with”, but I’m still baffled by “chief Marco chap”.

    bjg

  54. Al
    An iPhone.
    Marco:macro(economics), the speciality area of dr g,in his day job for IBM. Emea: Europe, middle east, Africa.

  55. My HTC Hero smartphone died a death in a toilet bowl.
    Whoever named that phone knew how good it was.
    Feel like a drunkdriver off the road using my old phone…

  56. Regardless of whether academics can partake in politics or not ,if they are paid by the taxpayer then they are rightly open to public scrutiny.
    For example I remember watching Bridget Laffan on rte during the Lisbon debate laying into British tabloids for interfering in the referendum debate.
    So funny seeing as she was campaigning for a treaty that would free up services throughout Europe,including British ones.The irony of her lambasting British titles with large Irish readerships was lapparently lost on her.
    A Brian Lucey also inferred on Constantin Gurdiev’s blog ‘True Economics’ that I was a ,and I paraphrase here …”a dripping zoenophobe..” for questioning whether Constantin Gurdiev has Irish citizenship as changes to the Constitution can only be made by Irish people and he had identified himself as Russian on radio shows.
    I posted a lengthy reply justifying my inquiry.
    CG had posted a political manifesto which requires changes to the Irish Constitution.

    I wonder how Brian Lucy or Brigid Laffan or many other lecturers in Irish universities would react to students who disagree with them.
    There appears reason to assume some Irish university lecturers can dish it out but are remarkably thin skinned when they are confronted by front on critiscism.

  57. “Regardless of whether academics can partake in politics or not”
    Again – Academics have as much right to partake as any other public servants. There is no justification for singling them out as a special case.

    “If they are paid by the taxpayer then they are rightly open to public scrutiny.”
    Fair enough, but they are accountable for what they are paid to do. What Public servants do in their free time is their own business. no one elses.

    What Brigid Laffan said about British Tabloids has got nothing to do with anything. She is entitled to voice her opinion, same as anyone else.

    I cant comment on this CG’s blog incident. He is a taxpayer, and is raising his family here, so I completely understand the guy having strong feelings on the matter.

  58. @Mark Dowling:
    “EMEA usually means Europe, Middle East, Africa […].”

    That’s what I mean: the colonies. The names the natives give those places are not used; the political, cultural and other differences between them are ignored.

    bjg

  59. At “sean o'” in particular, given his disdain for blog posts published 9-5 (they can be scheduled you know!), but also at everyone in general, isn’t “the working day” a relic of the 19th/20th Century economy?
    (Perhaps this is too broad a question for this post!)

  60. @Ronan L:
    “[…] isn’t “the working day” a relic of the 19th/20th Century economy?”

    It’s the working day for the gintry.

    I remember learning, with some horror, that persosn employed in the Great Manufactories are expected to be at their looms (or whatever Engines they have these days) at 8.00am. And then there are those who work all night. And those on four-cycle shift systems. And those without guaranteed hours. What proportion of the population works only from 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday?

    bjg

  61. some other disenchanted voices… .

    The Irish Times – Tuesday, September 28, 2010
    Teacher’s Pet

    An insider’s guide to education

    ** Speaking of academic pay rates, the following is the text of a letter we received from a senior figure in one of the Institutes of Technology (IOTs).
    “In the IoTs, there is no requirement on teaching staff to hold a PhD-level qualifications to be hired, which is as it should be. We have people with trade certificates and basic degrees earning huge amounts of money. There is no expectation on these people to produce any research or do anything other than be present for their basic teaching hours. Once the examinations are over in the middle of May, they are not seen again on campus until the 1st of September, apart from dealing with the exams process, correcting scripts etc, for which they are paid additional, extraordinary sums of money.
    “This also applies to Heads of Departments and Schools, probably averaging almost €100,000 pa – these people are here for little more than six months of the year. In short, the rates of academic pay in the IoTs, for a hugely underqualified and underperforming workforce, is nothing short of a national disgrace.”
    The academic in question wants to maintain his anonymity. He writes: “I have to work with these people every day, so I would be committing career suicide by going public. I’ve seen too many people who spoke out get isolated over the years. It’s just not worth it.”
    Expect this issue to receive considerably more coverage in the coming weeks

  62. “In the IoTs, there is no requirement on teaching staff to hold a PhD-level qualifications to be hired, which is as it should be. ”

    total nonsense! they need a PG teaching qualification. A PhD doesnt develop the ability to impart knowledge.

    “Once the examinations are over in the middle of May, they are not seen again on campus until the 1st of September”.

    Good point. In my opinion, all third level institutions should be running a teaching program over the summer. I reckon that each college department should run a series of one or two week programs over the summer months. ( I dont think a conventional teaching term would be suitable).

  63. “In the IoTs, there is no requirement on teaching staff to hold a PhD-level qualifications to be hired, which is as it should be. ”

    The writer agrees that PhDs are not needed in IoTs, but wonders why people holding more common degrees are so well paid.

    The point is the lecturers in IoTs are contractually free for the summer, while those in universities are not and are expected to research if not actually teach at that time. Yet lecturers in Iots are paid more, despite the lesser qualifications and the shorter working year.

  64. Fair enough . I am very dissatisfied with the current set-up.

    ” lecturers in Iots are paid more” really?

  65. IoT lecturers received a 11% benchmarking increase and those in universities a 3% increase. This above all illustrated the nature of benchmarking where those with a bolshie union got the lucre and those with a rather genteel and cooperative union got the minimum. The university union IFUT contemplated taking a court case to require the government to produce the data behind these calculations, but the message from the government was that we’ll keep you in court until you run of out money to pay lawyers, so they didn’t proceed with a case.

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