So on Saturday, the Minister for Education announced that he was very worried because two people had told him (possibly over coffee and some nice biscuits) that most academics only work for four hours a week. Now most of the time, with most people, that’d lead to someone looking up what the situation actually is and determining if there was a problem and so noone would be worried about knee-jerk reactions. Thing is, we’re talking about a Minister for Education who recently decided to abolish the NUI and didn’t tell anyone until the press conference (ignoring the point that abolishing the NUI does not abolish the work they are required to do; and that therefore abolishing the NUI means replacing a working system that’s been there since before the founding of the state with a quango whose suitability and efficacy will be utterly unproven). So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the Minister responded by calling in the press for a “forensic audit” (CSI has a lot to answer for with regard to the use of language in official statements) into third level spending with a view to changing teaching contracts.
Some academics are worried about this. I’m not. I think this is a great thing. I think it’s wonderful. Because now, when we calculate properly how many hours we spend on a course, we’ll be able to bill for all the time we spend on it. So in my case, for the CS7004 course, I could bill for the three contact hours a week I was paid for, plus the two-and-an-inevitable-half hours in labs (currently unpaid for), plus the three to four hours each contact hour took to prepare (currently unpaid for), plus the two hours each lab took to prepare (currently unpaid for), plus the twenty or so hours that were spent preparing the hardware for the course (currently unpaid for), plus the time spent marking and collating marks (currently unpaid for), plus the time spent drafting and checking and reviewing exam papers, plus the time spent correcting those exam papers and sitting on exam boards reviewing the results (all of which is, you guessed it, unpaid for).
By my count, under the Minister’s wonderful new system, I stand to be able to bill for about 236 hours for CS7004, as opposed to the current 36 hours. Granted, they might drop the per-hour rate a bit, but in order for me to make less money under the Minister’s new scheme, they’d have to slash the rate by 85%; and if they do that, who’s going to bother with lecturing at all when the average industrial wage per hour would be 50% more than that new rate, and for more sociable hours (there wasn’t a 3am on a Sunday night during the entire CS7004 course that I wasn’t prepping lecture notes, for example).
Of course, the Minister’s job is obviously secure, given his outstanding ability to locate the funds to pay for this massive pay rise for lecturers, and thereby respond to the criticisms that the government isn’t serious about supporting third level education in this country. I mean, if they’re proposing what is in effect a pay rise of over 500% for the lecturers on the front lines, they’ve got to be serious, right?