PTU News Reporter
The number of ‘nomadic teachers’ and contract teachers has been on a steady rise in higher education sector. Not only are these educators deprived of employee benefits and job security, but they also lack resources, which in turn takes a toll on teaching quality. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) conducted a survey from 16th October to 16th November 2018 regarding educators’ working conditions and received 534 responses from teaching professionals in tertiary education. The results revealed that part-time educators have to work in multiple institutions, where they are offered short-term contracts without employee benefits. More than 40 percent of full-time contract educators have been teaching for more than nine years but still fail to land permanent full-time positions, which is discouraging.
More than Half of Part-time Educators are ‘Nomadic Teachers’
The survey results show that 57.1 percent of the surveyed part-time educators were employed in more than one institution in the past year. 6 percent even worked in five to six institutions. This group of educators who work part-time in multiple institutions to make ends meet are called ‘nomadic teachers’. In stark contrast against full-time educators, 94 percent respondent part-time educators revealed they are not entitled to employee benefits. In terms of contract period, nearly 70 percent of part-time educators are offered contracts of one semester to 6 months, leaving them no choice other than drifting from one institution to another to make a living.
Part-time Employment is Increasingly Exploited
More than 85 percent respondents reckoned there has been a steady rise of part-time teaching staff in post-secondary education. The intention behind part-time employment was to engage more veterans such as frontline social workers and experienced nurses to provide students with practical knowledge within these professions. However, 70 percent of the respondents found that the system has been increasingly exploited and the purpose of part-time employment is not fulfilled.
PTU president Fung Wai-wah points to institutions’ shifting emphasis from teaching to research as a factor behind the increase of ‘nomadic teachers’. Institutions have been focusing more resources on research projects and employment of researchers. The responsibility of teaching has then landed on the shoulders of part-time teachers, who are on short-term contracts of one semester to six months and, without job security, have to seek employment elsewhere afterwards. In addition, some ‘nomadic teachers’ lack basic resources. Some do not even have a fixed desk, let alone an office, making it difficult to meet students for consultation and thus hindering teaching. Fung demands institutions to increase resources in teaching and the ratio of full-time teaching staff as well as to stop abusing part-time employment. Public universities, in particular, are publicly funded and must deliver quality education. Institutions should not pursue international ranking at the expense of teaching quality.
Ratio of Contract Teachers Extremely High, Experience Does Not Guarantee Permanent Positions
The survey found that 60 percent of full-time contract-based educators have been teaching for more than six years, among which 40 per cent have been teaching for more than nine years, which reflects a substantial amount of teachers fail to find permanent employment after a long period of service. PTU vice-president and legislator Ip Kin-yuen finds the ratio of contract educators in tertiary education disappointing. He raised a written question at a Legistlative Council meeting in May 2018 and found out, among all public institutions and with the exception of Lingnan University which refused to respond, half of the teaching staff were contract educators. The ratio of contract academic staff was as high as a shocking 76.6 per cent at the University of Science and Technology. He hopes that all institutions will increase the ratio of permanent appointment so as to provide teaching professionals with a stable and secure working environment. He adds that permanent appointment is an important recognition for teaching professionals. If universities fail to reward those who perform well with permanent appointment, it would be difficult to attract and retain talents in tertiary education in Hong Kong. Permanent appointment offers teachers job security and eliminates the fear that personal opinion would affect contract renewal, which in turn protects academic freedom and the freedom of speech.
With regards to ‘nomadic teachers’ and contract educators, the PTU will meet with the University Grants Committee and management of tertiary institutions to discuss educators’ treatment. Prior to the meeting, PTU president Fung Wai-wah will invite tertiary institution employees, in particular ‘nomadic teachers’ and contract educators, to a tea meeting, where attendees are encouraged to voice their opinions.