To find new research talent ready to take on today’s biggest challenges, policy makers only need to look into the lecture halls of today’s universities and colleges. They will find there a whole generation of qualified researchers1 For those who granted us a doctorate, but without providing the necessary jobs to conduct research. Indeed, for the past 20 years, universities and colleges have quietly relied on contract teachers, most of whom are overburdened by their teaching contracts or not receiving the support needed to conduct innovative research.
Posted at 11:00 a.m.
The most urgent challenge – beyond the obvious, is to ensure that the post-secondary education system once again receives adequate funding – is to take a full measure of the evolution of this workforce. But to do that, we don’t have enough data.
To divert attention, college and university administrators often like to cite the example of a partner in a law firm who is happy to have the opportunity to teach from time to time, for the sake of those who are, in fact, except for on-campus vocational schools whose contracted faculty are not happy. The possibility of combining jobs is not offered to them and they would like to do research, were it not for the many obstacles placed before them.
Contract teaching for most of them means practicing a fragmented profession spanning several decades, with the hope of securing a permanent contract.
Contract employees2 Reporting mental health issues, experiencing burnout, spending years competing for short-term contracts, not being able to set life goals after the end of the semester, accumulating contracts at various institutions and constantly moving from one college or university to another during the week. All this while they scramble to do research at their own expense (because they don’t individually qualify for federal research funding programs), hoping to keep their resumes updated so they can apply for a permanent job.
Policymakers need data to measure and understand the status of “untapped” research talent—contracted faculty who lack the job security needed to conduct innovative research.
Fortunately, the federal government has a tool that it can expand to collect more meaningful workforce data for the university and college sector: the Canada Universities and Colleges Statistics Education Personnel Information System Survey (UCASS)3.
UCASS has provided data on full-time faculty at Canadian universities since 1930 (despite the name, community colleges were never included). Like the long-form census, the Harper government scrapped the UCASS survey, but it was reinstated in the early days of the Trudeau government. This decision was accompanied by a promise to expand the survey to better reflect the current landscape of the post-secondary education sector by including college faculty and contract teachers, and by gathering more information related to equity in the workforce.
Scaling up the UCASS survey will have many benefits, including providing data to determine whether equity initiatives, such as the Dimensions Program and the Scarborough Charter, are actually helping to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in our sector.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers estimates that approximately one in three faculty members are hired by contract.
There is some evidence that these people include a disproportionate number of women, people who suffer from racism, people with disabilities, and other members of groups seeking equity.
Currently, UCASS’s annual budget is around $500,000. Scaling up the survey will require, at most, an initial investment of $2.5 million, but will provide decision makers with more comprehensive data that will allow them to get a better idea of who is driving Canadian innovation.
A feasibility study on extending the UCASS survey was recently completed. The next step should be to fund and implement a pilot project to expand the survey, over the next two years, to include community colleges, Indigenous groups and property rights seekers, and to include contract employees. Without extensive data, Canadian policymakers will remain unknown about much of the workforce behind the innovation and effectiveness of equity, diversity and inclusion programs in the workplace sector.
By injecting money modestly, policy makers and the public can better understand teachers, and we will be better able to enhance our ability to solve some of today’s most pressing problems.
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