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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2001

The Changing Face of Academic Staff in the European Union

Robert Léger

Employment & Working Conditions of Academic Staff in Europe

Jürgen Enders, ed. Frankfurt: German Trade Union for Education & Science, 2000; 272 pp; limited distribution, contact Robert Leger at CAUT (
This publication derives from a conference organized in 1999 by the Centre for Research on Higher Education and Work at the University of Kassel in Germany in cooperation with the German Trade Union for Education and Science (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, better known as the GEW), the Hans-Böckler Foundation, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In his preface, report editor Jürgen Enders says organizers wanted to determine "the current status of our knowledge on the conditions of the academic profession in various countries in Europe."

There is an ongoing debate overseas and elsewhere on the "crisis" of the academic profession and on future expectations regarding their role and function in higher education. "The roles and rules for the relevant actors on the playing field of higher education and academic staffing have been mixed-up to some extent," says Enders, a researcher at the University of Kassel. "All higher education systems under observation in our study have experienced and/or are currently experiencing change. The country reports and the first comparative findings presented in this publication are, therefore, analyzing a moving target."

The study deals with academic staff mainly in universities in 15 fifteen countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The three-part introduction deals with: Academic Staff & Staff Structure Reforms in Germany in which Hans R. Friedrich, Undersecretary of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, writes about deregulation and the creation of performance incentives, and in particular "variable performance-related salary components;" Academic Staff & the European Union in which Alain Mouchoux, general secretary of the European Trade Union Committee for Education mentions that his committee has undertaken a study "on the misuse of fixed-term contracts — a problem that is spreading and growing worse;" and, The Demands for Quality in Academic Work & the Quality of Working Conditions for Academic Staff written by Gerd Köhler, a member of the executive board of the GEW.

Köhler starts his introduction by saying: "The more politicians talk about the specific role of higher education and research in social and economic development, the more they reduce the budgets for academic work." He describes the depressing situation of higher education in Europe when he writes that "'Management' has become the leading discipline for promoting changes in higher education in almost every European country."

Enders, in his chapter on Academic Staff in the European Union states that "policy-makers and those responsible for higher education have become more aware of international cooperation and competition between higher education systems. Higher education systems are more and more expected to contribute to national economy and welfare in a global environment and to maintain their performance in a competitive international environment of teaching and research."

In discussing academic salaries and workload he says that in a number of countries, a gradual erosion of the academic remuneration has taken place, and there exists considerable differentials between countries. "And, it is obvious that academic staff in all countries involved in our study have to shoulder to some extent additional work load in teaching."

Employment and Working Conditions of Academic Staff in Europe is divided into four parts, and covers a wide sweep of issues including the regulation of the academic labour market, the framework between employers and trade unions, rank structures, job security and tenure, remuneration and work loads, women in the profession, and part-time teaching personnel.

In addition to the country reports, academic trade union leaders from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom provide an interesting commentary on their country's report.

Robert Léger is senior policy analyst at CAUT.