The role of our sessional workforce is anything but casual

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

It was my great pleasure to launch the UON Academy 2016 program on Tuesday 19 April in the company of the Vice-Chancellor and colleagues from across the University in the wonderful surrounds of our Wollotuka Institute.

The UON Academy, initiated under our NeW Directions Strategic Plan and continued under NeW Futures, aims to engage, support and recognise the key role that sessional academic staff play in the delivery of a world-class education. The foundation of the UON Academy is about recognising how central our sessional workforce is to the functioning of the University and providing systematic support for this cohort. It was certainly my experience as an early career academic (at four different universities) that support was more a matter of good fortune than good management. I am very proud that UON is investing in correcting this long-standing issue in the sector.

Since 2014 we have been working hard behind the scenes to address some of the core frustrations for our sessional staff. Among other developments, we have achieved easier and ongoing access to the library, parking, IT systems and teaching and learning resources for sessional academic staff. We have standardised the recruiting of sessional staff through an expression of interest (EOI) process which has been piloted in two schools and will now be rolled out across the organisation. An online one-stop-shop contains a range of useful resources including an updated and targeted orientation handbook.

As we launched the 2016 program, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, acknowledged the importance of this groundwork. “The experience, engagement and recognition of fellow professionals and a much more coherent, coordinated effort across an institution will ensure we get the basics right, and enable us to work on developing that next level of skill to build quality learning and quality teaching,” she said.

A good discussion and a great decision

At the launch event, a lively Q&A session provided us with an opportunity to unpack and discuss some of the opportunities and challenges for our sessional workforce. The discussions covered industry links, development opportunities, and the role of the sessional cohort in terms of the UON's reputation.

There was also a great discussion around the symbolism of the Australian nomenclature for this cohort. There was a strong sense that the term 'casual' carried negative implications and that a move away from the term, in favour of the more internationally recognised ‘sessional’ staff would be a positive step. I am keen to see this adopted widely.

I would like to thank our panellists, Professor Mick McManus, Professor Catharine Coleborne, Elizabeth Horbach and Andrea Cassin for their valuable insights and interest in the program.

During 2016 we will focus our efforts in building our engagement with sessional staff. This will require a commitment across the organisation and I look forward to working with colleagues in other faculties and schools to unpack opportunities to support and develop the Academy.

The UON Academy is a wonderful initiative and one that I am proud to be leading. I echo the words of the Vice-Chancellor: “The future workforce in the University sector is changing and I think what we will be building here is a resilience in the face of change, an adaptability, a professional development that will support those who have been part of the UON Academy.”


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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.