Uniting to shift the culture

Monday, 17 July 2017

A forum hosted by the UON Academy is an important step towards uniting Australian universities and advancing the sessional academic workforce across the sector.

Representatives from the University of Newcastle (UON), the Voice Project, the University of New South Wales, Western Sydney University, Macquarie University and La Trobe University met at UON Sydney last month for the inaugural Sessional Academic Staff Forum.

UON Academy took the bold step to bring together the teams from human resources, teaching and learning, and academic and professional staff for the informal networking event where universities shared their own experiences, strategies and initiatives for supporting their sessional academic workforce.

The team from Your Voice Project also provided an in-depth analysis of sessional academic staff viewpoints based on the aggregated responses of Your Voice surveys from various universities.

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Education and Arts) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Professor John Germov, said sessional academic staff are an integral part of the overall university workforce and the quality of the student experience is substantially shaped by the satisfaction of this non-tenured workforce.

“The growth in student enrolments in the Australian university sector has seen a parallel expansion in the sessional academic workforce,” John said.

“The Australian workforce has changed. It is absolutely imperative that we all work together to drive a culture-shift and ensure there is a strong support network in place for sessional academic staff working across the sector.”

John said the forum was a valuable experience to discuss the common challenges universities face, such as formal performance management, professional development and the duplication of processes between academic units, as well as to hear about some of the innovative work that is being undertaken at each institution.

The forum will be held annually and hosted by each university in the network. The university representatives will continue to work collaboratively through an online group, sharing developments in their own organisations and offering advice.

For more information about the UON Academy or the forum, please contact uonacademy@newcastle.edu.au.

Feedback from the forum

“The Sessional Academic Staff Forum is an excellent initiative by UON Academy. The day was extremely informative and provided colleagues from across the University sector with an important opportunity to share and discuss their initiatives for engaging and managing the sessional academic staff workforce.” Alana Parker, Physics School Manager, UNSW Sydney

“UON already has some highly progressive practices and UON should be applauded for sharing its expertise and driving improvement across the sector. The discussion reinforced our understanding of the very significant role sessionals play in students’ university experience. The approach to managing sessionals is quite fragmented, clearly there are still many years of progress ahead for universities as they hone their sessionals-focused workplace practices.” Dr Peter Langford, Director of Voice Project.

“Like most events where multiple universities get together, the issues are familiar to us all, and no one institution seems to have the ideal fix. But it was beneficial to hear about various approaches and solutions that are being applied, and learning from each other’s successes and challenges.”  Linda Coutts, Manager HR Business Partners, La Trobe University.