I was discussing the problem of creating a broader adoption of educational technologies across the university with colleagues when they told me that 50% of the people they have to deal with are employed casually. It was therefore difficult to provide adequate functional and pedagogical training to such staff who were, typically, only employed to do specific teaching activities. I countered with suggestion that course (subject or units at other universities) coordinators would not be employed casually at that they would be able to direct casual staff within the context of online delivery. My colleagues made the observation that quite often course coordinators were in fact themselves often employed on a casual basis.
I have no idea of the full extent of the problem. The Australian Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations statistics for 2009 show that 14.7% of full time equivalent (FTE) employment at Australian universities was on a casual basis. Of course the very nature of casual employment is that it is part time and periodic. One FTE can be made up of an indeterminate number of individuals. So far I haven’t been able to find any numbers for casual employment numbers (I would be glad if anyone could provide any). An article on newmatilda.com did suggest that up to half of all teaching in universities is now carried out by casual staff.
If this is the case then it places extreme pressure on institutional efforts to change teaching and learning practice for the 21st century. A significant problem from an educational technology perspective is that one reaction to this high level of casualisation is to attempt to tightly integrate teaching and learning systems in an effort to minimise the training required. Unfortunately doing this can be counterproductive as it involves losing flexibility and control for full time teaching staff. The number of exceptions to the standard use cases for teaching delivery are far more than most tight integrations can cope with satisfactorily.
It would be interesting to know whether such levels of casualisation of the workforce have occurred overseas. if not then I would say that overseas institutions will have a considerable advantage in coping with the changes that will face higher education over the next decade.
Incidentally, this report (PDF) provides an interesting overview the current state of the Australian academic workforce.