Universities ramping up ‘hybrid’ learning means double the work for same pay, staff say | Australian universities

Universities ramping up ‘hybrid’ learning means double the work for same pay, staff say | Australian universities


Staff at Australian universities say plans to “ramp up” in-person learning next semester while continuing to offer the majority of online classes means they will do twice the amount of work for the same pay.

While staff and students have both welcomed the gradual return to face-to-face classes, teachers say that job cuts and pay cuts, combined with new demands for online classes, are “not sustainable”.

This month, the federal education minister, Alan Tudge, called on universities to bring their students back to pre-pandemic levels of in-person learning in the second semester, when Covid restrictions allow it.

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, and multiple universities confirmed to Guardian Australia that they planned to “ramp up” in-person learning in the second semester, but most subjects would still be taught in “hybrid” or “dual delivery” modes, where students can choose between in-person or online options.

While staff have welcomed the return to campuses, they have raised concerns this will double their workload.

Izabella Nantsou teaches theatre and performance studies at the University of Sydney as a casual tutor. She said any extra administrative work came out of the personal unpaid time of casual staff.

“I’m a casual tutor and we get only a finite amount of time and payment to do lesson plans,” she said. “The expectation is that we do those in our own time and ahead of time.”

Nantsou said it required even more work to turn such a practical and in-person subject as performance into online classes.

“It definitely has required me to do double the lesson planning than what I would ordinarily because you just simply can’t translate what we do face-to-face to an online format,” she said. “It’s very different … because it involves video editing, splicing things together.

“My department has offered me a space that I can use, but for the most part I’m using all the resources out of my own home. So that’s having an impact on things like my electricity, my internet … There’s been no extra kind of training on how to run an online class.”

Dr Marco Rizzi, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia’s law school, said staff were being asked to shift between in-person and online teaching “at the drop of a hat”.

“The workload has gone up and what has significantly gone up is the level of stress you have to cope with, because one day to the next you can have to change completely the way you deliver your course,” he said.

Rizzi said that because he is a permanent salaried staff member, he hasn’t been paid more for the extra work he now has to do. “In fact, last year in the midst of the pandemic we all took a small pay cut in order to help the university, so we worked more for less.”

In November last year, a report from the Usyd Casuals Network found that 84% of staff were performing unpaid work and, on average, casual staff worked an extra day per week unpaid.

“We’re already egregiously underpaid for the work that we do,” Nantsou said. “We’re not in many cases really paid more than one hour for our tutorial preparation … it’s not sustainable at all.”

Dr Tamsin Paige, a lecturer at Deakin University’s law school, said it was clearly more work to manage a hybrid system of teaching.

“The transition has increased content and made it more difficult to make something that works both online and face-to-face,” she said.

“There is a lot of bureaucracy … which, while appropriate, left me with less time to prepare the materials.”

Jackson told Guardian Australia last week that the trend towards online or hybrid learning was well underway for many years before the pandemic.

Dr Dilan Thampapillai, a senior lecturer in law at the Australian National University, agreed, but said the difference was funding and that fewer staff were now being asked to do more.

“We always had aspects of online teaching, you know, in a 21st-century university,” he said. “What’s changed is the staff-to-student ratios.”

More than 17,000 people have lost their jobs at Australian universities since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as public universities were not able to access jobkeeper.

Meanwhile, student demand has surged due to a combination of more year 12 school leavers, fewer students on gap years and people returning to study because of the 2020 recession.

“[There is] increasing demand on the student side and on the university side, there are staff cuts, so there are less staffing resources than there were before,” Thampapillai said.

Dr Alison Barnes, the president of the National Tertiary Education Union, previously told Guardian Australia that teachers and other staff were looking forward to the return of in-person lectures, but they needed more funding if they were being asked to do more work.

“Staff and students are generally keen to get back into the classroom,” she said. “To connect with students face-to-face is really important.

“But we are worried that universities are seeking to use online learning as a way of driving down costs. Staff went out of their way to work incredibly hard to get material online during the Covid crisis. This created incredible workload issues for staff.”



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