Last week the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) sent me their March 2010 newsletter "Connect" for casual and sessional staff and asked me to consider rejoining the union. This was timely as the Australian university system does not appear to have a viable strategy to deal with the implications of e-learning. If current trends continue, the result may be that most Australian teaching staff will end up casual employees of overseas universities.
Australian universities need a viable strategy to provide cost effective and attractive online courses. Otherwise they will not be able to compete with overseas offerings which will be available online to Australian students and to students who would otherwise come to Australia for an education. Australian universities then may become just campuses of overseas universities, with a few Australian staff employed casually to do some tutoring.
Australian universities need to offer competitive, efficient and attractive online courses. As part of this they need to plan how to use part time staff with the needed mix of education and vocational skills effectively These can be high status "e-oxbridge" courses using mentored and collaborative e-learning techniques.
One aspect of the NTEU policy I found worrying is that the Union seeks to place limits on the proportion of casual staff employed. As someone who is casual by choice, not necessity, I find this a little insulting. It suggests that casual staff are in some way inferior and are only casual because they can't get a full time permanent job. Under the union policy I may not be able to be a casual employee of an Australian university. In that case I would have to seek an affiliation with an overseas university. My skills and much of the income I generate from teaching, would then be lost to Australia.
The letter and newsletter from the Union was was a little ironic, as the reason I resigned from the NTEU was that it was the only way to stop them sending me junk mail.
As I was doing some tertiary teaching I decided I should join the relevant union about a year ago (they have a special discount rate for casual teachers). However, they kept sending me send me newsletters by email. I tried several times to stop getting newsletters as large PDF attachments to email. But in the end I gave up and resigned.
I found their latest newsletter about conditions for casual staff very relevant and have offered to rejoin on condition they agree not to send me large email messages. I teach web design and Internet use and have offered advice on how to communicate effectively online.
Apart from the email problem, the Union's web site could do with improvement. Their casual newsletter is 8Mbytes of PDF. Casual teachers are more likely to be using their home Internet link, rather than one from a university office. I found the newsletter too large to download using my slow wireless link.