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Average Age of University Instructors on the Rise

Despite the expansion of higher education throughout the world, it is not easy for a young professional to become a full-time university instructor with a good salary. Many things prevent this: universities’ personnel policies, weakening growth in state funding, and the increased importance of social connections in place of recruitment advertising, according to the research of Martin Finkelstein, Kevin Iglesias, Anna Panova and Maria Yudkevich

There are countries where being a university instructor is considered profitable and honorable, but there are also those where teaching is one of the lowest paid occupations. The profitability of teaching depends on many factors – government funding for science and education, the personnel policies of universities, and the changing number of students are just a few.

Research was conducted to determine the nature of younger instructors’ financial and career prospects. The project was carried out by Professor of Higher Education at the University of Seton Hall, Martin Finkelstein; Ph.D. candidate and Senior Research Associate at Seton Hall University’s Center for College Readiness, Kevin Iglesias; Junior Research Fellow at HSE’s International Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms (LIA),  Anna Panova and the Director of HSE’s Center for Institutional Studies,  Maria Yudkevich. The researchers analyzed the prospects that exist for teachers entering the academic market in ten countries: Brazil, China, India, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Portugal, South Africa and the United States. The study’s results were presented in the paper ‘Prospects of Young Professionals in the Academic Labor Market: Global Comparison and Assessment’, which was published in the journal Educational Studies 2 (2014).

The researchers examined who becomes a teacher and what subsequently awaits the academic community in the future. They studied the structure of opportunities on the global academic market, as well as the configuration of the supply and demand for young professionals. Also examined were the components of the academic market’s organization that draw the most intelligent and gifted candidates into academia. Finally, the researchers studied the obstacles present in building an academic career.

The situation on the academic job market was looked at based on four demand indicators:

  • Student enrollment growth rate;
  • Expenses for research and development and for education;
  • The age and rank distribution of current faculty in accordance with national retirement policies;
  • The development of technology, emergence of new learning models, and the extent to which these models involve students and faculty.

More Students, Less Money

The systems of higher education in the countries studied were evaluated based on the number of students and instructors. The researchers’ first conclusion from the study was that these systems have grown considerably.

Between 1992 and 2007, the number of students in the ten countries studied increased by about 70%, while the number of faculty members increased by over 170%. Additionally, the proportion of students in the overall population increased from 29% to 55%.

In France, Germany and Portugal, students make up between 50% and 60% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, which is less than in Norway and the United States, where 70%-80% of 18-24 year olds are students.

At the same time, such expansion in the system of higher education has not made it any easier for teachers to find jobs. It has also not given them more opportunities or higher salaries since the share of higher education in the overall economy of the countries studied has gone practically unchanged. ‘In other words, funds for higher education, which constitute a stable share of gross domestic product, are now spent on a much larger number of teachers and students,’ the study's authors note.

As an example, public spending on education in Russia was 3.6% of GDP in 2007 (up 0.4%) compared with 5.9% in France (zero growth) and 4.6% Germany (down 2.1 %). Norway invested the most in higher education in terms of percent of overall education-related spending.

‘Such trends in the development of national systems of higher education have resulted in growth for the private sector, which meets excess demand, as well as the spread of such phenomena as teachers working in positions, including part-time positions, with no foreseen career growth. This guarantees greater flexibility for university budgets,’ the researchers say.

The private education sector has risen sharply in Brazil, India, Russia and even China, but employment in these countries is not regulated enough and the working conditions in these locations fall far behind those of the public sector. In many BRICS countries, the salary of beginning teachers does not guarantee even middle-class living conditions, the researchers note. The norm in Brazil is still part-time employment, while in India temporary contracts dominate both the public and private sector.

Experience Trumps Young Age

There has been an overall increase in the age at which teachers find their first permanent job, which is another trend that the researchers have identified in analyzing the academic systems of the 10 countries. ‘Stable work is attained at an increasingly later age nowadays, which has resulted in the widespread occurrence of new academic positions, in particular, postdoc positions [positions for professionals with advanced degrees offered in the short term for specific purposes],’ Yudkevich comments.

Additionally, more than 40% of teachers in Russia, Germany, Portugal and the United States are over the age of 50, while this figure drops to between 25% and 33% in Norway and France. On the other hand, there is a sufficiently large cohort of teachers aged 30-40 in China, India and South Africa. The proportion of young teachers has also increased in Brazil over the last several years.

At the same time, in some countries such as Germany and Norway, graduate school itself is considered the starting point of an academic career. In most countries, an academic degree is the first criterion for hiring.

In some cases, the average age of the teaching staff at private schools is even higher than that of public schools. The reason for this is an increase in the retirement age. Teachers who have reached the age to retire from public schools often move on to private colleges. ‘The irony is that this is also happening in education systems that are growing rapidly, like in China and South Africa, where relatively young teachers could fill the empty positions entirely,’ the authors of the study note.

In China, however, the situation is more ambiguous: research universities funded by the central government offer decent remunerations and very attractive prospects for building a career, but the system as a whole is characterized by low remunerations and uncertainty in career paths.

Connections Instead of Competition

The closed nature of academic systems prevents young and talented teachers from gaining access to ‘favorable’ job opportunities in certain cases. Despite the fact that most of the systems in question adhere to the principle of open competition in recruitment, in at least three systems – Russia, China, and India – the selection process is less open and competitive at all levels.

‘Opportunities for the most intelligent and talented applicants to obtain a desired position is limited to the extent that social connections determine staff recruitment,’ the experts stress. In many ways, the dominance of these mechanisms in recruiting is explained by a lack of a national academic market, in which case connections replace market recruiting mechanisms, as well as the definition of ‘value.’

In addition, open country-wide recruitment strategies to find teachers are more common in France, Germany, Norway, and the United States. But it is only the United States that is able to recruit employees worldwide, the main reason being that English is so widespread. Opportunities for international recruitment are somewhat limited in France and Germany due to the language barrier.

The search for personnel on the international academic market is carried out by the best research universities and only among the most promising young academics, while the majority of young professionals with advanced degrees find jobs in their own countries and do not even enter the international market.

 

August 26, 2014