Social partners discussed recovery in higher education and research


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On 17 June 2021, the Working Group on Higher Education and Research of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue for Education formed of representatives of the European Sectoral Social Partners in Education – ETUCE and EFEE – met online. They discussed the challenges and opportunities for recovery in higher education and research considering the lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as investment and changing trends in university, and the digital transition and their impact on the working condition and management of higher education and research. The meeting was attended by 21 member organisations of higher education and research staff and employers from the EFEE and ETUCE membership.

The discussion focused on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the mobility and career pathways for academics and researchers in light of the new European Research Area and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The precariousness of the researchers’ career development and of the financing structures of research were underlined. Trade union representatives stressed that increasing workload for academics, extension of fixed-term contracts, and lack of initial and continuous training also lead to instability of the researchers’ position.  The need for researchers to work on permanent contracts, and not contract by contract, was highlighted. Andreas Keller, Vice-President of GEW-Germany, talked about the importance of social dialogue and collegial governance in higher education and research during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic for securing jobs, sustainable career paths, and professional development of academics and researchers.

The participants discussed about working conditions, career development and professional development of researchers and academics. Covid-19 had a huge impact on the health and well-being of academic staff. However, in some countries such as Malta, Serbia, Finland and Sweden, social dialogue took place online and it remained strong. Regrettably, in other countries social dialogue weakened behind the justification of urgent decisions having to be made in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have hindered effective recovery from the crisis. Concerning the digital transformation, higher education investments, academic freedom and institutional autonomy it was highlighted that the universities‘ loss of revenue from international students during the crisis affected funding and contract duration of researchers. Performance based funding of research unfortunately still focuses on quantity and not quality outcomes. Recently, while the funding per student should increase, the number of students has grown, while the funding per capita has decreased. Trade union representatives agreed that higher education institutions need to offer training to teaching and research staff on using digital tools and to ensure inclusive supportive working environments.