The role of social dialogue in improving working conditions for academics and researchers

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Over 40 representatives of higher education trade unions and employers of ETUCE and EFEE member organisations met on 26-27 April 2022 for the hybrid final conference of the social partner project “Promoting Quality of Academic Teaching and Management”. At the event, participants discussed the importance of social dialogue in higher education, and the need for accurate data on the status of academics and researchers.

Research supporting the project found that the complexity surrounding social dialogue at institutional and national level had worsened due to unclear social dialogue structures, and different bargaining agendas at different levels. This happened also due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on higher education. The example was given of curriculum issues which have an impact on workload not being discussed through social dialogue. In the survey, members outlined key aspects which could be addressed in order to improve working conditions. The research found that the key points made included lack of adequate funding, precarious employment, accountability, and improved social dialogue. These comments were echoed in the final project recommendations of the project. The joint EFEE-ETUCE Policy Recommendations addressed issues such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom, improved working conditions, collegial and democratic governance, and enhanced social dialogue.

The education trade union representatives outlined how these recommendations would be extremely useful in national negotiations. Participants put emphasis on the importance of safeguarding institutional autonomy and academic freedom while pointing out that the democratic governance  in place in higher education is not always effective and that social dialogue needs to be improved. Education trade union representatives also highlighted the need to address sustainable investment in education, the importance of decommercialisation of education, and that funding should not just be given on a short-term basis for specific research projects. Education trade union representatives agreed that additional investment should be used to hire more staff on permanent contracts and improve working conditions for academics and researchers, which are key issues for improving the quality of  higher education and research.

This lack of available reliable data both at national and European level was  discussed at the event by speakers from both the OECD and Eurydice. In relation to the OECD policy report on “Reducing the precarity of academic research careers” it was underlined that without sufficient data on staff precarity it is difficult to improve the situation for academics and researchers. Precariousness in higher education is a major problem.  Better working conditions, broad opportunities for professional development, and the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders in the governance and coordination of research careers are recommendations from OECD to combat research precarity. Eurydice also needs more reliable data in order to ensure quality assurance and quality culture for staff working conditions and  the data collection should have a specific focus so that it can be used to bring about meaningful change.

Other high-level speakers included representatives from the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the European Parliament, all of whom highlighted the importance of social dialogue in higher education, and outlined work currently being done to support Ukrainian academics and students  integrate into different education systems.

 

Find more information here:

Project research report

Project policy recommendations