Past Event details

Casualisation and the academy: Considering the implications for academics, students and higher education policy

Friday, 12 October 2018


In the UK, the use of hourly paid, zero hours and fixed term contracts for academic staff has become commonplace, reflecting a trend of increasing casualisation across the Global North over the last two decades. This seminar will explore what this means for academics, students and the higher education sector as a whole. Two research papers, each reporting on research conducted with casualised academics in the UK, will be presented followed by a panel discussion to reflect on the papers and consider the roader implications for universities and for higher education policy.


Paper 1: The neurotic academic: anxiety, casualisation, and governance in the neoliberalising university. 

Dr Vik Loveday (Goldsmiths)

Based on empirical research conducted with academic staff working on fixed-term contracts, the paper explores the subjective experience of anxiety in the UK’s ‘neoliberalising’ higher education (HE) sector. As HE undergoes a process of marketisation, and the teaching and research activities of academics are increasingly measured, scrutinised and regulated, the contemporary academy appears to be suffused with anxiety. Coupled with pressures facing all staff, fixed-term academics must contend with the multiple forms of uncertainty associated with their so-called ‘casualised’ positions; encouraged to take personal responsibility for success in securing employment, funding, and publications, failure to do so is then perceived as a problem of the person rather than the sector. The corresponding anxiety generated by this precarious work is experienced as an individualised affliction, but the paper argues instead that it should be conceptualised in two ways: firstly, as a symptom of wider processes at work in the neoliberalising sector; and secondly, as a ‘tactic’ of what Isin (2004) refers to as ‘neuroliberal’ governance. The paper concludes by proposing that the figure of the ‘neurotic academic’ is emblematic of the contradictions facing the contemporary academy.

Dr Vik Loveday is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is interested in subjective experiences of work and study in higher education, and has published on the casualisation of academic labour, social mobility and working-class participation in universities, and the lived experience of shame and nostalgia amongst working-class students. Her most recent research has been exploring how senior academic managers make sense of their own roles within the rapidly changing sector. 


Paper 2: Short-term, short-changed? Considering the implications of academic casualisation for knowledge,  pedagogy and the student experience

Prof Carole Leathwood (London Metropolitan University) and Dr Barbara Read (University of Glasgow)

The casualisation of academic work takes a number of forms, including fixed term, hourly paid and zero hours contracts. What tends to characterise them all, however, is a focus on the short-term. Endemic short-termism is evident not only in relation to academic contracts, but also in modularised learning and bite-sized knowledge, and can be seen as part of a neo-liberal temporal re-ordering of academia, commensurate with processes of acceleration or fast-capitalism and the commodification of knowledge. This paper draws on sociological work on time and temporalities in education (e.g. Felt 2016, 2018; Lingard and Thompson 2017) and qualitative research conducted by the authors with 20 academics on casualised contracts, to consider the implications of short-term contracts for knowledge, innovation, pedagogical relationships and the purpose of higher education.

Prof Carole Leathwood is an Emeritus Professor at London Metropolitan University. With a  disciplinary background in sociology and women’s studies, Carole’s research has focused on inequalities in higher and post-compulsory education, including issues of access and widening participation, gender and HE, higher education research policy and academic subjectivities. Her most recent research has focused on the casualisation of academic labour.

Dr Barbara Read, Reader in Gender and Social Inequalities at the School of Education, University of Glasgow, is a sociologist of education with an interdisciplinary background in history, social anthropology and women's studies. Barbara is currently the Principal Investigator for the Examining Gender in Higher Education network (, which brings together academics from the UK, Rwanda, The Gambia, Kenya and Uganda, working with the pan-African NGO Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). More broadly Barbara publishes in the areas of: gender and student experience, particularly in HE; academic culture and work, particularly inequalities of experience and the issue of casualization/precarious contracts;  ‘post-truth’ politics and attacks on university culture and practices from the radical right; and student friendships, social and political organising at school and university.



Professor Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds, University of West London

Jonathan White, Universities and Colleges Union 

Professor Gargi Bhattcharyya, University of East London
Amelia Horgan, National Union of Students 

Professor Gargi Bhattcharyya is Professor of Sociology at University of East London, researches in the fields of racisms, global cultures, austerity and war. Recent books include: Rethinking racial capitalism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018) and Crisis, austerity and everyday life (Palgrave, 2015).

Professor Lesley-Jane Eales-Reynolds (BSc, PhD, MRCpPFHEA, NTF) is University Director, Learning, Teaching and Pedagogic Research at the University of West London. National Teaching Fellow, 2001. Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, 2013. She received her BSc in Microbiology from the University of Wales and her PhD in Immunology from the University of Bath. After post-doctoral work at the Max Plank institute and St Mary's Hospital, Imperial, (where she co-developed the first AIDS research laboratory in the UK), she held teaching and leadership roles culminating as DVC of a London university in 2014. She moved into pedagogy and pedagogic research after winnng £4.8M for a Centre of Excellence in teaching and learning and had been researching the role of technology in learning and critical thinking.

Jonathan White, is Bargaining and Negotiations Official at the University and College Union and is responsible for developing the union's campaigning and negotiating around casualisation and precarious work.
Amelia Horgan, is the Postgraduate Research representative for the National Union of Students (NUS).



11.50 – 12.00      Registration

12.00 – 12.50      Lunch and networking

12.50 –  1.00       Welcome and Introduction

1.00 – 1.30           Paper 1

1.30 - 1.45            Questions on Paper 1

1.45 – 2.15           Paper 2

2.15-2.30              Questions on Paper 2

2.30- 2.45             Small group conversations over tea and coffee

2.45 - 3.50            Panel and discussion

3.50-4.00              Closing remarks


Network: Higher Education Policy
Date(s): Friday, 12 October 2018
Times: 12.00 -16.00
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier Street, London N1 9BE
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Carol Leathwood, Barbara Read
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