Se univerze obnašajo kot drogeraške tolpe?

Predpostavljam, da ste brali klasiko popularne ekonomije Freakonomics, ki med drugimi izjemnimi zgodbami prinaša tudi zelo poučno zgodbo “Why drug dealers still live with their moms“, ki temelji na članku Stevena Levitta in Sudhira Venkatesha iz leta 2000, objavljenem v QJE. Logika, zakaj ulični preprodajalci droge še vedno živijo pri svojih mamah, temelji na preprostem dejstvu, ker si česa boljšega ne morejo privoščiti. Namreč hierarhija drogeraških tolp je takšna, da večino dobička od preprodaje pobere šef tolpe, nekaj ostane za pomočnike, medtem ko ulični preprodajalci dobijo zgolj drobiž, hkrati pa je rizičnost njihovega posla enormna. Verjetnost, da ne bodo preživeli 5 let “v poslu” je enaka 1.

No, raziskovalec Alexandre Afonso iz King’s Collega v Londonu je naredil primerjavo z zaposlovanjem in delitvijo dohodkov na univerzah. Afonso ugotavlja, da univerze delujejo na podobnem principu kot drogeraške tolpe. Gre za dualni trg dela, kjer “insiderji” na univerzah (redni profesorji) uživajo privilegij stalne službe in relativno visokih dohodkov, medtem ko je zunaj velika “rezervna armada outsiderjev” (raziskovalci, asistenti, docenti, nadomestni profesorji itd.), ki čaka na svojo priložnost, da se izprazni insidersko mesto na univerzi. Na redno zaposlitev za nedoločen čas lahko upajo šele med 40-im in 50-im letom. Pri tem pa se število doktorandov, torej novincev v rezervno armado outsiderjev, vsako leto absolutno povečuje.*

The academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core  of insiders. Even if the probability that you might get shot in academia is relatively small (unless you mark student papers very harshly), one can observe similar dynamics. Academia is only one example of this trend, but it affects labour markets virtually everywhere. An important topic of research for labour market scholars at the moment is what we call “dualisation”. Dualisation is the strengthening of this divide between insiders in secure, stable employment and outsiders in fixed-term, precarious employment. Academic systems more or less everywhere rely at least to some extent on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail.

So what you have is an increasing number of PhD graduates arriving every year into the market hoping to secure a permanent position as a professor and enjoying freedom and – reasonably – high salaries, a bit like the rank-and-file drug dealer  hoping to become a drug lord. To achieve that, they are ready to forgo the income and security that they could have in other areas of employment by accepting insecure working conditions in the hope of securing jobs that are not expanding at the same rate. Because of the increasing inflow of potential outsiders ready to accept this kind of working conditions, this allows insiders to outsource a number of their tasks onto them, especially teaching, in a  context where there are increasing pressures for research and publishing. The result is that the core is shrinking, the periphery is expanding, and the core is increasingly dependent on the periphery. In many countries, universities rely to an increasing extent on an “industrial reserve army” of academics working on casual contracts because of this system of incentives.

In the United States, numbers from the department of education reported in The Atlantic (Figure 2 below) show that more than 40% of teaching staff at universities are now part-time faculty without tenure, or adjunct lecturers paid per course given, with no health insurance or the kind of other things associated with a standard employment relationship. As you can see from the graph, the share of permanent tenured faculty has shrunk dramatically. This doesn’t mean that the absolute number of faculty has diminished, it has actually increased substantially, but it has been massively outpaced by the expansion of teaching staff with precarious jobs and on low incomes. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported about adjunct lecturers relying on food stamps. The person mentioned in the article declares a take-home pay of $900 per month, which is sadly not that far away from the $3 hourly rate of the drug dealer, but for a much more skilled job.

Germany is another case where there has traditionally been a strong insider-outsider divide, essentially because of the hourglass structure of the academic job market. On the one hand, there are relatively good conditions at the bottom at the PhD level, and opportunities have expanded recently because of massive investments in research programs and doctoral schools generating a mass of new very competitive PhDs. On the other hand, there are good jobs at the top, where full professors are comparatively well paid and have a great deal of autonomy. The problem is that there is nothing in the middle: for people who just received their PhD, there is just a big hole, in which they have to face a period of limbo in fixed-term contracts (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter) or substitute professor (Vertretungsprofessur) for a number of years, after which they can hope to get their first permanent job in their mid-40s, while this could happen ion their mid-30s in the 1970s.

Vir: Alexandre Afonso

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* Pri nas je trg zaposlitev na univerzah manj “dualiziran” zaradi drugačnega sistema zaposlitev, kjer redno zaposlitev za nedoločen čas dobijo že docenti. V anglo-saksonskem svetu ter evropskih univerzah, ki kopirajo njihovo ureditev, je redna zaposlitev za nedoločen čas možna šele po 6-letnem “tenure tracku”. Seveda pa to pomeni, da je zaradi večje konkurence in ostrejšega selekcijskega mehanizma tudi kvaliteta izbranih rednih profesorjev neprimerno večja kot v našem sistemu.

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