According to a recent report, the trend towards employing part-time contingent faculty members, combined with slow growth in the number of tenure-track university teaching positions, is sharpening the competition facing would-be academics. Over the past few decades, the trend has taken an upward trajectory.
With reference to the 2012-13 annual report of the American Association of University Professors, the number of full-time tenured or tenure-track positions in the U.S. increased just 26%, to 308,400, in the 36 years from 1975 to 2011 while in the same period, part-time appointments rose more than 300% to 762,000. According to a 2012 report by the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education, by 2009, tenured and tenure-track positions accounted for only 33.5% of all faculty members in American universities, down from 78.3% in 1969. Worryingly, the decline is continuing.
"Adjunct professors are the highest number of hires in the United States right now," William Tierney, a professor of higher education at the Pullias Center, said by e-mail.
According to Ella Delany of The New York Times, in the U.S., the growth in postdoctoral appointments, temporary research positions widely viewed as holding patterns for a tenure-track position, has contributed to congestion in the academic job market. The number of postdoctoral appointees in science and engineering grew to 63,415 in 2010, up 25% since 2007 according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. To compensate for what is often low pay, taking on more than one postdoctoral position has also become common. A rise in temporary postdoctoral research appointments has also been noted in Europe.
"At LERU universities there are on average between 1,000 to close to 3,000 postdocs per institution versus a few hundred or more junior lecturers," said Ms. Maes, chief policy officer of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). "Naturally, because of this bottleneck, there is fierce competition for academic positions."
The security and status of academic work in Australia had changed according to a 2013 report by the Group of 8 leading universities in Australia.
"Over recent years the trend has increasingly been to part-time and casual employment, often dependent on the availability of external funding," it said.
A significant increase in the number of doctorates awarded in Australia, with only a minority able to find employment in academia, was found by the report. Additionally, doctoral enrollments at Australian universities rose 68% and the number of doctorates awarded increased 60%, to 6,053 from 3,793, in the years between 2000 and 2010 according to the report. Meanwhile, in 2008, it said, only 28% of recent Ph.D. graduates worked in higher education, with the rest finding alternative careers.
As an economics professor at the Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy, Glenn Withers put it, academic recruitment prospects were still better in Australia than in Europe and the United States.
"Many universities in Australia have seen the opportunity to cherry-pick from more troubled Northern Hemisphere counterparts," he said.
More opportunities for early-career researchers are also offered in Asia.
"The academic profession is not excluded from the rise in global migration," said Gerard Postiglione, professor of sociology and education policy at the University of Hong Kong. "The only obstacle in many cases is ability to teach in the language of the country where the overseas university is located. Universities in Asia have always tried to recruit early-career researchers from abroad."