The fact that the number of students in higher education has increased significantly over the last twenty-year period should not surprise anyone. That costs have also increased should not be a surprise either despite the fact that (too little) funding accompanies the student into the system. So should we be surprised when universities cannot balance the equation?
Together, employers and unions, should work to have what is termed the productivity deduction dropped for higher education. In brief: the annual government percentage increase based on salary and price adjustments is reduced by an annual productivity deduction. Financial elbow room is assumed to occur when the productivity and efficiency of government operations increases so the percentage increase for higher education universities is reduced to reflect this improved productivity. However – the country’s academic staff are already researching and teaching as much and as fast they can. There there are no gains to be made here.
The productivity deduction from the price and salary increment has, between 1994-1995 and 2011, eroded resources allocated to higher education by SEK 7-15 billion. In plain language this means that the money per student that universities receive is too little and is supposed to finance too much. Students receive fewer hours of contact time with teachers. Groups are larger. Teachers’ workload increases. Whether the difference is seven or fifteen billion, the expansion of higher education has not been fully funded, and this has implications for quality whether it is spelled more contact time with teachers or decent working conditions. SULF is working to achieve both.
When direct grants are reduced too much, professors’ contractually-guaranteed research time decreases. When direct grant are reduced too much, contact time between teacher and student is decreased. When direct grants are reduced too much and must cover too much, teachers are not even fully compensated for their time in group exercises and seminars, especially related to what is known as repetitive elements. The solution is often that teachers, squeezed between teaching hour allocation and decency, take time from their research.
Quality in Swedish universities is spelled more contact time and teaching time per week and per student, smaller classes, more time for teacher preparation and evaluation, time for teachers to research and teach in paid working hours and salary developments that contribute to the retention and recruitment of qualified teachers and researchers. With a little imagination and great strength of character there should be a joint effort made by all the universities to increase revenue to higher education – not to unilaterally cut costs that are already insufficient.
As unions, we can never let our members’ working conditions be totally dependent on short-term fluctuations in student volumes and resultant budget. Our ambition level is higher than that. Resources for education and teaching must be increased, and the proportion of direct government funding for research too. We cannot do research or teach more or faster than we do today. Scrapping the productivity allowance would be a first, decent step.
Helén Persson, Third Deputy Chair of SULF
Leader in Universitetsläraren nr 3 2015