Universities face staff shortages

Aging staff and slow replacement rates may lead to a serious staff shortage, a new report says.

Universities will soon be facing a staff shortage, while student numbers continue to rise.  A study commissioned by Universities New Zealand says only an immediate, collaborative response by the tertiary industry can resolve the situation.

Nearly half of New Zealand’s academic workforce is over 50. 15 percent are over 60. The intake of younger academics is not enough to keep pace. While an aging academic workforce is a global trend, the lower academic salaries available here are likely further deterrents. New Zealand academic salaries are lower than in Australia, Canada and the US, and there are larger amounts of research funding and facilities available to academics in Europe and North America.

Current student numbers are at a record high. The study, carried out by Business and Economic Research Limited, made projections for low, medium and high student body increases. Based on these figures, the universities will need to attract between 560 and 920 new academic staff each year between now and 2020. Around 500 new academic staff were appointed in 2008.

“The report recommends a number of actions that the universities can take to boost recruitment numbers,” said Universities New Zealand chair Derek McCormack. “These include working on ways to make an academic career more attractive to those already in the sector as well as those from outside the sector, including academics and professionals overseas.” 

However, the report also concludes that the situation can only be truly resolved if New Zealand universities take action now to address these workforce problems. It also recommends changes be made within the tertiary education funding and the policy structure.

A Universities New Zealand spokesperson said, “Maintaining the international standards and reputation of New Zealand’s university system is essential.  It is the skill and passion of academics that underpin the world-class teaching and research vital for New Zealand’s economic, social and cultural advancement.”

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