This article explores how academic jobseekers will be affected by the new fees regime implemented in 2012-13 and how they can respond to these changes and enhance their chances in the job marketplace.
Fees: what are the changes?
A new fees regime will be in place in universities in England and Wales, for students starting degrees in 2012-13. Nothing will have to be paid up front and fees will only be paid once students start earning over £25,000. But fees will significantly increase, with degrees now costing between £6000 and £9000 per year. This change is happening because the government will no longer fund the cost of university education and this expense has now been transferred to the student themselves.
What will the impact be on universities?
Universities will have no more money available to them; their costs will now simply be covered by a different source. But there are significant changes that will impact academic jobseekers. Because of higher fees, university students will be more demanding, aware of competition between institutions and keen to ensure value for money.
Student experience and student satisfaction will become increasingly important and will be used by applicants to judge the quality of an institution. Students concerned about the amount of support and contact time they will receive will be more discerning both during the admissions process and afterwards once they have started their degrees.
Some students may also decide to engage in more paid work than previously in order to save money to pay their fees, so university lecturers will have to be aware of students who juggle various commitments rather than being dedicated to their studies with no other distractions.
What does this mean for hiring?
Many institutions seem to be subtly changing their hiring patterns to respond to these new conditions. While having an international research profile is still important to hiring panels (especially with the REF coming up), teaching expertise, excellence and innovation are increasingly valued.
Adverts emphasising teaching quality are appearing, and in some specific cases departments are hiring in order to decrease their staff-student ratios and allow staff to increase their contact time and time allocated to pastoral care. Expertise in certain areas of student support such as dyslexia is also increasingly vital.
What does this mean for jobseekers?
In the future teaching quality will be as important as research excellence. Even those institutions that have traditionally focused on research, such as members of the Russell Group, will consider their student satisfaction scores and will consequently hire proven good teachers. So, this may subtly affect the way that you sell yourself on an application form. Teaching will no longer play ‘second fiddle’ to the important practice of acquiring research funding, but instead will be seen as vital in protecting the number of applications to the department.
You also must show awareness of the issues of contact time, student satisfaction, teaching innovation during interview as well as showing that you understand the impact that fees have had on the sector as a whole for example the changes in admissions patterns.