Teachers at Umeå University given jobs without substance

Umeå University continues to advertise “intermittent employment” positions. But a teacher employed in this way might not get any hours at all.

In January 2023, Universitetsläraren wrote that Umeå University had advertised intermittent positions and that the trade union was critical of this.

“I am one of the teachers who ‘was employed’ with such a contract for the spring,” says one teacher who was given such intermittent employment. “I submitted an application, and at the beginning of the semester I received an email from the head of department saying that I had ‘got the job’. Then I received a letter by post which contained a contract for me to sign.”

They signed the contract and sent it in. Then… nothing happened. “During the whole semester, I was not contacted by anyone offering or asking me to work,” the teacher continues, “either from the subject or the department.”

“During the whole semester, I was not contacted by anyone offering or asking me to work.”

The teacher thinks this is a strange procedure. “I’ve been a substitute teacher at other higher education institutions. Even if it’s a temporary position, you get an email address, your name may be on the website, you are given access to the library and course literature and information about how the learning platform works. The point is that you are usually part a subject community, even if you are employed temporarily. There will be some sort of interaction and you can, for example, contribute to seminars.”

The teacher’s view is that Umeå University seems to have no interest in such interaction. “I think that the approach from Umeå University is that we are only there to meet some kind of teaching need. But there’s no interest in utilising the skills possessed by teachers who are looking for temporary positions.”

And they wonder how it is possible to teach under such circumstances. “What is the likelihood when you don’t have access to the library, course literature and  the course website and can’t prepare and do the relevant background reading? You don’t even know who the course administrators are. This is not a serious approach to teaching.”

SULF has been critical of the use of intermittent employment, seeing it as gig work on precarious terms and emphasising that quality teaching cannot be delivered in such conditions.

Lars Nordlander, Director of Human Resources manager at Umeå University, tells Universitetsläraren that he cannot comment on an individual’s employment conditions. However, on the subject of intermittent employment in general, he says “In the past, we have always called in temporary teachers ad hoc and it was all done informally. But with the new legislation, such employment has become more visible and it is therefore also better for the individual teacher who accepts the terms of the employment. But I can understand the union’s view that if permanent teaching is needed, we should not be offering hourly employment.”

Universitetsläraren asked Karin Thorasdotter, a national officer at SULF, for her view. “The legislators wanted to discourage the use of insecure forms of employment,” she says. “But here, the university has found a form where you can follow the law and still offer employment in a way that I don’t understand how it can be good for their organisation. I think this is precarious employment.”

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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