Academics are a minority group in Universities


My academic colleagues tend not to believe me when I tell them that there are more non-academic staff in Universities in Australia than there are academic staff. Frank Larkins from the L.H.Martin institute has a new paper that nicely summarises the data and changes over time. It has a link to the underlying DEEWR tables. And it shows that there are more administrative staff (Full Time Equivalent) than academics (FTE) in Universites.

Now, you can fiddle around with the numbers and tables. For example, casuals are not included in the base DEEWR tables and they make up a significant part of the university workforce in some areas. Larkins adjusts for this in his figure 1. The breakdown has also not changed greatly over time and does not seem to be a ‘public sector’ issue. Using the DEEWR tables, Bond University looks similar to the others.

The numbers do, however, beg the question of ‘why’? There are a lot of administrative tasks at Universities. Dealing with timetabling, students services and so on is an administrative nightmare (I know – part of my former Dean’s role was to oversee some of this). Nor is it obvious that we are ‘out’ by international standards – so it is not clear that we can blame Australian government red tape. For example, the University of Manchester appears to have about 49% of its staff in administration but the University of Bradford has almost 66% (treating ‘manual’ and ‘technical’ as administrative). For the University of California system, (see table 10 here) and excluding the ‘Office of the President’, U.C. Berkeley is about 59% non-academic while UCLA is about 75% non-academic!

So I guess the lesson is simple. Universities, world-wide, are great big bureaucracies. And I guess that is why they should be worried about the potential for change through the internet, on-line courses and so on. Because any institution that can reduce the administrative burden will be able to undercut the current providers.


4 Responses to "Academics are a minority group in Universities"
  1. Good post overall. Your use of ‘bureaucracy’ as a pejorative is not surprising but problematic because it’s poorly defined in this context. Do you suppose that all non-academic are bureaucrats? Doesn’t this risk making the term meaningless (as it’s meant to convey rigid application of rules without regard for their purpose)? Are librarians also bureaucrats? How many of your fellow academics are bureaucrats just filling another ‘gap in the literature’?

    Bureaucracy is not the only reason University’s should be careful or even the main one. I doubt UCLA with its massive bureaucracy will become irrelevant. University’s will be in trouble because their academics are incompetent and/or irrelevant. You go to online learning because the quality of education is typically better than you can get domestically and because the providers are masters in what they do (teaching AND research…)

  2. University definitely need to change.
    One, you have too many universities (locally or internationally), promoting about similar “products”.

    Two, quality is an issue. Suprisingly, you can get a very good materials to improve yourself outside of university.

    Three, internet-related medium and media provide a very strong source of information. Some of them are biased but hey …. even peer-reviewed journals are imperfect.

    So … how do you define “university”? It becomes more irrelevant in terms of delivery mode, “teacher-student” engagement and quality. The only positive thing out of it is a shiny accredited piece of paper … Even that paper in the main street is of no much differential value …. The time has changed … This is no longer 1980s.

  3. Stephen,

    My review of Richard Hil’s recent book Whackademia deals with these issues from a research administrator perspective:

    A couple of points:

    1. Some of your ‘non-academic staff’ like myself have research degrees and publish. A focus on aggregate figures potentially misses this granularity.

    2. There are ways to cut the administrative burden such as Lean-Agile methods. There are personal time management tools like Pomodoro, Personal Kanban and David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done.

    3. The high figures you cite may only be temporary as universities use GE, private equity, and asset management firm techniques to reduce their high cost structure. Administrative staff are also being made redundant.


    Alex Burns

  4. PE-style cost minimization and efficiency programs typically require:
    (1) top level management to own significant amounts of equity in the business so they have “skin in the game”. Even the management consultants are often required to have skin in the game (see for example KKR Capstone)
    (2) Equity holders to be concentrated amongst a few investors – the PE investors. This is to reduce coordination costs between investors and to provide more effective monitoring of management than a diverse base of uncoordinated and small retail investors.

    I just don’t any of these conditions being satisfied by Aussie unis at all.

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