Higher Education Research and Employment-Income Statistics: Here is my Face, Look Me in the Eye

February 21, 2020
ID 52687398 © Sss200 | Dreamstime.com There is a very meaningful discussion in the THE world – am I working hard enough? I recently calculated the tallies of work hours for my 2018-2019 Tax Return, as well as for the last eight months. Before I announce the depressing picture, a critical point has to be […]

ID 52687398 © Sss200 | Dreamstime.com

There is a very meaningful discussion in the THE world – am I working hard enough? I recently calculated the tallies of work hours for my 2018-2019 Tax Return, as well as for the last eight months.

Before I announce the depressing picture, a critical point has to be made about work hour statistics. The hours tallied do not include time for non-research meetings, classroom attendance, work-related reading, network communication, and contract applications. Much more of my daily work cannot be calculated on what I would be paid as a researcher from an institutional perspective. Furthermore, as a sole-trading contractor I have to bear the hours, and thus cost, of time in business management and planning. That is roughly another third of the weekly hours which could be placed on top of the following figures (next paragraph).  In previous financial years I had tallied income hours differently, as will be explained.

Here is the thing, if I spread out the working hours to which I would be paid for, but note – has generally not been paid in the last two years, it would only work out as 4.77 weekly payable research hours for the 2018-2019 financial year. Now, that appears to be dismal, but it is a great demonstration as to how false the official employment and income statistic game is.  In the previous years, where I tabulated on the calendar years, I calculated the number hours actually worked – time in a task that contributed necessarily to a productive outcome in research projects (including business management and planning). In 2018 it worked out as 29.27 average weekly hours, and in 2017 it was 23.55 hours. In all of 2017 and the month of January 2018 those hours were fully paid. There are a few important points that I wish I could drill into the heads of bureaucrats and politicians on how badly work hours and income levels are measured.

First, is that the 248 hours for the last financial year in research paid time would have still produced a modest income; if it was actually paid. At a really low hourly rate – one which would be considered ridiculously low in my profession ($25 per hour), I would have had $28,815 in the bank. The median income in Australia is $48,360 before tax. The point is I am not even paid this much for my production. Secondly, what is this production worth? Well, here, again, is the philosophical insight (‘the thing’ in the language of bureaucrats and politicians). What is a professional historian worth who is continuing to produce the biggest picture of Queensland’s intellectual* assets in last two centuries? Last year (2019) I produced and presented research papers at seven conferences – one international, four national, one state and one local. There are only one or two professional historians who could come close to matching that breadth and depth of global discourses for local audiences. In the last three years (since 2017) I have published two ground-breaking articles on war and peace thinking in Queensland (do people think that might be important?), and produced the ground-breaking and ongoing Mapping Brisbane History website with over two thousand sites mapped and annotated, a large portion of which has to do with sites of formal and informal education and where people do their thinking (again, I ask is this not important?).  In the previous two years, I produced two substantial books which has opened up the history of primary school education in Queensland, and opened up the history of Catholic education and social policies in Queensland, in the highest level of research never before done on these historical questions at the breadth and depth of two centuries.

Thirdly, and this is significantly hopeful. There is a gradual increase over the years in the numbers of hours of intense research for a given week.  There were 26 days in the 2018-2019 year where I have worked 9-12 hours (daily). In the last eight months I have already done 19 such days, and almost match the weekly average of payable hours I did in the previous year.  In the next two years, I will continuously research for eight substantive books, and several book chapters, as well as producing research papers for conferences across the country. In this arrangement, I have no chance of a fair income while university heads think that the current federal government funding model is providing adequate employment or paid contracts for the humanities and social science to be really world-class. The point here is that I am one of thousands of scholars in this country who have been grossly ‘short-changed’. A number can go overseas for better opportunities. I cannot in my professional field. If you care, please send the link of this post to a politician or university head that you believe needs to face up our country’s higher education research problem, so misinformed-misinforming in the statistics.



* the term ‘intellectual’ is so misunderstood in our contemporary society. It does not mean being clever or being very good at technical knowledge. The term refers to the high capacity to understand an array of complex ideas and their relationship (including application).


Reference: Should you be working 100 hours a week?




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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.
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