Academics criticise bid to scrap adjunct professor posts

A Norwegian government proposal to scrap adjunct professor posts (also known locally as professor II and associate professor II posts) in order to reduce the number of academic staff being employed in temporary positions in higher education institutions has been criticised by local and regional academics as overly bureaucratic and detrimental to internationalisation and educational quality.

Professor II and associate professor II positions are temporary positions with a maximum term of five years and can apply to a maximum of 20% of the academic staff complement in an institution. In 2021 there were 2,633 staff holding these positions, with over 30% of them having been recruited from abroad.

University leaders say the measures will not help to realise the political objectives of reducing temporary positions and argue that teaching and internationalisation will be severely damaged by the move.

A ‘hopeless proposal’

Professor Ernst Nordtveit, based in the faculty of law at the University of Bergen (he was dean of the faculty from 1999 to 2009), described the bid as “a rather hopeless proposal”.

“[It] has nothing to do with solving the problem posed by temporary positions. Those with professor II positions are already well-established persons with a professorship or other full-time positions elsewhere,” he told University World News.

Nordtveit described the professor II positions as a vital instrument to secure exchanges and access to additional experience and to strengthen the teaching at smaller and newly established higher education institutions.

He said the professor II positions also played a role in promoting internationalisation.

“The faculty of law in Bergen has, through the professor II positions, been able to offer teaching by top international experts in central areas where we did not have competence ourselves, to the great satisfaction of both students and the research milieus.”

He said those who had taken advantage of the positions had seen them as an opportunity to develop their own competences and networks.

Rather than perceiving the temporary nature of the positions as a problem, some academics welcomed the flexibility offered by a shorter-term commitment, and recruitment into the positions was thus relatively easy, he said.

“It is good that measures are taken to reduce temporary positions, but one has to distinguish between the snørr og bart [a Norwegian idiom meaning roughly: ‘to keep separate things separate’],” said Nordtveit.

Recruitment from abroad

In 2019, 30% of staff in professor II positions in Norway (800 people) were recruited from abroad, up from 15% in 1999. Twenty-four percent were recruited from Norwegian hospitals, while 12% came from the country’s scientific institutes and 11% from private companies or the public sector.

Over the period 1999 to 2019, the pattern of recruitment changed, with greater recruitment from academia, both in Norway and abroad.

Within the humanities and the arts fields, almost half of staff for the professor II positions were recruited from abroad in 2019 compared with 29% in 1999, but the numbers have been small.

In the social sciences the share of foreign citizens recruited grew from 32% in 1999 to 47% in 2019, and in mathematics and natural sciences the share of staff for professor II positions recruited from abroad grew from 18% to 32%. In technological fields, it grew from 6% to 23%.

In medicine and the health sciences, internationalisation saw an increase in overseas recruits, from 4% to 13%, over the same period.

Academic benefits

President of the Norwegian Association of Researchers Guro Elisabeth Lind told Khrono the system offered many benefits.

“It gives the higher education institutions the opportunity to recruit top competence both from other universities and from the working world. There are many positive sides to these arrangements today,” she said.

Professor Sofie Pilemalm, who has a full position as professor at Linköping University in Sweden and a professor II position at the University of Agder in Norway, told University World News that “taking away the 20% professor II positions would be devastating”.

“I am female and have a full-time position as professor at Linköping … I am also the director of the Center for Advanced Research in Emergency Response. I have a 20% position at the Centre for Integrated Emergency Management at the University of Agder.

“Doing this is a total win-win. The centres can collaborate closely which is absolutely vital for joint Scandinavian emergency management.

“I have a number of writing projects with … senior female researchers who have not reached the position of professor at the University of Agder and know that I contribute significantly to their development and potential qualifications.

“For myself, I have access to two research environments. I can increase inter-disciplinary research and development, including my own publications. Joint research proposals become stronger, and ideas emerge that would never have emerged otherwise.

“In Sweden, having 20% adjunct professorships at other universities or institutes (in Sweden or internationally) is common and not questioned,” she said.

Professor Sunniva Whittaker, rector of the University of Agder and chair of Universities Norway (UHR), the umbrella organisation for 32 higher education institutions, told University World News she had concerns about the impact of the move on university autonomy. “This proposal seems to be counterproductive – and gives institutions less autonomy, not more,” she said.

More red tape

Professor Bjørn Stensaker, vice-rector for education at the University of Oslo, said the government proposals would increase “legalisation” and “bureaucratisation” of the sector.

“What we have experienced in higher education in Norway during the latter decades is an increased legalisation of activities that used to be handled under the academic domain. This increased legalisation has contributed to the bureaucratisation of the sector.

“If we are to formalise the professor II positions further, we must spend more time and resources on the selection and recruitment processes, which may have the unintended consequence that recruitment and hiring processes for regular positions may also take longer.

“We should rather work to reduce the time we spend on recruitment and hiring in higher education.

“For many disciplines, especially those which are vulnerable regarding available academic expertise, the existing arrangements are flexible and very important to maintain teaching and research capacity.

“Many other European University alliances, including Circle U [European Universities Alliance coordinated by Stensaker], are looking for ways to make academic collaboration easier and more seamless across national borders.

“The essence of this work is to reduce red tape. Formalising adjunct professorship positions more is hardly a step in the right direction.”