“Breathless” system. This follows from a study commissioned by the University of Geneva (Unige), which wanted to take stock of the professional situation of an intermediary body with harsh working conditions. The words are from Mathilde Matras, a committee member of the Joint Association of the Intermediary Body of Collaborators in Teaching and Research (Accorder). “The conclusions of this survey show that the problems that burden the staff of the intermediary body are not individual cases, but structural evils,” analyzes this doctoral student at the Faculty of Arts of the Geneva institution.
The intermediary body represents part-time researchers, i.e. non-professors. It includes young people at the beginning of their careers, such as postdocs, but also other years and positions, such as research associates, lecturers and other lecturers. In Geneva, 3,800 people are affected. Mostly on fixed-term contracts, they say they suffer from the insecurity inherent in their profession. Such contracts are the result of the science funding organization where most grants are awarded for short periods ranging from one to four years.
Excellence boils down to productivity
This survey, which was consulted by the Accorder association, found that half of respondents say they fear a slide into uncertainty. “It’s more than just a feeling, it’s really an uncertainty, a nuance Mathilde Matrasová. A large proportion of people who say they are insecure are aged between 35 and 40 and sometimes have seven to eight years of short-term contracts; 50% do not take their entire vacation and 95% say they work in their spare time. The current academic system sums up the scientific excellence of the researcher to his productivity,” comments Mathilde Matras.
In addition, the number of cases of harassment is alarmingly high: 22% of respondents said they had been personally confronted with it. In addition, 3.4% of respondents reported being victims of sexual harassment and 12.9% reported witnessing such acts. According to Mathilde Matras, “one in five people face harassment, it’s alarming. In particular, we see the consequences of too much concentration of power on the part of the teaching staff, which encourages multiple abuses. And as often, no one dares to speak up, either out of solidarity or out of fear for their careers, the researcher adds.
The Unige Rectorate says it is implementing an action plan to improve the situation. In particular, it plans to provide better career information, support non-academic courses within the university and finally introduce continuing education “facilitating the transition from the alma mater”. The first step in a project that promises to be huge and that goes beyond the university in its structure.