Session on endangered researchers and precarity in higher education

Registration: Fill out this registration form!
This event is part of the Edgeryders Online Summit on Resilient Livelihoods
Curated by: Asli Telli, diverse_precarious community list, dissent in higher education group

Session summary

This session wants to bring together knowledge workers and policy makers in higher ed, also allying with unions and rights defenders, with their histories of mobility, migration and refuge. We would like to discuss and reflect on the intersection between precarious labour conditions and the neoliberal surge on higher education in the last two decades. The best we can do is to come together and learn from each other in order to arrive at a better analysis of the various challenges faced. We would like to exchange experiences and knowledges over struggles for academic freedoms and labour conditions in different contexts. We would like to take the opportunity to learn, exchange and collaborate with/through the framework of critical learning, decent labor and networks of sharing and caring. All participants are invited to zoom in to position the question of labour in academia within broader societal struggles in their own contexts and zoom out to link it up to related struggles in other geographies. As the first step towards concrete action in solidarity, participants are invited to reflect on the following 2 questions:

  1. What are the structural agencies, practices and grammars involved in the precaritization of knowledge workers in the last two decades?

  2. What are the realities and calculated logics of diversity, of structural inequalities and possibly discrimination?

  3. How can we collaborate with intermediary policy makers for boosting up critical learning and better conditions in higher education setting?

Who is participating?

This list will be updated continuously with the people who are invited and confirm attendance.

  • Dissent in Higher Ed group reps from France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and the UK
  • Learning and teaching groups in edgeryders community…
  • NGA-Wiss (Decent Labor in Academia Network in Germany)
  • ArteZ initiative on Crisis Ed Critical Ed - see link below for details
  • Union reps from Turkey, UK and the US
  • Policy makers/agents in the EU, UNESCO…

Format and practical information

Depending on interest, this could be a series of online meetings to get prepared. Then a moderated discussion with speakers from diff initiatives/institutions/responsibilities that could address the issue from diverse perspectives. This would rather be an online workshop model that brings together knowledge and experience to form collaborations and multiply impact.

  • An online meeting. You register in advance to reserve your spot, and you will receive a link and password to join (this will be sent the day before the event): Registrations are open here.
  • A moderated discussion. A moderator will give the floor to people who want to contribute something. Some have already volunteered (see list above, updated continuously). If you want to share your point of view, use the call’s chat to let us know, and the moderator will give you the floor. If you have a question to ask the speaker, ask it in the chat (better) or let us know you want to ask a question. Questions are taken before we move on to the next speaker.
  • We commit to doing a proper writeup of the result (aka “documentation, or it didn’t happen”). Edgeryders also deploys its team of ethnographers for participant observation and note-taking.
  • Everyone welcome. Below there is a list of the people who have agreed to participate. If you are coming too, we are happy to put you on it. If you prefer not to be on the list, that’s OK too.
  • Please note we aim to publish the content of the conversation as public knowledge, available to activist and scholars. However, this will happen through writeups by people in Edgeryders. While we will record the event, participants are welcome to sign up under aliases and keep their video shut off. Also, the writeups will not mention any names.


Ahead of the event, take some time to go through the materials below. We summarize them and link to the full resource:

  1. Many organisations and higher education institutions are opening up about the problems of pay, inequality and precarity in the field - these are articles from March/April 2020.

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Conversation Overview 10th of June 2020: Structures to build, structures to see, structures to break
Paid duct taping vs unpaid creation
Paid duct taping vs unpaid creation
Newsletter Page
Information overload: How can we interpret a world in chaos?
Biweekly team call 8/7 - agenda and notes
Sneak Peek: Covid19 + Resilient Livelihoods: An Online Summit
Sneak Peek: Covid19 + Resilient Livelihoods: An Online Summit
Communication / Social Media Guidelines for the Summit and Presummit event
Weekly Update: Please update this list of content to promote for the coming week
Universities and students in coping mode: challenges of eLearning
Summit Program
Universities and students in coping mode: challenges of eLearning
Conversation Overview 3rd of June 2020: Holistic Internet, data & disinformation
Who and What is the University of the 21st Century for? Breaking Through Neoliberal Agendas
The Overview I June 26, 2020
Collective amnesia: Aren’t we forgetting something?
Conversation Overview 24th of June 2020: “This shall not pass!” Is the world finally listening to overdue discussions or did we already miss it (again)?
The Overview I June 21, 2020
How Covid 19 will shape our future
Newsletter: 18/6/2020
Headsup: this session on precarity in HE might be interesting for the POPREBEL academics
Conversation Overview 17th of June 2020: It’s a whole new world - but we still have to continue conversations on old structures.
The house that Jack built: how to deconstruct societal systems

dear interested @edgeryders! note that this is a draft that is open to discussion. any thoughts, suggestions on names and content are welcome. excited to be a part of the online summit in these trying times. hope to expand the conversation here, all best- Asli

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The Facebook event is up! Asli, add me on fb please (Noemi Salantiu) so I can make you a co-host and you can make changes? Also, let me know in private msg if you need me to make modifications to the banner.

@amelia @Jirka_Kocian @MariaAlinaAsavei do you know anyone studying this topic who would be interested to join?

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@atelli have a look at this new organisation mentioned by @shajara:
I propose we invite them to join, some of the members might have a focused interest on mental health and precarity,

Hi @atelli if there is interest in having someone from the Global Consortium for Academic Mental Health join this session I can post directly in the slack group, and connect you with whoever might be interested & available!

Excited to see such an important topic getting covered!

Yes, let’s join forces dear @shajara. Mental health is a topic of priority, not well-tackled in our community. Sharing on slack is a good idea and how about yourself? Would you be available to join as well? Thanks @noemi for connecting:)


@atelli I’d be happy to join! I also sent out a message to the consortium and will update with what they come back with!


I have further plans in mind on academic mental health community and how we could work together on training, P2P mentoring and the like. Already checked your website:) Once you receive feedback from the slack group, I’d like to get in touch with you and possibly other interested fellows in your community. Thanks and glad to have you join:)

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Hi! Few words on what I could share with you from my previous and actual experience in academia:

Concerning the DIVERSITY point:

  • As the initiator of a program for the integration of refugee students at the University of Geneva (called now that it has been institutionalized “Horizon académique”:, I could share some experiences in what it is, how it works, what is the aim, etc.

Concerning the WORK CONDITIONS in academia:

  • As a scholar in French (since 2017) I could give you information about how things are going on in French academia: the dramatic increase of precariousness, the law that has been thought by the French government last fall and the strikes that occured in France until the lockdown partially stopped them. Some info here:

  • As a former precarious scholar in Switzerland I could as well give some information…

I would be happy to discuss these issues with you.
Cristina Del Biaggio


welcome @cdb77:) just emailed you on the process while you were posting here. nice coincidence! I think starting from refugee students problems and concerns is a good idea. With focus on “Horizon académique” , we can open such a window. Your other suggestions are also very relevant. It would also be worthwhile to have policy maker/practitioner/rapporteur working in the field of knowledge labor and higher education in the conversation. Just ping me @everyone if you have any ideas or connections in that regard.

Looking at your mission and participants, my 10 years on the faculty at 3 institutions in the United States may not be useful. But I’m interested in the discussion and let me know if I can help.

  • I was adjunct at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Chicago and Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey; associate at the Illinois Institute of Art
  • I participated in union organization at the Illinois Institute of Art. When it came to a vote, we lost.
  • I am currently an independent researcher that still publishes in an academic capacity and attends academic conferences.

Either way, I have registered to attend.

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Dear @schmudde, happy to hear you are interested in the session. Checked your website, you have an interdisciplinary take on ICT, art and knowledge systems and plenty of international experience in higher education. We will definitely gain a lot from your experience and insight into new precarities and pressure on critical thinking as well is diversity. Welcome:) We’ll stay in touch and hopefully expand from here. Thanks:)

Great. Thanks for taking the time! I’m looking forward to the discussion.

I’ll add one other dimension to consider: conferences. I believe conferences have been vital to the exchange of ideas in academia for centuries (I use the term academia literally as I use the word conference loosely).

I have always enjoyed conferences even while recognizing that they are generally exclusionary and the requisite travel is part of the climate problem.

The pandemic has already had a tremendous impact here. Organizers are not only scrambling to create a digital proxy, but also attempting to define the value of a conference in digital space. In my experience, registration prices have largely been waived in this transition period - a welcome change for an independent researcher like myself; I rarely have rarely had institutional support.

These meetings have been greener as well. Conversely, the social aspect has been far less gratifying.


Hi everyone! Just quickly introducing myself - I’m Rebecca, and I work in HE in the UK. (I also worked with Edgeryders back in the beginning, on The Edgeryders Guide to the Future.) There are so many important dimensions to the topic of precarity in HE; I’m particularly interested in how HE systems entrench inequalities at all levels, including access to education for certain categories of student. I’m also interested in what kinds of knowledge become lost as HE sheds expertise. Look forward to the discussion!


Hi Rebecca. Nice to catch you here with your worthwhile questions:) Would you be interested in presenting a blurb of these concerns during the session, say in a 5 mn talk? I’m putting together a draft schedule, rather felexibly structured, to gain the most out of a couple of hours. Just let me know here or via email if you’d be interested in a more active participation. I`d be glad if you would!

Hi @atelli. Sure, I’d be happy to speak for a few minutes on these specific points, if it would be helpful.

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Great. I’ll forward you the draft schedule and ask for a short bio via email. Thanks very much for your support and interest:)

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Hello @rebecca, great to see you again on Edgeryders.

I have no expertise of my own to contribute. What I do have is some personal memories that stretch back quite a bit, as I am fairly old. So, I remember the other side of this debate when I was an undergraduate student, back in the late 1980s. People then looked at academics, and found a lot of entrenchment. Once hired, academics were unfireable. The top layer of researchers stayed mobile, moving from one prestigious university to the next in order to find new stimuli and new collaborators; but, if you were a student in a peripheral university in, say Italy (Camerino? Bari?), chances were, your teachers had been in the same department for 10-25 years, and they would teach you what they saw fit to teach, with no accountability whatsoever. You just had to hope that they would be fairly up-to-date, reliable at office hours, reasonably interested in talking to you. If not, tough luck. Especially the senior ones were really entrenched. People called them “baroni”, the barons. And since you got in there by co-optation, getting a job as a professor was very much about swearing fealty to one of these academic feudal lords. They would get you a job (very eventually) by making a deal with fellow barons: I upvote your flunkie in the competition, you upvote mine. The system was felt to be rotten and overdue for some disruption. This is the only reason why I myself, after taking a good look, decided not to go into academia. My friends that did become professors (in economics), they all had to migrate, get to somewhere where academic jobs were more contendible, acquire some leverage, then go back to Italy (and still do deals).

American unis, the lore went, did not do things like this. They encouraged their people to not stay longer than five years, then go look for someone else to play with. This would re-align all sorts of incentives. We should imitate them.

And people did, or tried to, but of course they could not really dislodge the barons (rectors, deans, heads of department etc.). So what they did was the easy thing: precarize the lower tier of the academic job market. Then reformers appear to have lost interest and moved on.

Not sure what we can learn from these stories. Maybe my point is that the older generation abused its privilege, and earned a pushback that of course affected others. And maybe another point is that, when reforming, you should really really pause and think about rebound and other second-order effects.

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Hi Cristina,
I was re-reading this whole thread in preparation for the session - and the fact that you called yourself a precarious scholar drew my attention: from what perspective did you feel like this? a socio-economic datum I believe…
Thank you, looking forward to meet you next week,

Hi Alberto! Good to see you again, too! I think that the system that I see now - certainly in the UK, I’m less well placed to comment on other systems - is somewhere between the two extremes you describe. There are still a lot of established people at the top who often act as ‘kingmakers’ (with apologies for the gendered term, although issues of gender inequality are very pertinent to this debate) - if they’re your PhD external examiner or your post-doc supervisor, they’re in a position to help you into a permanent position and grant you the holy grail of stability (relatively speaking). (No-one wants to admit this, but I see it, including amongst scholars who are otherwise pretty ‘right on’ in terms of the academic identity they externally perform.) Without a ‘kingmaker’ or other ‘patron’ (or ‘baron’), you’re on your own. Some will make it (and there’s a separate discussion to be had about the social and economic circumstances of those who do make it…), but most won’t. One argument would be to simply say, well, tough, gaining a PhD doesn’t entitle you to an academic career. And that’s true, but there are bigger issues here related to the knowledge that is produced by early career scholars that is then either lost (because they don’t have the resource to get it published or otherwise into the public domain) or it is appropriated by others higher up the food chain (a bigger problem in the sciences than the social sciences/humanities). There a huge ethical issues here to do with knowledge appropriation, knowledge loss, as well as the socio-economic inequalities that are perpetuated by a system where it is literally still who you know and/or how well connected you are that determines whether or not you’ll get a job.