Who is teaching language?
We established 3 meta-cohorts based on our data: academic staff, teaching-focussed staff and “other” staff. Interestingly, there is almost an equal proportion of academic and teaching-focussed staff involved in language teaching (Irish and foreign languages) within the system. The “other” category here relates predominately to staff who are currently pursuing their doctoral studies and those being paid hourly, on an occasional/part-time basis etc.
Where language-teaching-focussed roles exist, the labels range from:
- teaching assistant,
- university tutor,
- college language teacher,
- language instructor/assistant,
- language demonstrator.
In stark contrast to this, the range of labels associated with the academic hierarchy is more homogenous and clearly delineated within each HEI but still differs somewhat across the system (e.g. Lecturer/Lecturer above the bar/Assistant Professor) although they are clearly aligned.
At some HEIs in the system, our data suggests that language teaching relies significantly on externally funded posts by such organisations as the German Academic Exchange Service, the Austrian Exchange Service, the Confucius Institute, the Catalan Government in order to deliver on their language teaching provision alongside the cohort of contracted university staff.
The “other” category of staff identified across the system relates to those staff members without any contractual relationship with the university, for language teaching purposes, but rather work on an hourly-paid or part-time basis. In practice, this category is predominately native speakers being used primarily for their linguistic proficiency regardless of their disciplinary background or teacher training. Non-native speakers in this category all hold a Bachelor-level qualification in the language they are teaching. It is important to note that a small proportion of individuals holding this type of employment have not been captured in our data as they do not always have an online presence, and because they are only employed on a needs-basis from semester to semester to fill recruitment holes. This cohort has the most precarious employment conditions in terms of pay levels, continuity and stability of employment, status within the system, involvement in decision-making surrounding language teaching etc.
What are language educators’ educational background?
In examining the educational profile of language educators within each of the three categories, clear differences and concentrations of disciplines occur. While the vast majority of teaching-focussed staff hold Bachelor-level qualifications in the languages they teach, Masters-level qualifications are more varied in decreasing frequency: Applied Linguistics, Literature, Cultural Studies and Education. Just under half of teaching-focussed staff in our sample already hold or are pursuing PhDs with the majority in the area of Literature. Turning to academic staff, for whom a PhD is a prerequisite, three quarters hold a doctorate in Literary/Cultural Studies, with a fifth holding a doctorate in Applied Linguistics. This suggests that language teaching is not limited to those academic staff members with training and/or interest in language teaching as an area of specialism and research.