Is the Australian academia following the same system as the US one? i.e., tenure track for a few years, and then tenured? Or it is more like the British one where there is 'probation' period?

3 Answers 3


I don't want to contradict Samuel too much, but his account of what can happen has definitely happened to some people. But it is extremely rare and I would argue a little over-simplified.

For starters, my paycheck from a major Australian university has the word "tenured" on it. So my first point is, yes, continuing positions are "tenured" - but lets not get bogged down in semantics because tenure def means something different in Australia. Indeed I believe the union considers this to be a f(ph)urfy so let's say there is some subjectivity there.

Having tenure does not guarantee that you cannot be fired though. You can be. But as one manager said to me once, it is more expensive to fire an under performing academic than to simply retain them as long as they keep doing their teaching etc. I work with lots of unproductive academics and many have been asked to leave. They simply said no thanks and stayed. The only time I have seen academics forced out, they left with large redundancies and, simply put, wanted to leave. When you read about retrenchments at Australian unis in the newspaper, often more want to leave than are given packages.

Gross incompetence or dangerous behaviour? Yes you can be sacked. But as far as I have seen you cannot be fired on a "whim" as someone suggested. A business case would be made (declining enrolments, lack of research activity, lack of administrative roles)

And yes, as Samuel said, management teams will go after departments at times. But redundancy packages are often generous and often people from an eliminated department will be shifted to another department (good academics stay, crap ones move to a lower ranked uni).

I also don't want to make this a peeing contest, but I have worked in the US system too and the Australian system is more protectionist of staff than the US system. But indeed tenure is probably harder to lose than in Australia.

I am tenured at a Australian uni. I say this to people regularly and no one corrects me. But yes, I know union types that tell me my tenure is not tenure. I heard this a lot 5 years ago, but not recently

In short, to answer the initial question, the Australian system, broadly speaking, is the British system. Tenure with probation (3 years, recently raised to 5 I think)

  • This is the best answer. Australian academics in continuing positions who underperform at research are usually just assigned more classes, as many as a prof at pure teaching University in the USA. Sep 22, 2018 at 4:01
  • I think this answer is great on the “ordinary operation,” and mine on “worst case” for ongoing contract / permanents. Neither answer is great on the large proportion of casual and non-ongoing positions and their increasing proportion of teaching load. For the individual academic the answer is usually “get so good you get permanent,” but this often requires long instability and location agnostic applications (ie: 2 body, single parent issues). May 10, 2019 at 0:11

Australia does not have a US-like tenure system. Academics at all levels are occasionally scrutinized, and advancement is not automatic.

  • So, in Australia, any academic can be kicked out of the university anytime with or without any serious reason?! That sounds bizarre!
    – John
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:51
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    @John How did you go from “occasionally scrutinized, and advancement is not automatic” to “kicked out anytime without any serious reason”? That's quite a leap…
    – F'x
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:55
  • I didn't go from 'occasionally scrutinized'. I took the general message that in Australia does not have a US-like tenure system. The question is simple: can the academics in Australia have a tenured position or not? Sure, there may be some differences between a US tenure and Australian tenure. But the over all idea of a tenured position is that the academics don't get fired unless there is some serious reason.
    – John
    Sep 5, 2013 at 19:06
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    @john Tenure does not exist in Australia. Academics can be dismissed at will. The provisions governing "at will" dismissal generally require a six-month stitch up attacking a disciplinary area or sub-discipline; but, the substantive effect is managerial perogative over research and teaching. Sep 18, 2013 at 1:09
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    @John There are many that would argue that it is the US system that is bizarre :)
    – Suresh
    Mar 25, 2014 at 18:21

Australian Academics do not have tenure. They are either appointed on an on-going basis ("Permanent" staff) or on contract (year-to-year, three-year to three-year) or casual (hour to hour) bases. All three categories of staff can effectively be dismissed at whim by management.

Appointment to permanent positions in Australia is on the basis of:

  • Merit selection to externally advertised positions (with a probationary period)
  • Corrupt selection to unadvertised strategic appointments (with a probationary period and the possibility of "non-conversion")
  • Absence of selection or merit selection to contract or casual positions followed by a lengthy union fought conversion process

While the conditions of appointment to ongoing positions vary from field to field, you should expect that the conditions of appointment for a Level B "Lecturer" are broadly similar to the requirements for either entry to a tenure-track position or achievement of tenure in a tenure track position. (Varies by field and labour supply). Appointment to Level C "Senior Lecturer" often occurs 3 to 6 years after first appointment on the basis of another unit of research output equivalent to the unit of research output required for initial appointment.

Academics may be dismissed at will by forced or "voluntary" redundancy processes covered by weak industrial provisions in Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (site specific industrial instruments). These dismissals need a fig leaf of reduced student numbers or institutional renewal; but are effectively managerial dismissals. Individual academics are constructively dismissed through bullying processes, change fatigue, and general managerialism. Management has the power to entirely defund teaching streams and then claim that positions are no longer required due to the lack of teaching. Australian University management is adept at manufacturing both immediate and long-term funding crises to achieve fundamentally political ends in terms of attacking specific work-cultures or disciplinary research programmes. In addition, freedom of research has been significantly eroded by quantity and quality audits of research output which often involve politicised sub-disciplines indicating their preferences (Consider the Business Dean's journal quality list, for example).

The only defence Australian academics have against management is unity in the National Tertiary Education Union.

Sources: Industry experience, NTEU membership, 40 years of union journal back-issues.

  • "The only defence Australian academics have against management is unity in the National Tertiary Education Union." In the USA, many academics do not have any union protection. Unions are usually local, which weakens them. In the USA, tenure is not a defence against bullying or a lack of funding. I would say the Australians have it pretty good. They are paid more too. Jul 21, 2017 at 5:01

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