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Enabling Mathematics and Statistics Associate Lecturers to achieve their potential

Project leader(s): 
Rachel Hilliam

In the School of Mathematics and Statistics Associate Lectures (ALs) work across a wide range of modules both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. This study was undertaken before the faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology (MCT) merged with the faculty of Science. At the start of the study roughly 43% of ALs in Mathematics and Statistics were female compared to 34% in the faculty of MCT overall.

Associate lecturers are part of the Mathematics and Statistics academic community and are therefore covered by the School’s Athena SWAN action plan. This study aimed to understand why ALs are attracted to the role and what support the institution should be providing to these groups of staff in terms of their career development.

For many students their main link to the OU is their associate lecturer so the role played by the AL is of utmost importance for student retention. It is particularly important to provide ALs with appropriate staff development and to understand what attracts people to the role. This understanding will ensure that we recruit well-informed and well-motivated staff to undertake this vitally important work. 

The analysis was constructed to investigate why ALs were attracted to the role and if there was a difference in respect of gender – this indeed appears to be the case. There are a number of female ALs for which the flexibility of the role allows them to combine it with other responsibilities; this appears to be less important for men, many of whom have been in the role longer than their female counterparts.

There is a strong feeling amongst ALs regarding their insecurity over future employment but also concern, in the midst of negotiations about a new AL contract, that the flexibility of small contracts is retained as the majority of mathematics and statistics ALs tutor 60 credits or 2 modules.

Associate lecturers feel hugely valued and supported by their staff tutor, but ALs consider the wider Open University to be distant. There is a real need to ensure the staff tutor and AL relationship is maintained in order to both facilitate an AL academic community to avoid isolation and to provide professional support for this highly skilled group of staff. However ALs also express a feeling that the wider university does not value their professionalism and, as such, there is a need articulate the wider role that ALs play in the organisation.

Related resources

Hilliam, R., Bromley, A. and Calvert, C. (2017) Understanding and managing gender differences in the recruitment, retention and support of Mathematics and Statistics Associate Lecturers. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Hilliam, Chicot, Gibbons and Calvert poster (PDF)