Original Research

Precarious employment practices in South African universities

Shihaam Solomon, Marieta Du Plessis
SA Journal of Human Resource Management | Vol 22 | a2490 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajhrm.v22i0.2490 | © 2024 Shihaam Solomon, Marieta du Plessis | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 November 2023 | Published: 30 April 2024

About the author(s)

Shihaam Solomon, Department of Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa
Marieta Du Plessis, Department of Industrial Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


Orientation: The study explored the employment experiences of contract academic staff working in universities.

Research purpose: This study aimed to explore higher education employment practices experienced by contract academic staff. Recommendations for fair and inclusive human resource practices to address negative employee experiences was offered.

Motivation for the study: Research on employment practices and non-standard employment arrangements in the South African context are scant and outdated. Consequently, it is important to shed light on the experience of contract academic staff in universities given the widespread practice of employing contract academic staff in the sector.

Research approach/design and method: A qualitative research approach was employed. A total of 26 temporary employed contract academic staff members from 15 different departments across three institutions of higher education in South Africa participated in semi-structured interviews.

Main findings: The findings of this study highlight how contract academic staff experience being employed in universities. The themes identified were, a lack of job orientation and onboarding, last-minute contract offers, vague contract terms, lack of employment benefits, lack of rights and legal standing, limited career development and funding opportunities, unfair work demands, lack of performance feedback, and lack of human resources and organisational support.

Practical/managerial implications: Understanding the influence of university employment practices on contract academic staff will aid Human Resources Departments in re-evaluating policy and practice to combat the negative effects thereof. Particularly, how the employment contract process is managed, the lack of support available to staff, and the general disregard for the value that this category of staff adds to the academic offering.

Contribution/value-add: This study provides valuable insight for improving policies and practices that enhance the employment experience of contract academic staff in universities.


employment practices; precarious employment; contract academic staff; South African universities; higher education; academics; academic staff; contingent faculty employment

JEL Codes

J24: Human Capital • Skills • Occupational Choice • Labor Productivity; J81: Working Conditions; J83: Workers' Rights

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


Total abstract views: 714
Total article views: 446

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.