I recently got in touch with the Times Higher Education data team to ask:


In the staff:student data, the following definition is used: “The student staff ratio is defined as total full time equivalent (FTE) number of staff employed in an academic post divided by FTE number of students in all years and of all programmes that lead to a degree, certificate, university credit or other qualification. This variable is normalised after calculation”.

Can you clarify if there is a definition of “an academic post” submitting universities must use? I am particularly interested in whether unis have any direction on, or may provide their own interpretation, with respect to: (1) research only roles, (2) teaching only roles, (3) casual staff (on hourly rates).

My interest here was whether there was risk that different institutions/countries might be counting staff differently, such that some places with large numbers of non-teaching staff (e.g., research intensives) might appear to have ‘better’ ratios, or that casual staff might be included in counts. The response indicates neither should happen.


Contents Please find below our guidance regarding academic staff. Also two FAQ points related to academic staff categories:

Number of academic staff: The full-time equivalent number of staff employed in an academic post, eg, lecturer, reader, professor. This equates to “faculty” in US. Teaching-only staff and staff whose contract encompasses both teaching and research need to be categorised here.

  • This should include permanent staff and staff employed on a long-term contract basis.
  • This includes assistant and associate professors.
  • This will NOT include: non-teaching “fellows” (the term varies across countries), researchers (only doing research), postdoctoral researchers, research assistants, clinicians of all types (unless they also have an academic post), technicians and staff that support the general infrastructure of the institution or students (of all levels). 
  • This will NOT include staff that hold an academic post but are no longer active (eg, honorary posts or retired staff) or visiting staff. 
  • This does NOT include Research staff. Please see FAQ at the end of this document, for specific examples.

FAQ1: What counts as long-term? Should temporary, short-term teaching staff be counted?  “Academic staff” pertains to permanent staff and those employed on long-term contracts. We realise that for all data collected, institutions’ interpretations of our requirements will vary to a degree. The distinction of “permanent staff and those employed on long-term contracts” is there to deter the reporting of temporary, short-term employees. We are aiming for a number that represents the overall, stable size of your academic staff. As a guide, we can indicate that an academic staff member is considered ‘long-term’ if they have been at the university for around 6 months. However, please note this for us is a guidance only. We are looking here for staff who have ‘long-term relationship with the university’. What should not be included are all kinds of atypicals, very casual staff or visiting professors. FAQ2: Should non-tenure track professors be included in the academic staff? Yes, non-tenure track professors – such as regular adjunct professors or sessionals – can be included in the academic staff body. We are looking for a number that represents the overall, stable size of your academic staff, and if they are a distinctive and stable part of the academic staff body, they should be included.

My interest here was in the relatively lower levels of staffing at Australian Universities compared to, say, equivalents in the UK or US (I realise this is of course a particular and skewed kind of sample). Part of my interest was whether those ratios reflected the casual staff, i.e., they were low even when we include the casual staff, but that seems not to be the case.