In the UK, you have PCSOs, these are Police Community Support Officers. They earn about £7,000 a year less than real police and they don't have responsibilities like the power of arrest. They're popularly known as plastic coppers. They're second class coppers. It's policing on the cheap.
In higher education, you have an equivalent. You get senior lecturers (I'm a senior lecturer for a little bit of every week) and you get associate lecturers (I'm an associate lecturer for a few other days). The associate lecturers are second class lecturers. It's teaching on the cheap. They're plastic lecturers, hired on hourly paid or short-term contracts to save the university money because you only pay them for the hours they work.
You get what you pay for, somebody who is working on an hourly paid contract and knows they are being hired to save money while students are being charged £9,000 a year to study on the course you teach on does rather impact on the teaching. Essentially, the higher the percentage of associate lecturers you have in a university, the cheaper the university is.
You can check how the percentage of associate lecturers a university has here.
And you can read all about it here.
It is a crude tool however, and universities are at pains to point this out and defend the flexibility and range of voices they can hire by using associate lecturers. But I suspect this might be denial.
Here's a real life conversation from a pre-term departmental meeting that was narrated to me by a friend who works on an arts-based course at a university in the Southeast of England.
Faceless Management Type: "The good news is you're all associate lecturers."
Associate Lecturer: "Basically an associate professor is somebody who works on a zero hours contract."
Angry Faceless Management Type: "You don't work on a zero hours contract, you work on a fixed hours contract. A fixed hours contract is very different a zero hours contract."
Associate Lecturer: "Does anybody have their contracts yet?"
The other ten associate lecturers working in the department: "No."
Faceless Management Type: "Still, Whether you have a contract or not, a fixed hours contract is much better than a zero hours contract."
Associate Lecturer: "How's it better?"
Faceless Management Type: "Because you're a lecturer. An associate lecturer."
Associate Lecturer: "What would an associate lecturer on a zero hours contract be?"
Faceless Management Type: "They wouldn't be on a zero hours contract because they're not as good as fixed hours contracts. We don't just do any kind of contracts here."