Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Whistle While You Work?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Whistle While You Work?

Article excerpt

The bulk of campus staff find their jobs rewarding and pay satisfactory, the Times Higher Education University Workplace Survey 2016 reveals. But our poll suggests a deep gulf between academics and professional and support staff in many areas of working life, and concerns over metrics-based performance management and standards remain. Jack Grove examines the results

UK academics and professional and support staff inhabit "two parallel universes that have little point of contact".

That is one of the major conclusions to be drawn from the third annual Times Higher Education University Workplace Survey, according to Yiannis Gabriel, chair in organisation studies at the University of Bath and one of the designers of our inaugural survey in 2014.

Over the course of several months in 2015, almost 2,900 higher education staff, of all ranks and roles, from nearly 150 institutions across the UK gave us their views on a wide range of employment issues.

As well as answering specific questions, respondents also submitted almost 4,000 comments to the online survey, providing further context to many of the important issues raised by the survey.

All survey participants were verified as working in UK higher education institutions, with 49 per cent identifying themselves as academics and 51 per cent stating that they held professional or support roles. As well as the deep gulf between the two categories of staff in many areas of working life, the survey also highlights that:

l Most university staff find their jobs rewarding, but most academics feel overworked, exploited and ignored by management

l A majority of staff feel satisfied with pay, conditions and professional development opportunities

l Half of academics are worried about redundancies related to metrics-based performance measures

l Half of academics think that their institutions have compromised undergraduate entry standards as competition for students has increased, and half feel under pressure to award higher marks.

Overall, the vast majority of higher education staff are happy in their jobs. Some 80 per cent of university employees state that their work is a source of satisfaction - roughly the same proportion as in our previous two surveys. In addition, 70 per cent agree that their job is "rewarding", while 87 per cent enjoy working with their immediate colleagues.

"In moments of tiredness or frustration being surrounded by 10,000 (mostly) young people who are optimistic and keen to learn is a pick-me-up and a privilege," remarks one senior administrator at a post-92 university. A female academic at a Russell Group university also appreciates the "good pay, holidays and working hours", adding that her institution is "supportive of staff with young families".

Job satisfaction levels are slightly lower among academics (77 per cent) than among professional or support staff (84 per cent). But the academic-administrative divide is particularly evident around questions related to pay and working conditions. Just 43 per cent of academics believe that they receive a fair deal in terms of pay, compared with 74 per cent of administrators. (Overall, 59 per cent of respondents are satisfied, against 26 per cent who are not.)

"I am constantly being asked to do more with less, which translates into longer and longer working hours. As a result, the level of compensation is completely incommensurate with the working hours reasonably needed in order to do everything that is demanded," says a lecturer at one Russell Group university.

On working conditions and other benefits, the chasm in opinion is even greater: only 40 per cent of academics are happy with what their university offers, compared with 80 per cent of professional and support staff.

But the overall figure of 60 per cent is markedly higher than the 42 per cent satisfaction rate found in the overall UK economy, a spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association points out: "It is encouraging once again to note that the majority of participants believe their institution offers them a fair deal in terms of pay, as well as the sometimes overlooked but very important conditions of service and other benefits. …

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