Leader: Summertime blues

July 14, 2006

The fact that academics are not taking their full holiday entitlements may shatter popular illusions about academic life. But it will come as little surprise to our readers. It is merely the latest evidence of the demanding lives that academics - and other university staff - now lead.

Academics have always had workaholic tendencies: this is natural for people whose work is also their consuming passion. In the past, an informal unwritten contract existed between academics and their host universities. The institution benefited from academics' expertise, time and commitment. In return, staff were allowed the freedom - within certain limits - to pursue their research interests and take leave when it suited them.

But this contract has been torn up in the modern academic environment: from quality inspection reports and research assessment exercises to exam boards and managing student numbers, academics are facing ever-increasing demands. The concern for universities is whether they are now exploiting the goodwill of their staff while providing nothing in return.

What would be disturbing is if staff felt they were being pressured by their institution's managers into not taking the leave to which they are entitled. As the evidence shows, the prospect for those not taking proper holiday is ill health.

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