Letter: Stop stress and disadvantage 1

November 23, 2001

Staff at the University of Wolverhampton are off sick with stress. This is not the news that any vice-chancellor wants to acknowledge and yet Tony Tysome correctly identifies a problem of stress-related absence among my staff. However, I do not recognise the link to a "bullying style of management" identified by union leaders, although I have listened to their concerns ("HSE called in over 'bullying' and stress", THES , November 16).

The causes of stress are more complex. Your leading article describes the cumulative pressure on university staff arising from external factors, many of which are a consequence of inconsistent government policies.

This is acutely felt by universities such as Wolverhampton that are committed to widening participation and serving the needs of disadvantaged regions.

Most of our staff work extremely hard to give life-changing opportunities to our students, many of whom are the first members of their families to enter higher education. These students arrive with great potential but not always with skills of independent learning that need to be developed. Many have special needs. Staff from a range of disciplines and functions work together to give these students extra help.

Our staff operate on diminishing budgets, under the continuous pressure of an invasive quality regime and are subject to never-ending funding initiatives. This takes place within a student support regime that discourages participation and according to a political agenda that is focused on compulsory education with outmoded assumptions about the "best" university experiences.

Where staff have claimed that managers behave poorly, this is usually because they believe their efforts are not praised or recognised. If this is "bullying", then responsibility goes beyond the university.

John S. Brooks
Vice-chancellor
University of Wolverhampton

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