Staff morale hangs in balance

August 19, 2005

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research report into recruitment and retention of academic staff in higher education does not, as your headline suggests, recommend the downgrading of teaching activity ("Teaching downgrade mooted", August 12). Indeed, this study highlights the wish of the majority of academic staff to be fully engaged in the teaching process while having the opportunity to do research.

The report does suggest that teaching-only contracts damage morale and do nothing to help recruitment or retention.

Natfhe believes that all academic staff would wish to teach, engage in scholarly activity and also conduct research. However, the reality of working life for too many UK academics is one of rising student numbers, high teaching loads and growing levels of bureaucracy.

Far from suggesting that teaching be downgraded, the NIESR report puts the teaching of students at the centre of a balanced academic workload. The desire of academics to retain their ability to engage in research and scholarly activity (RSA) usually lies at the heart of most contract disputes, such as those at London Metropolitan and Bourne-mouth universities.

The NIESR report highlights the need to maintain the post-1992 national academic contract, which guarantees time for RSA with a fair maximum cap on the amount of teaching that can be demanded.

The report also pours scorn on the attempt to introduce performance-related pay for academic staff, citing evidence of poor morale and discrimination as reasons why this form of reward is ill suited to the sector. But the underlying message is that there is an urgent need to increase the level of basic pay for UK academics, who were promised by the Government and their employers that income generated by tuition fees would result in higher salaries. The case for significantly increasing academic pay has never been stronger and Natfhe intends to put this case to the Government and higher education institutions in the autumn.

Andy Pike
Higher education national official
Natfhe, the University and College Lecturers' Union

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