Caution: heavy load

January 5, 2017

The findings reported in the article “Even top teachers ‘not recognised or compensated’, warns research” (News, 22 December) – that top teachers at research-intensive universities don’t see their passion for and commitment to their work matched by their institutions – were very recognisable.

At my Russell Group university, I don’t feel that teaching is valued, even though there have been some improvements for people on teaching-only contracts, who now have a career path for the first time.

Teaching loads are still measured in terms of the number of modules a lecturer contributes to, rather than the number of students you teach. This means that teaching 80-100 students on a module counts the same as teaching 10-12 students (or as few as six, as some colleagues do).

In my quite specialised department, which has a very low staff-to-student ratio, I’m one of the few who attract large numbers of students from other departments. I’m told that this is what the department needs because we’re under pressure because of overstaffing, but I pay a high price in terms of my workload. I’ve had excellent evaluations for years, but this barely seems to count for promotions. Having a workload model helps because I can finally quantify what I’m actually doing, but it hasn’t resulted in a fairer division of labour; so I wonder how I should challenge the fact that my teaching (and admin) load is currently at 75 per cent of my nominal hours – leading to much overwork to catch up with research and publications.


I’ve seen this problem with workload models in my institution. It’s crazy that people get allocated the same number of hours for a module regardless of the number of students who take it. Certainly, a minimum number of hours is needed to prepare any module, regardless of class size. But the time demands of marking, organising seminars, dealing with general queries and so on are clearly higher with large classes.

I also wonder about the gender and status of those who end up teaching the large first-year undergraduate classes. It’s rare to see the big-name white, male professors taking on such “dirty work” in our institution. Maybe the occasional “guest lecture” in their own specialism, but that’s it…


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