Academic exodus threatens Wales

May 27, 2005

While Wales considers a new fees structure, demoralised staff and insufficient income are stalling progress at the country's universities, reports Tony Tysome

More than two in every five Welsh academics are considering moving to an institution elsewhere in the UK or abroad as resentment grows over pay and conditions in Wales, a poll by The Times Higher has found.

The snapshot of Welsh lecturers' views on key issues facing them and their sector, taken over the past two weeks, reveals that 42 per cent think they are likely to leave Wales in the near future to improve their position.

More than a third of these said they were "very likely" to move, while many of those who said a move was unlikely added that this was only because of family commitments.

Answers to other questions in the poll, which was conducted in collaboration with the Association of University Teachers and lecturers'

union Natfhe, provide clues as to why so many have their eyes set on jobs outside Wales.

Half of the 115 academics who responded said that they felt undervalued in their current position, and 41 per cent said that they felt they were worse off than their peers in English institutions. Only 9 per cent thought they were better off in Wales.

For most respondents, current disputes in Welsh institutions over implementing pay improvements appear to have made them sceptical that things would get better. Forty-two per cent considered that they would be unaffected by proposed pay modernisation, while nearly a third thought it would leave them worse off.

And while Welsh vice-chancellors argue that the introduction of top-up fees in Wales would throw a financial lifeline to their institutions, 83 per cent of academics who responded to the poll thought fees would make no difference to their pay.

More than half (56 per cent) also said they felt dissatisfied with the amount of time and resources they received for research. Forty-two per cent thought that mergers or greater collaboration in Welsh higher education would bring little improvement, and a fifth thought the move would make no difference at all.

More than half (58 per cent) did not know whether sufficient progress was being made on the Welsh Assembly's reconfiguration and collaboration agenda for the sector - a fact that suggests that most Welsh academics do not feel involved in the initiative.

Of those who expressed an opinion, 81 per cent felt that sufficient progress was not being made. Fifty-six per cent of these blamed heads of institutions for the scheme's not advancing and more than a third blamed the Assembly.

Barry Johnson, AUT Wales assistant general secretary, said that the poll's findings, although based on a small sample, "should worry all those concerned about higher education in Wales".

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