Academic life is hell - official

March 15, 2002

It is official: lecturers are being pressured into teaching longer hours, sometimes in breach of their contracts, in increasingly large classes, with less time for contact with their students and less time for research.

They spend more time on administration and red tape, their morale is at rock bottom, they see their promotion prospects as poor and view their managers with contempt, according to an audit of academics' working lives by lecturers' union Natfhe. The report, published today, is based on a survey of more than 800 members. It will form a key part of the union's demands for the spending review.

Tom Wilson, head of the universities department at Natfhe, said the findings proved that the government's 50 per cent student participation target was doomed to fail without massive investment. "People are so grossly overworked and at the end of their tether. There is no question of increasing student numbers without commensurate funding. And there was no sign of that in last week's funding allocations."

More than half of respondents said their work had changed for the worse over recent years, with 13.4 per cent saying it was "much worse". Only 20 per cent said it had got better. Almost 56 per cent said the student experience was worse, with 15 per cent saying it was "much worse".

A third said the size of their workload was their most important issue, while 17 per cent cited pay. The third most pressing issue was low morale, with 12.8 per cent saying it was most important.

Managers were rated as "poor" by almost a third of respondents, with only 1.2 per cent judging their bosses as "excellent".

Natfhe found the following:

* Almost 80 per cent of staff reported an increase in their teaching workload in the past five years, with almost a third describing the increase as "large"

* Some 80 per cent reported an increase in the number of students they were responsible for

* 70.6 per cent reported an increase in class sizes and 56.8 per cent reported an increase in preparation hours

* 58.2 per cent reported a decrease in contact time per student

* 86.9 per cent reported an increase in teaching-related administration

* 59.1 per cent said they had been denied reasonable time and facilities for research, with 48.5 per cent saying that this was because they had too many teaching hours

* 28.8 per cent said they felt they had no prospect of promotion

* 67.7 per cent of respondents said they had faced pressure from management to teach up to the maximum contractual level of 18 hours a week in new universities, with almost all saying the pressure had increased in the past five years. More than a quarter said that they had faced pressure to exceed the maximum

* Just under 40 per cent of respondents said they took all their holiday entitlement, while 14.7 per cent said they took about half their entitlement and just over 7 per cent said they took even less.

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