Academics' good health is not to be sneezed at

September 23, 2005

University staff appear to be in rude health, taking far fewer "sickies" than public and private sector employees, according to a new study.

Employees in higher education institutions take an average of 5.9 days sick leave per year, compared with 8.5 days in the public sector and 6.9 in the private sector, according to the report, which compares human resources performance in higher education with that in other sectors.

Higher education staff also seem to be more satisfied in their jobs than those in the private sector. Staff turnover in universities stood at 11 per cent, compared with 21.1 per cent seen in large private sector companies.

Phill Jennison, co-author of the report, which was produced by HR Benchmarker Services, told The Times Higher : "The higher education sector employs very committed people. For many it's a vocation as much as a job."

Elspeth MacArthur, director of human resources at Edinburgh University and vice-chair of the Universities Personnel Association, whose 70 member institutions participated in the survey, found the results encouraging.

Ms MacArthur said: "This report does make positive reading - though, of course, benchmarking data don't always tell the whole story."

She said that she suspected there may have been some degree of under-reporting of sickness.

Roger Kline, head of universities at lecturers' union Natfhe, said that the figures could reflect academics' distinct work culture, which allows them to be more flexible about sick leave.

"Academics work very long hours but can choose them - there's less clocking in and out," he said.

Mr Kline added that the commitment of university staff to their jobs combined with pay incentives linked to length of service, such as final salary pension schemes, encourage them to stay put.

"Despite the intensity of the work, people go into academia because they're passionate about it," Mr Kline said. "It takes a lot to knock that out of them."

In terms of professional training, the report paints a less positive picture of higher education institutions, which offer an average 1.9 days of off-the-job training for staff, compared with an average 2.8 days in the public sector and 3.0 days in the private sector.

Ms MacArthur said that study leave, conferences and opportunities for personal study were integral to university work but were not always labelled as professional development.

But she added: "There are many areas in which more investment in staff development would bring even greater success for institutions and satisfaction for individuals."

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