Australian academics agree on the benefits of a lousy job

August 8, 2003

Australian academics appear to be resigned to poor employment conditions, excessive workloads and over-large classes. But they are reluctant to quit their jobs.

Research shows that the academics perceive their work as stressful, demanding and centrally directed. Yet a survey has revealed that if they had the choice again, the great majority would still work in a university.

The survey of more than 1,000 academics found that over 70 per cent rated their work a source of considerable personal satisfaction and they considered their academic position to be a vocation.

A report of the findings from researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne is published in the latest Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management .

Those surveyed included academics in accounting, economics and finance as well as industrial relations, information technology, law, management and marketing.

The report says there is no evidence of academics seeking jobs outside higher education. Yet fewer than half those surveyed believed their contribution to teaching, research or administration was valued. Not surprisingly, professors were most likely to feel valued: two out of three thought their overall contribution was valued, as was their research. At the lower levels, though, fewer than half felt any aspect of their work was valued.

"Autonomy and flexibility clearly stand out as the most important factors cited by respondents for both becoming and remaining an academic," the report states.

Although opinions differed between academics from the older and newer universities about the importance of teaching versus research, all rated being part of a community of scholars highly.

The researchers conclude that far from universities displaying a wide diversity in their cultures, government reforms have encouraged homogeneity.

"Perhaps this (research) supports the notion of a gap between policy development at the university centre and policy implementation at the local level," the report says.

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