Bullying rife across campus

September 16, 2005

Bullying is common in the higher education workplace, affecting academics and administrators alike, the biggest-ever study on the issue has shown.

Nearly 700 academics said that they had been bullied in a survey commissioned by The Times Higher that elicited an unprecedented response from the academic community.

Three quarters of the 843 respondents said someone they worked with was being bullied, while over four in ten said they themselves were being bullied.

One in ten victims had experienced physical violence from a bully and nearly a third reported unwanted physical contact, while 34 respondents had been sexually assaulted by a colleague.

Petra Boynton, a University College London psychologist who led the research, said that the primary aim was to find out what it is like for academic staff to live with bullying and to identify its effects.

"Academics in this survey indicated that they felt nothing was being done about the problem and bullies were getting away with it. We need to tackle this issue or risk long-term psychological damage.

"We also risk running inefficient institutions. Bullied staff aren't able to work productively, and many leave, draining universities of skilled workers. Just one report of bullying is one too many, and we had over 800 virtually identical accounts of abuse."

The bullying reported in the online survey, carried out during June and July of this year, ranged from being shouted and sworn at in front of others to having promotion blocked and being isolated from colleagues.

Internal staff surveys consistently indicate that bullying affects between 12 and 25 per cent of university staff. But this research provides the first comprehensive picture of the long-term impacts of bullying in the academy.

Respondents in the survey had been bullied for two to five years on average. The mean time in post was seven years, suggesting that respondents have spent a large proportion of their working lives being bullied.

According to Dr Boynton, bullying affects not only administrative staff but also professors, research fellows, lecturers and senior lecturers.

The survey found those in the caring or support professions, the social sciences (particularly psychology), health and medicine, academic support and human resources, are most likely to bully.

Respondents saw university HR departments as protecting institutions and helping bullies rather than victims.

Peter Deer, chair of the Universities Personnel Association, said: "We recognise that there is a problem in higher education - as in every kind of employment - and it is, of course, an area of keen interest to us professionally."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said that it was vital that universities themselves took the problem seriously.

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, argued that the self-selecting nature of the survey might have exaggerated the problem.

She added: "Robust policies, at national and institutional levels, need not only to be in place, but acted upon. Further work needs to be done on identifying both the underlying causes of bullying and how best it should be tackled."

anthea.lipsett@thes.co.uk

 

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