Dissatisfaction is guaranteed

Euro survey shows UK to be home of scholarly discontent and regret. Matthew Reisz reports

October 11, 2012

British academics are by a large margin the least satisfied in Europe - and the most likely to wish they had pursued other careers - according to a survey of more than 13,000 respondents from 12 countries.

This is the notable finding of a paper by Ester Ava Höhle and Ulrich Teichler, junior researcher and professor, respectively, at the University of Kassel's International Centre for Higher Education Research.

On a scale ranging from 1 (very high satisfaction) to 5 (very low satisfaction), senior academics from the UK averaged 2.61, well behind top-scoring Switzerland (1.92) and Croatia (2.0), and even nearest rivals Portugal (2.33) and the Republic of Ireland (2.47).

Although junior academics express less satisfaction across the Continent, the results again show those in the UK to be least happy (2.77), with their peers in Croatia most satisfied (2.13).

Responses to the statement "If I had to do it again, I would not become an academic" paint a similarly bleak picture: 22 per cent of British senior staff and 30 per cent of juniors agree. No other group across the countries polled more than 20 per cent.

Sixty-one per cent of senior and 56 per cent of junior academics describe their job as "a source of considerable personal strain".

Asked to explain the figures, Ms Hohle said they were unlikely to be caused by "national mentalities" such as the stereotypical British delight in whingeing. Instead, she pointed to a number of factors that could feed into comparatively low levels of satisfaction.

For instance, although an average 45-hour working week for junior academics in the UK is shorter than in Ireland (47 hours) and equal to Switzerland's, it is longer than in any other country surveyed. Eight nations have equal or shorter working hours for seniors.

Comparative measures of autonomy are equally sobering. At the institutional level, junior UK academics feel they have less influence "in helping shape key policies" than those in any of the other countries polled, while seniors believe they are less influential than their peers in every country except Austria.

Academics from the UK are also, after Ireland, the most likely to report top-down management. Responses to this question across Europe correlate strongly with satisfaction levels.

The findings were presented by Ms Höhle during the Higher Education and Social Change Final Conference in Berlin in August.

Last week, a University and College Union survey suggested that UK academics were suffering from growing stress levels as a result of heavy workloads, management issues and longer hours.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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