Hard slog and grunge

May 19, 2000

The distinction between self-driven and externally driven choices in academic work that the vice-provost of University College London makes ("Unpaid slog sustains research", THES, May 12) is facile.

Managerial pressure on individual academics to raise the quantity and quality of their teaching - as well as contributing to the research assessment exercise - obviate any choice if academics are to save their jobs, let alone advance their careers.

Stringent job controls are designed by government and enforced locally: real choice does not come into it. At the same time real pay has hardly risen and relative pay has declined sharply over the past 20 years. Is it surprising that many academics suffer from overwork, stress, loss of self-esteem and standing among students and the public?

If a large, private-sector company were to be run in a similar fashion its employees would both "voice" and "exit". There would be calls for senior executives' heads to roll. Yet the university sector, employing some 400,000 and with a critical stake in all our futures, persists in the abuse of its academic workforce.

Brian Towers

Professor of industrial relations

Nottingham Trent University

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