Life's rosy for political scientists despite pay and stress worries

December 1, 2006

Despite persistent concerns about increased workloads, stress and pay, a new survey shows that political scientists are becoming happier with their lot - marginally.

Three years ago, almost two thirds of politics academics said they had considered leaving the profession but this has now dropped to 52.2 per cent.

The figures are revealed in a survey of almost 500 academics by the Political Studies Association.

The data have been released to The Times Higher to mark the association's Annual Political Awards ceremony this week.

Academics are much more content than in a similar survey undertaken in 2003. Then, 57 per cent of those inclined to leave blamed low pay, but the proportion troubled by this factor has fallen to 28 per cent.

There is a significant increase in those earning £40,000-plus. And fewer than one in five complained that their hours were too long, compared with a third in 2003.

The number of trade union members has risen from 23.8 per cent to 34.2 per cent.

While three years ago 54 per cent complained about too much paperwork, and almost half said they were stressed, now just over a quarter of the respondents agreed that these remained a cause for concern.

An increased number of staff are taking more annual leave. Fewer staff are taking two or four weeks' holiday a year; more are taking three, five, six and even seven or more weeks.

Charlie Jeffery, professor of politics at Edinburgh University, had one more reason to be cheerful this week - he won the PSA's political studies communication award as director of the Economic and Social Research Council's devolution and constitutional change programme.

Professor Jeffery admitted that he had never considered leaving the profession and said he was unsure why political scientists appeared more content.

"Political scientists are probably more secure in terms of student demand. There's a lot, particularly in international politics, and if you're in an area with buoyant demand, you probably feel a bit better," he said.

But the survey highlights new concerns among those in the field. While fewer political scientists said they felt they had been treated unfairly because of their gender or age, a greater number said they had suffered because of their ethnic origin, their work status (for example, being on a temporary contract), their research area or methodological approach.

Staff have also suggested various priorities for the PSA, notably giving more support to new academics, including information on making research applications and surviving peer review, and also offering mid-career training, with conferences and scholarships.

One respondent was clear what the priority should be: " Not giving awards to Tony Blair."

* Quentin Skinner, regius professor of modern history at Cambridge University, won the Sir Isaiah Berlin prize for lifetime contribution to political studies; Why Politics Matters , by Gerry Stoker, professor of politics at Manchester, is politics book of the year; and David Butler, emeritus fellow of Oxford's Nuffield College, won special recognition for electoral studies.

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