Research value 'in doubt'

April 4, 1997

Almost a quarter of lecturers no longer believe that an active research interest is essential to be a good university teacher, a national survey has found. The Association of University Teachers survey also reveals that two out of every five lecturers wish they had chosen a non-university career.

The survey, carried out last year among 2,452 AUT members, showed that 41 per cent of respondents would choose a non-university profession if starting their careers afresh. The AUT quotes surveys by sociologist A. H. Halsey which show equivalent figures of 19 per cent in 1976 and 31 per cent in 1989.

One in six lecturers (16.5 per cent) saw themselves retiring within the next five years. The union says that this implies the loss of 14,000 staff, or almost 3,000 a year. It predicts that this will lead to a proliferation of fixed-term contracts because the present rate of replacement appointments to permanent posts is running at around 1,500 a year.

Of those who saw themselves remaining in academe, 37 per cent predicted that in five years' time they would be at the same institution in the same job.

Less than one in four saw themselves gaining promotion within the same institution. Nearly two in five (39 per cent) thought they would never be offered a senior lectureship or readership either at their present institution or at another British university.

Published work and administrative skills were widely seen as the keys to promotion. Seventy-one per cent (73 per cent in 1989) agreed that promotion was too dependent on published work and too little on devotion to teaching. The union says this may reflect the pressures of the research assessment exercise.

Forty-four per cent (32 per cent in 1989) agreed that promotion was difficult without administrative skills.

The survey reveals 89 per cent of the respondents agreed that academic pay (the AUT puts the average lecturer salary at £26,000) was too low to attract and hold staff of necessary calibre.

The union says that earlier surveys showed similar levels of dissatisfaction.

Nearly 90 per cent said that they would like to do more research but felt they lacked the time necessary. Twenty-two per cent said they were under a lot of pressure, compared with 6 per cent in 1976 and 13 per cent in 1989.

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