Salary is pathetic and the job sucks

February 7, 2003

Australian academics are frustrated with their jobs, university management and poor salaries, and suffer from high stress and low morale, according to a survey.

Some 2,000 staff in 12 universities were surveyed for their opinions on issues ranging from class sizes and collegiality to academic standards, plagiarism and research.

The survey was commissioned by the federal education department and was conducted by researchers at the Australian National University. It included a web-based questionnaire that attracted hundreds of written comments, and group interviews with academics and managers.

Two out of three respondents said their job satisfaction had decreased, which the report describes as "a serious problem brewing among Australian academic staff".

The authors said the results provided overwhelming evidence that Australian academics were experiencing job dissatisfaction unknown ten or 20 years ago.

One senior lecturer at an Australian university told researchers: "I would be irresponsible to recommend an academic career to my children, able though they are."

An associate professor said: "The job sucks! Pathetic pay and decreasing job satisfaction. Flexible hours and independence in choosing your research areas are the remaining pluses."

An education lecturer said: "My teaching workload is so large there is little opportunity to engage in meaningful research."

The report says pressures on universities to raise funds by enrolling fee-paying students, and by undertaking educational and research work under contract with industry, have taken their toll.

It concludes that academia has been changed by "the great growth in communications and information technology; by a strong change in management styles from the collegial to the managerial; by greatly increased use of casual staff; and by a decline in the relative status, salaries, prestige and general attractiveness of employment as an academic.

"The overall picture is of frustration and disillusionment, to the point where many respondents said they would not recommend an academic career to anyone."

The report refers to "scathing, cynical and abusive comments that suggest there is a serious problem of credibility between academics and university management".

Asked about academic standards, half those surveyed said the standards required for graduation had fallen, while many reported being pressured not to fail too many students and to give more credits and distinctions.

The government has not commented on the report and appears unlikely to respond to its findings. The Labor opposition said the report demonstrated the appalling state of higher education under the conservatives.

Changes in Academic Life: Implications for Universities of the Changing Age Distribution and Work Roles of Academic Life , by Don Anderson, Richard Johnson and Lawrence Saha, is available at www.dest.gov.au/ highered/otherpub/academic_work.pdf

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