Stress stalks university workers

May 1, 1998

TOO MANY changes have taken place in higher education, putting pressure on staff and damaging the service to students, according to a report into stress in the sector.

A survey of 2,000 members of the Association of University Teachers, to be published next month, found more than half believed recent changes had been unnecessary, damaging and made universities less efficient.

Nearly a quarter of respondents reported suffering from a stress-related illness severe enough to warrant time off in the past year.

"The majority of staff surveyed feel strongly that the level of service they are able to provide to students has declined and will continue to do so under present conditions," the report states.

Bullying and intimidatory management had become more common, according to 40 per cent of those surveyed. Many felt growing emphasis on performance indicators had damaged quality.

Just under a quarter of all staff said they regularly worked more than 55 hours per week, with teaching staff putting in the longest hours. Nearly half of the teaching staff reported working more than 50 hours per week and 13 per cent regularly worked more than 60. Well over half said a fifth of their work was done during evenings and weekends.

Administrative, library and computer staff reported the lowest levels of psychological well-being.

Nearly all respondents said pressure to publish had increased and 81 per cent had felt obliged to do more research and consultancy.

The report calls for cuts in academic red tape, more formalised working hours and conditions, more open and skilled management, reduced departmental and institutional competition, higher pay, less emphasis on performance indicators and, above all, stability.

On the positive side, nearly all university staff said they had a good relationship with their students and nearly three-quarters found their jobs rewarding.

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "Our survey demonstrates a management crisis in many institutions, where hard-working and committed staff feel ever less valued, where job satisfaction is falling and where the worst features of management attitudes - bullying and intimidation - are perceived as increasing."

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