Teaching downgrade mooted

August 12, 2005

Academics should be allowed to devote more time to research and spend less on teaching and administration to improve recruitment and retention in higher education, ministers have been warned.

A government-commissioned study concludes that academic workloads should be cut and warns that fewer than one in three research students is drawn to the profession by a desire to teach.

The study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) warns that "the introduction of teaching-only and research-only universities (or jobs) would be liable to exacerbate recruitment and retention problems".

Although teaching bright or mature students enhances satisfaction, "increasing the amount of teaching and changes in the nature of teaching (for example increasingly demanding students, a production-line approach) reduces satisfaction", it says.

One of the report's authors, Hilary Metcalf, said that academics could not always see the point of their administrative tasks. "Some of the administration could be removed but some can't be because it is part of teaching - for example assessment - so the alternative would be to spread the teaching over larger staff numbers. So the solution is to provide more funding."

A survey of 2,805 academics found that staff starting their careers worked an average of 43 hours a week: with 23 hours of research, ten hours of teaching, six hours of administration and four hours of other activities. But academics with two years' experience worked an average of 47 hours a week, with 15 hours of teaching, 15 hours of research, 12 hours of administration and five hours of other activities.

The study also surveyed 1,330 research students. It reveals that 30 per cent are "strongly attracted" to the profession by teaching, compared with 63 per cent attracted by research.

The study recommends an increase in pay to improve recruitment and retention, and found that one third of research students were motivated by the desire for a high salary.

But it also calls for greater transparency in performance-related pay and golden handshakes, and warns that staff perceive such financial rewards as "unfair".

Recruitment and Retention of Academic Staff in Higher Education by Ms Metcalf, Heather Rolfe, Philip Stevens and Martin Weale, recommends:

  • Increasing the number of UK PhD students
  • Increasing pay
  • Increasing recruitment of foreign staff
  • Giving researchers more job security
  • Improving career progression.

Andy Pike, of lecturers' union Natfhe, said the study was a "damning indictment of the pay problems affecting the sector".

Jonathan Whitehead, of the Association of University Teachers, said: "At a time when students are paying more for their education, they are going to expect academics who are motivated to teach."

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "The NIESR report should prove useful, in particular in its exploration of what motivates academic staff, who are so key to the success of higher education."

The Science and Technology Select Committee will consider the NIESR report this autumn.

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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