Evidence emerged today that teaching-only academics suffer greater work-related stress than colleagues who do research.
A poll by the Association of University Teachers shows that 40 per cent of teaching-only staff said work impaired their quality of life to an "unacceptable" level.
By comparison, 38 per cent of staff who teach and research said the level of strain was unacceptable, while just 25 per cent of research-only staff felt that way. Overall, nearly 35 per cent of all academic staff said their quality of life was damaged to an unacceptable level.
The AUT poll raises serious questions about the government's strategy of diversifying higher education, which will, in effect, force many universities and academics to choose between teaching and research.
The survey - conducted by ERS market research - found that 85.9 per cent of all staff believe the link between teaching and research should be retained.
Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: "Perhaps teaching-only staff are feeling particularly disillusioned because they have excessively high teaching and administrative loads, and many of them must feel like they're on a production line.
"Another element must be the huge increase in student numbers that has taken place recently without a corresponding increase in staff. Also, because of the widening of participation in higher education, we now have an eclectic mix of students, with a wide range of abilities and pastoral needs."
The AUT blamed underfunding for creating a stressed-out, demoralised workforce, in which almost a third of staff are considering quitting higher education.
It said that funding per student had been cut by 40 per cent between 1989 and 1999, and that it was still 36 per cent down. Since 1990, the ratio of students to staff has doubled from 9:1 to 18:1.
Ms Hunt said: "Consequently, all staff have experienced a massive increase in workloads. In fact, you could say that workload has increased by about 100 per cent across the board. At the same time, however, pay for university staff has fallen steadily in comparison to similar professions."
The poll found that 26.9 per cent of all staff are thinking about leaving the sector. This rose to 37.5 per cent among staff on fixed-term contracts and up to 41.2 per cent among researchers.
Higher education minister Margaret Hodge was asked about low staff morale and recruitment problems in higher education by former minister Keith Vaz in the House of Commons this week.
Ms Hodge said that although pay levels were a matter for negotiation between employers and staff, the government remained concerned that higher education institutions should be able to recruit, retain and reward the staff.
She said the government's generous funding settlement for higher education included £50 million in 2004-05 and £117 million in 2005-06.
Lecturers' unions have complained that this money will not go towards across-the-board pay rises and will be spent on discretionary, locally determined pay awards to individuals or on bureaucracy.
The AUT said this week that staff had seen less than one-third of previous cash set aside for pay, as universities spent the money on consultants' fees and other non-salary personnel exercises.
The AUT poll also found that academics felt alienated from the decision-making process at their institution. More than 70 per cent of staff said that they considered themselves to have little or virtually no involvement in decisions at their universities.