Around four in 10 university employees feel unable to make their voices heard within their institutions, according to preliminary findings from the first Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey.
Analysis of the first 2,300 responses to the survey, which is still open to all university employees, reveals that 37 per cent disagree with the statement: “I can make my voice heard within my university.”
The figure rises to 56 per cent when including those who neither agree nor disagree.
“There is de facto no meaningful management at an everyday level,” says one senior lecturer at a university in the South West of England. “Shop-floor problems such as too few teaching staff are usually ignored by managers and dealt with by staff ad hoc.
“There is almost no meaningful forward planning beyond thinking about the needs of [the research excellence framework], or branding issues such as the National Student Survey.”
A respondent from another institution, who works as an IT technician, sums up the concerns of many respondents, saying: “Communication between staff and senior management tends to be a bottleneck in both directions. Senior management makes all the right noises – but never checks that it is happening in practice.”
However, although many employees appear to feel overlooked by their institution’s hierarchy, the vast majority enjoy working with their peers. Just 6 per cent say they do not, with some 47 per cent “strongly agreeing” when asked if they enjoy working with their immediate colleagues.
“My department is particularly good at supporting early career academics. I have worked at other institutions where levels of exploitation are appalling but [my department] is especially sensitive to the needs of [such] staff and proactive in ensuring they get the support and career development they need,” says one academic at a Russell Group university.
A professor at a 1994 Group institution adds: “My line manager is an excellent, responsive, can-do sort of person who really cares about his academic colleagues. My department has really good morale.”
The Best University Workplace Survey is open to all UK higher education staff. John Gill, THE’s editor, said: “The larger the number of people that participate in the survey, the more detailed will be the picture that we piece together about working life in our universities.
“Our intention in this first year of the survey is simply to get an idea of the areas in which universities are performing well as employers, and those where they need to do more.”