National-level data should be collected on the well-being of UK university staff, according to a thinktank.
Speaking as the Higher Education Policy Institute published a report on the issue, Rachel Hewitt, the organisation’s director of policy and advocacy, said that it was “shocking” that there was no information publicly available on the well-being of higher education employees.
“If universities are collecting this information, they are not being open about what the results are showing,” Ms Hewitt said. “This is at a time when staff in universities continue to be under pressure, with increasing workloads and insecure contracts rife.
“We need a consistent, public dataset on the well-being of university staff.”
In her report, published on 9 May, Ms Hewitt says that data on well-being would have to be collected by a neutral body, “to avoid politicisation of the collection and results”. She nominates the Higher Education Statistics Agency or the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.
Ms Hewitt says the questions could follow the model used by the Office for National Statistics in surveys of the general population, which asks respondents how satisfied they are, how worthwhile they feel the things they do in their life are and how happy and anxious they felt yesterday.
The paper acknowledges the likely concern that the data could be turned into a league table, but adds that “if we avoided collecting all data because it might feed new league tables and unfavourable headlines, we would end up with no evidence basis for policymaking”.
The Hepi paper also argues that well-being data need to be collected about students and warns against the conflation of mental health and well-being.
Staff and student well-being need to be understood together as both groups are “strengthened by high levels of well-being in the other”, the report says.
“If we are to get a grip on the mental health crisis in universities, we need to be collecting the right information to understand it,” Ms Hewitt said.
“At the moment, statistics on well-being and mental health are often combined, despite these being two separate issues with different ways they can be tackled.
“For universities to take the necessary action to address this issue, they need to better understand what they’re dealing with.”
A Ucea spokesman said that, while the association welcomed Hepi’s report, “we would not see it as a sector body’s role to collect this kind of personal information directly from employees, especially when individual universities are surveying in a myriad of ways already and considerable debate would be needed to identify valid questions in the complex domain of workplace well-being”.
Ucea conducts an annual sickness absence survey which enables institutions to benchmark their performance, the spokesman added.