True cost of academic life

May 10, 1996

Congratulations to my former colleague Tom Wilson for pointing out the facts of academic life regarding workloads and material rewards (Letters, THES, April 19). But why did he, like most others, miss out another salient feature of academic life - we are virtually expected to pay to do our jobs.

No academic in my experience can do her or his job without subscribing to one or more learned societies, and by purchasing books and journals. They need them accessible on their desks to prepare their teaching and underpin their research: library copies, even if bought, are insufficient. Many meet much of the cost of their research themselves (especially incidentals such as travel, eating and sleeping, and copying); many who have to take students on field courses have to find some of the costs too. Some of this can be claimed against tax, but this only cuts the expenditure by 40 per cent at most, and very few have "outside earnings" which compensate. So we are overworked, underpaid, and are in effect charged for doing the job. How many other professionals are in similar situations? Why doesn't the Association of University Teachers survey this aspect of our working conditions (a suggestion I have made on several occasions, to deafening silences)?

The life of an academic has much to commend it, but the material rewards for the majority are not among them. And if the quality of what we do depends on our willingness to subsidise our institutions out of our inadequate salaries, is it any surprise that morale is low and standards are falling? But perhaps MPs will vote us a 30 per cent pay rise too, and fully recompense our employers accordingly!

RON JOHNSTON The Close, Salisbury

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