Academics have a shorter working week, more annual leave and better parental benefits than employees elsewhere in the public and private sectors, according to new research. It also found that their pensions and sick pay tend to be better.
A study of 109 universities by Income Data Services for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association found that 55 per cent did not specify how many hours their academic staff should work each week. Where working hours were specified, the median working week was 36 hours, with academics expected to put in 35 hours a week at pre-1992 universities.
According to IDS database, the median working week for staff in private companies and public-sector organisations is 37 hours.
The report says that staff at post-1992 universities have 35 days' annual leave, compared with 30 days at pre-1992 institutions and 25 days at organisations across the rest of the economy. Most academics have up to four days' extra leave at Christmas and Easter, it says.
More than 90 per cent of respondents provide more than the minimum statutory maternity pay, compared with 15 per cent in the whole economy, while three quarters of institutions surveyed provide paternity leave or pay above statutory requirements.
University staff also fare well in terms of pension contribution rates and sick pay, the report says.
Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea chief executive, said universities provided "among the better employment conditions when compared to the whole economy". The figures from the survey would allow institutions to benchmark their provisions, she added.
But the University and College Union challenged the findings on working hours. Sally Hunt, the general secretary, said: "Ucea member institutions may have provided information on contracted hours, but this blatantly disregards the actual hours worked each week by academics and paints a misleading picture."
Surveys over the past 40 years had consistently shown academics working on average 50 hours a week or more, she said. "Year after year, education professionals feature at the top of the Trades Union Congress's table of unpaid overtime."
Ms Hunt added that pay in higher education had only just begun to catch up with that of comparable professions.
In a separate fact sheet due to be released at Ucea's summer reception this week, the organisation said that in 2007-08 higher education staff had received pay increases totalling at least 6 per cent, which was "much higher than in other parts of the public sector".
In the coming academic year higher education staff will see their pay increase by the sum equivalent to the retail price index inflation figure for September, which is currently above 4 per cent.
Sheila Gupta, chair of the Universities Personnel Association, said: "While we've still got a long way to go in some respects, our sector has made great progress in rewarding and developing our staff."
Gail Kinman, reader in occupational psychology at the University of Bedfordshire, said the Ucea findings should be considered alongside recent national surveys that found that employees in higher education suffered higher levels of stress than employees in other groups.
"To fulfil the demands of their work, many employees are working far in excess of their contractual obligations," she said. Holiday entitlement may be comparatively generous, but many academics fail to use it in full, she added.
A survey of 6,000 staff at ten universities published this week by Quality of Working Life (QoWL), a company spun off from the University of Portsmouth, found that 66 per cent of respondents were happy with their working conditions, compared with 58 per cent of National Health Service workers. But only 56 per cent of university staff said they were content with their job and their prospects at work, compared with 60 per cent of NHS staff.
QoWL found that satisfaction with working conditions varied by 24 per cent between high and low-scoring universities.
"Academic staff tended to report higher stress, lower job satisfaction and a poorer work-life balance than other occupational groups," says the QoWL report, Benchmarking Quality of Working Life in UK Universities 2007-08.
The report says that female staff, younger staff, those with less than one year's service and part-time staff reported a higher quality of working life. The least satisfied were those with between six and ten years' service and those working more than 50 hours a week.
- The University and College Union fears that it may be derecognised at Nottingham Trent University.
Under changes to the current recognition agreement proposed by the university, union representatives would have to be employed within the same colleges as the members they represent. Paid time off for union duties would be reduced, and new consultative arrangements would be imposed.
Colin Bryson, the union's branch secretary, said: "The university is on the brink of derecognising the UCU ... Management have stated that ... if we do not accede to their proposals, they will give notice of termination of the current agreement."
A university spokesperson said: "We have given categorical assurances that we do not intend to derecognise the UCU. Agreement has been reached with Unison and the GMB, and we have met the UCU on six separate occasions to try to address concerns."
IN WORKING LIFE, ACADEMICS HAVE AN EDGE
According to the study of 109 universities by Income Data Services for Ucea:
- Of institutions with specified contractual hours of work, academics have a median basic working week of 36 hours, compared with 37 hours for most other organisations; 55 per cent of institutions have no specified contractual hours of work for academic staff;
- Academics' median annual leave entitlement is 35 days, above the 25-day median for the whole economy;
- Maternity pay at 94 per cent of institutions is above the minimum statutory entitlements, compared with 15 per cent in the economy;
- Paternity leave or pay is above the statutory requirements at three quarters of institutions;
- Higher education compares favourably with other workplaces in terms of sick-pay duration, rates and eligibility requirements, according to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.