The average academic is working unpaid for the equivalent of two days every week, says a new study on the growth of “unreasonable, unsafe and excessive” workloads.
Academic staff work an average of 50.9 hours per week, according to the latest University and College Union workload survey, Workload is an Education Issue. The study is based on responses from about 12,100 university staff, most of whom work full time.
This means that academics work on average 13.4 hours – almost two days – more than the normal 37.5 hour working week, and work in excess of the 48 hour maximum recommended by the European Working Time Directive.
Senior academic staff work even longer hours on average, says the report, which was published at the UCU’s congress, held in Liverpool from 1 to 3 June.
Professors work 56.1 hours on average and principal research fellows 55.7 hours, although there is also a culture of long hours, often unpaid, among many early career academics, says the report.
One in six academics aged 25 or under work 100 or more hours each week when part-time appointments are adjusted to their full-time equivalent, it adds.
The vast majority of staff (83 per cent) also say that the pace or intensity of workload has increased over the past three years, with only 14 per cent reporting that their workload is not heavier.
Adam Price, professor in the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, told congress that the UCU’s findings were borne out by studies of official timesheet data at his university compiled by the local branch.
“I work 55 hours a week and began to think ‘this is not normal’, but it is normal,” said Professor Price.
Other delegates said that the introduction of new technology has increased their workload as they are now expected to put together packages of online materials for students in addition to their existing duties.
Ron Mendel, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Northampton, said the extra work generated by this type of technologically enhanced teaching has a “deleterious effect on workload, professional well-being and [staff’s] professional lives”.
According to the workload survey, some 13 per cent – about one in eight respondents – feel they work “unreasonable, unsafe and excessive hours”, while 29 per cent say their workload is “unmanageable” all or most of the time. Two-thirds (66 per cent) say it is unmanageable at least half the time.
On the activities that now consume much more of their time than three years ago, teaching and research staff most often cite departmental administration (51 per cent), while student-related administration is mentioned by 45 per cent and departmental meetings by 31 per cent.
Some 28 per cent of academics say their marking load has increased significantly, while 26 per cent say they carry out much more pastoral care for students than in 2013.
The long hours culture is far less prevalent among professional and support staff, although the average 42.4 hour working week reported indicates these employees also undertake significant amounts of unpaid overtime, the report suggests.