'Unacceptable' harassment claimed by 9% in survey

October 6, 2006

Nearly one in ten staff at the former Luton University believes that they were subjected to "unacceptable" harassment, an internal staff survey has revealed, writes Phil Baty.

The survey, released to a former member of staff under the Freedom of Information Act and passed to The Times Higher , found that 9 per cent of staff reported harassment and bullying in the past two years.

Seven members of staff claimed in the survey that they had experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity.

A spokeswoman for Bedfordshire University, which incorporates Luton, was quick to point out that the consultants who carried out the survey said that 9 per cent "compared favourably" with similar organisations but the University and College Union said that this was no excuse.

Sally Hunt, UCU joint general secretary, said: "Despite everything, the vast majority of our members enjoy their jobs - especially those who work closely with colleagues and students. But universities have to face up to instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination where they occur.

Using the excuse that others have the same problem is simply not acceptable. We know there is an issue in some places, and I would like to see vice-chancellors stop surveying the problem and start dealing with it."

The survey results were reported in 2006 at Luton University, before its merger with the Bedford campus of De Montfort University and its rebranding as Bedfordshire University in the summer. Half of all staff of the former Luton responded.

The overall results showed that staff satisfaction levels have greatly improved since a similar survey in 2003, she said.

Two thirds of staff said they were satisfied with their job, compared with half in 2003. Some 68 per cent were satisfied with their manager, 55 per cent with equality and diversity, and 51 per cent with the workplace, atmosphere and culture. Only 44 per cent expressed "trust and confidence in the leadership of the University", but this was a vast improvement on the 16 per cent in 2003.

The Bedfordshire spokeswoman said that the university was one of the few to run such a survey and that it was a "valuable tool" for monitoring satisfaction and ensuring that policies "reflect the best interests of staff".

She said that while the survey showed clear improvements from 2003, the university was "not complacent" and that it would continue to make improvements.

Of the discrimination claims, she said: "We take pride in the fact that this institution has the most diverse workforce of any university and take seriously such allegations."

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