Unhappy campus: heaven knows we're miserable now

Compared with global peers, UK academics are most negative about work. Paul Jump reports

July 1, 2010

British academics are less satisfied in their work than their peers in 18 other countries surveyed for an international report.

The international Changing Academic Profession study - the British section of which was drawn up by the Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (Cheri) at The Open University - surveyed academics from countries across Europe, Asia and the Americas about their attitudes to factors such as internationalisation and workforce casualisation.

Results presented at a Universities UK conference last week show that UK academics registered the lowest levels of satisfaction. The highest levels were recorded in Mexico, followed by Malaysia and Argentina.

Satisfaction in the UK has also declined by 2 percentage points since a comparable survey 18 years ago: the number saying they were satisfied fell from 49 to 47 per cent.

The percentage of UK respondents who said they would not become an academic if they had their time again rose from 20 to per cent. However, the number who said they were actively dissatisfied also dropped, from 28 to 15 per cent.

The most satisfied British academics were professors over the age of 40; the least satisfied were the over-40s who were not professors.

William Locke, assistant director of Cheri, told UUK's Changing Academic Profession conference that those who had been passed over for professorships might feel that their expertise was not being recognised.

He also noted that judgements of satisfaction were multifaceted and linked to expectations. "Academics can simultaneously express apparently contradictory views depending on whether they are talking about institutional and sectoral issues, or their subject and department."

His research also shows that the amount of time UK academics spent on teaching during term-time has fallen from 20 to 15 hours a week, while the number of hours spent on research outside term has risen from 20 to 25. The proportion of academics whose primary interest is in research has grown from 15 to 24 per cent of the total.

Despite this trend, Norway, Australia and Italy all had even lower numbers of academics expressing a preference for teaching. The highest preferences for teaching were recorded in Mexico and South Korea, followed by the US.

Mr Locke also highlighted an increasing "division of academic labour", and speculated that UK academics doing both research and teaching may now be in the minority, as they already are in the US.

Meanwhile, a survey of scientists from 16 countries published in last week's edition of Nature placed the satisfaction level of UK scientists in the middle range. The happiest scientists were in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, according to the study; the least happy were in Japan, China and India.


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