Third of academics want to quit

Rebecca Smithers, education correspondent

Monday March 10, 2003
The Guardian

Nearly one in three of Britain's university academic and teaching staff is seriously considering quitting the profession, because of a growing workload and poor pay, according to a new survey out today. Eight out of 10 oppose top-up fees.

The workforce is under-paid, stressed-out, demoralised and demotivated, the Association of University Teachers shows. Nearly half the academics said morale had worsened in the past two years, while an overwhelming majority complained that they suffered from work-related stress.

The news will be a blow to the government, which is relying on academics to implement a series of wide-ranging reforms to higher education. The survey is the first snapshot of the views of academics since the government published its long-delayed white paper on higher education in January.

Last week, both teachers and vice chancellors expressed concern about the financial settlement universities received from the higher education funding council for England, with many institutions getting less money for teaching, supposedly their core activity. The funding council will publish a paper on the future of higher education on Wednesday.

Among the main findings of the survey revealed today, 26.9% of academics - representing nearly 43,000 individual staff members - said they were "fairly seriously" contemplating a career change, while 46% said morale had worsened in the past two years. On pay, 72% were dissatisfied, while 66% were unhappy with staffing levels in their area of work. The workload attracted a very negative response - 86% felt it was heavy, and 80% thought it had increased in the past two years.

An overwhelming majority, 93%, said they suffered from workplace stress and 62% from "excessive" stress. On this issue, 81.7% said work impaired the quality of their life.

The government wants to break the link between teaching and research in order, it claims, to let universities excel in areas they are best at. But 85.9% of academics believe the link should be retained.

On funding, 81% opposed top-up fees, while 90% felt that additional income for higher education should come from taxation. Only 36% felt they could recommend working in higher education to an undergraduate.

The AUT's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "This survey should start a few alarm bells ringing in government circles. It clearly shows that university staff are feeling underpaid, stressed and demotivated. The government wants the UK's academic and academic-related staff to implement its reform agenda, and yet most of them feel ignored and under-valued.

"The fact that more than 40,000 are fairly seriously considering leaving the sector is not surprising - it shows how much work has to be done to get staff back on board. One thing to which people feel particularly averse is the government's proposal to break the link between teaching and research, which many people feel is the defining characteristic of a university."

She said it was vital that subjects were taught within a research environment, and that academic staff at less well-known institutions had the chance to do research, if the flow of future researchers from less-established institutions was to continue.

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