The ‘Tertiary Lives’ survey report details that 85% of tertiary staff in Aotearoa feel significant levels of stress, and that management of tertiary institutions expect an “unachievable workload” from staff.
Te Hautū Kahurangi, the Tertiary Education Union recently provided an insight into the impact of COVID-19 on those working in the tertiary education sector. Significant stress levels and an increase in workload have been reported by tertiary staff during the third iteration of the 2021 ‘Tertiary Lives’ survey.
The April/May survey report included a total of 1,021 responses; 615 of these were from universities, 232 from polytechnics, 29 from Wānanga, and 15 from other tertiary institutions. It identifies that one of the key problems faced by tertiary staff is the constant restructuring of their institutions, which was noted to cause stress amongst employees as they felt they no longer had job security. Overall, 85% of tertiary staff involved in the study said they experience moderate to very high levels of stress. Within academics, 90% reported moderate to very high levels of stress, with 47% percent reporting high or very high levels.
A reduction in staff levels has been present throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and has led to what the report describes as an “unachievable workload”. Academics and administration reported that they have been expected to increase their work output despite there being less staff to share workload. Personal statements from the survey described physical exhaustion, burnout, and fear of asking for practical solutions as they did not want to criticise management. Staff across the country revealed that their jobs are under threat and that their working conditions are now a very negative experience.
Tina Smith, TEU Tumu Whakarae, stated in a media release that these issues are all caused by structural failings. “Sadly only 3% of respondents felt management was taking high stress levels seriously”. The report states that there is a disconnect between many management systems and their staff, interpreting their workloads incorrectly and not providing them with wellbeing resources. Smith argues that if sufficient resources cannot be provided to aid staff that allows them an ethical level of wellbeing, then universities may also suffer negative consequences. Smith also said that the processes of restructuring, lack of funding, and the competitive nature of tertiary institutes, were becoming “intertwined to produce a troubled sector”.
The report revealed that the wellbeing of staff can affect student learning within tertiary institutions. When speaking with University of Auckland students, many noted that they could tell lecturers were under more pressure even just through how classes were running. Lecture ‘recycling’ by uploading previously recorded lectures, cancelled office hours, and very slow responses to emails were becoming common themes when lecturers reported to students that it was a busier week for them.
Moving forward, the respondents wanted to see changes in the power hierarchy within institutions, and for management to take further steps to communicate with staff appropriately. Many called for sufficient funding and wellbeing resources to be made available to them to reduce their stress levels and improve work conditions during this lockdown period.