The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) has released the findings of a survey it ran earlier this year – and the results are fairly bleak.
The survey, taken each year in an attempt to measure how the tertiary education sector is going, sees academics answer questions about their experience in the sector.
This year’s survey shows job satisfaction is lower than it has been in previous years. Academics, asked to rank their level of job satisfaction on a one-to-ten scale, averaged 5.1. In addition, 62.3% of them said their level of job satisfaction had declined in the last three years. When asked whether they would recommend their job to someone just starting out in the profession, approximately three-quarters of academics said they would not, or would only do so tentatively. When asked why, most academics cited growing workloads, falling levels of course autonomy, a lack of structures designed to help academics support students, and pressure to meet increasingly demanding performance measures.
These pressures have resulted in questionable practices. Around 40% of academics reported passing or considering passing students who would otherwise have failed due to pressures put upon them by work-related performance goals. A similar number said they were pressured into allowing students without the necessary prerequisites or grades in to courses to bolster class numbers.
Co-author of the report which summarises the TEU’s survey, Sarah Proctor-Thomas, says the pressure is a result of the way funding is structured. She believes the government’s emphasis on handing out funding based on academic performance measures – the number of research papers each institution produces, the quality of these reports, the number of students passing courses – means that institutions are forced to impose rigourous, results-based performance measures on academics.
TEU president Michael Gilchrist agrees. He calls the increase in inappropriate student admissions “a straightforward result of commercial pressure”. “The pressure to pass students might be direct and staff are told to get pass grades up. Or it might be indirect, where if students don’t pass then courses will be withdrawn,” he said. “The last three surveys show the sector relying to an ever increasing extent on the goodwill and dedication of staff. The commitment of staff to the core values of teaching, learning and research are the lifeblood of the sector. But we cannot keep going to that well”.
The TEU’s report concludes that the high levels of dissatisfaction evident in the tertiary education sector come from a disconnect between the values held by academics, and the values promoted by higher-bodies like the government. While many academics are attracted to the job by promises of working independently, working to educate students, and spending more time conducting quality research, their success is measured according to different values: the number of students in a course, the number of students who pass each course, and the amount of research produced. The report contends if job satisfaction rates are to rise, the government needs to do more to ensure its funding structure promotes the values held by tertiary academics.