Survey shows changing face of university work

University corridors are no longer a traditional haven of job security, however a gender divide continues to infiltrate the university workplace, extensive new research has confirmed.

The Work and Careers in Australian Universities Survey also shows that heavy workloads are a concern for academic staff. Over half the sessional teaching staff would like a continuing academic job, but believe they have little chance of getting this.

“The data gathered in this study will help to inform and shape the future of the Australian university sector as it engages with a new wave of change, triggered partly by electronic advancements and emerging opportunities in online education,” Professor Glenda Strachan from Griffith Business School said.

Glenda Strachan

Almost 22,000 members of staff at 19 Australian universities were surveyed, making it the most comprehensive and revealing survey of its kind to date. Three key groups were surveyed from August to December 2011: Academic staff, Professional and General staff, and Sessional Teaching staff.

“The work positions of almost half of those surveyed can be described as insecure, with fixed-term contracts starting to take over from continuing positions,” Professor Strachan said. “Traditionally, universities have been regarded as places of job security and that seems to be changing.”

Professor Strachan teamed up with fellow Griffith researchers, Professor David Peetz, Associate Professor Janis Bailey and Dr Kaye Broadbent, and with Professor Gillian Whitehouse from the University of Queensland as chief investigators on the ARC Linkage Grant project.

“An ongoing pattern of gender segregation was observed for all university workers and across disciplines. We found women are less likely than men to reach senior and management positions,” Professor Strachan, deputy head of Griffith’s Department for Employment Relations and Human Resources said.

“We can say that professional and general staff in university are highly credentialed. The majority want to remain employed in the university sector and progress in the university sector, but many don’t think they are likely to get to a position they believe they are qualified to hold.”

Professor Strachan described the survey as “important and timely” and highlighted its extensive reach. “Whereas previous surveys focused solely on academic staff, this study also takes into account the views of the general and professional staff that make up such a significant proportion of the workforce.”

Key Findings:

Professional/General staff

  • Men are more likely than women to occupy management positions.
  • 28% are employed on a fixed term contract.
  • Staff are satisfied with their jobs and their balance between work and home life.
  • Only 15% of staff would like to work outside the university sector.
  • More than a third believes their job classification is lower than it should be.
  • Findings suggest that attention is needed for professional development.
  • Only one third are confident they will achieve a higher position at their current university.
  • One in three experienced workplace harassment in the past five years.

Academic staff

  • 44% are employed on a fixed-term contract.
  • Men are more likely to work in science than women.
  • More than half of full-time staff works more than 50 hours per week.
  • 49% say research expectations are unrealistic.
  • One third say teaching expectations are unrealistic.
  • Two-thirds of staff would prefer more time for research.
  • Further investigation into professional development for this group is warranted.
  • 69% are satisfied with their jobs.
  • Less than 10% are likely to leave their job voluntarily.
  • One in three experienced workplace harassment in the past five years.

Sessional Teaching staff

  • In 2011 about two in five staff had an employment arrangement of 12 weeks or less.
  • One-fifth of sessional staff work at more than one institution.
  • One third had received no induction or professional development.
  • While 54% would like a continuing academic position, less than one third expect it.

To see full report, click here.