Victorian academics unhappy at work

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Nearly half of the State of Victoria’s academics are unhappy with their jobs and blame mounting administration and corporatisation in the workplace, according to new research.

A study by Dr James Doughney from Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Economic Studies and Dr Nick Fredman from Melbourne University’s LH Martin Institute found dissatisfaction among academics had reached “troubling levels” and was on the rise.

“Australian academics don’t generally appear to be satisfied with their work, and seem particularly unhappy with their senior managements,” Dr Doughney said.

The survey of 1,400 academics from the state’s nine universities explored managerial culture, workloads, work status and self-perceived productivity and showed more than 40 per cent were dissatisfied with their job.

More than 60 per cent of academics were dissatisfied with senior management, while 65 per cent were unhappy with higher education policy directions, saying the sector was “more focused on the bottom line” than student outcomes.

But the findings suggest managerial change can be positive rather than negative.

“Many higher education teaching and research staff appear happy to work more productively, but not if they see the aim as profit-driven instead of pedagogical and intellectual,” Dr Doughney said.

More than 70 per cent said they had a bigger workload now than two to five years ago, yet just 10 per cent thought university’s provided a better standard of education now than two to five years ago.

Dr Doughney said there was clear frustration at having to negotiate an increasingly private-sector business approach to their job and spending more time on administration.

“There is a broad feeling that marketisation has not delivered the promised freedom and flexibility, but further bureaucratisation and control, as well as increasing pressures to work harder,” he said.

Dr Doughney said the shift in higher education towards a more market-orientated industry began with Labor reforms in 1987. Howard government funding cuts from 1996 led to further changes in management practice and purpose, he said.

Meanwhile, the future of increased contestability in higher education could lead to more discontent, with 72 per cent of academics believing change was not handled well at their university.

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