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Stress and academic identities

May 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I was planning to write an article on academics and ‘well being’ today so it is somewhat serendipitous that Twitter gave me a link to an article in Times Higher Education on academic stress.

The article reports on a study by Roland Persson, professor of educational psychology at Sweden’s Jönköping University who has developed a ranking of academic stress in 91 countries. Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland and Malaysia are judged to be relatively stress-free sectors with Chian most successful and UK coming somewhere in the middle.

Professor Persson, ascribes Germany’s success in generating high staff morale and strong job satisfaction among academics to the country’s relative lack of a performance management culture, according to Times Higher.
My article was going to be nothing like so scientific. But I have many friends working in universities sin the UK and am struck how demoralised most of them seem to be.

And Professor Persson’s findings tally with what my friends tell me. He identifies excessive workload as a key driver of stress, alongside a lack of support, understanding and respect from managers. But I think it goes further than that. Universities in the UK are being run as businesses and badly run at that. Tayloristic management was developed for running production lines in car factories. Many modern industries, especially those involved in creative or intellectual work have moved different management paradigms. Yet UK universities now seem to be both excessively hierarchical and at the same time have ado-ted management by target, with targets ever increasing.

Most researchers and teachers I know in universities are dedicated to their students and to their research area. There is a stark culture clash between doing the job in the right way as they see it and a management culture based on cutting costs and generating profit. At heart of this conflict is the identity of teachers and researchers. All that is keeping many of them in their jobs is the lack of alternative.

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