Stress alert at Moray House

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Union leaders at Moray House School of Education believe they have uncovered "really quite devastating" levels of stress and poor management.

But the survey, among members of the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Association of University Teachers, has provoked an inter-union spat.

The AUT said in a circular to members at the school this week that the EIS summary was "distorted."

The survey attracted just 42 responses from 150 staff, a quarter of whom said they could find no fault with management actions or inactions. The EIS insists, however, that the 42 who replied were predominantly course and programme leaders.

"Stress is a problem for almost all, and increasing," the EIS report states. "Almost all feel that the employer has not shown reasonable concern."

Workload was cited as the main factor behind stress, with 28 ranking it as critical or significant. The same number also placed inadequate staffing in those two categories. Poor management was blamed as a contributory factor.

Bullying was mentioned by 11 members of staff.

The signs of stress are said in the union's report to be "widespread and serious".

More than half of those who took part in the survey said they suffered from strain, headaches, stomach upsets, irritability, forgetfulness, sleep disturbance and a need to drink to relax - although some described these symptoms as occasional rather than frequent.

Pamela Munn, head of the school, which is part of Edinburgh University, said: "Any senior manager in a university has to be concerned about workload and stress."

But Professor Munn conceded that, while the survey may have drawn on an "unrepresentative sample", some of the findings reflected a broader problem in the higher education sector. A survey by the AUT across the UK found half of lecturers who responded reported borderline levels of psychological stress and one in five was subject to "unacceptable behaviour" such as bullying.

"We know that HE has been underfunded and the unit of resource has been squeezed, the inevitable consequence of which is that people have been," she said.

The EIS commentary notes, however, that the quality of the Moray House management was questioned 56 times in the responses. Respondents cited a failure to establish equitable workloads and accusations that it is "remote" and presiding over a "culture of blame".

There are also indications in the report that the "university culture" is not playing well with those whose job is to train teachers. "A large majority feel that the university's overwhelming priority is research, often at the expense of teaching, and that this is out of proportion," it states.

"Many feel that teaching quality is being compromised by this, and by a determination to save money regardless of the impact on students and staff".

Yet the management is also urged to "assist staff to pursue research".

The EIS report says that the "ambition to be an elite research institute is out of proportion to the other roles of a university".

Asked what the Moray House management should do to improve its standing in the eyes of lecturers, those who replied to the survey said it should become less remote, improve consultation, value teaching and resource it properly, monitor staff workload and engage in better planning.

"Respondents perceive management as concerned about education but inefficient, remote, ad hoc, exerting undue pressure on staff, secretive and without a clear vision," the EIS comments.

There were some discordant voices, however. "This seems a rather biased survey," one professor said.

"I am sure management is capable of being all of these at one time or another, but is this a statement about management or about the people holding the perceptions?" asked a head of department.

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