Academics well placed to ride out downturn

Academics are well placed to ride out the current economic downturn, new figures on pay and retention of staff in universities and colleges suggest.

The research by university employers found that academics are now well paid compared with other sectors, and jobs in higher education have been relatively secure since 2005.

But the data was collected before the full effects of the credit crunch on the labour market could be considered.

Those on short-term contracts in universities, such as researchers, are still in a potentially precarious position, as universities face tougher financial conditions with less public and private funding available to them.

While this year’s graduates face the toughest battle in a generation for jobs, universities expect to retain more staff as they cling to relatively secure posts. It should also become easier to recruit staff in problem areas, as people in other parts of the economy lose their jobs.

While turnover across all staff groups employed by universities has been relatively low, academics were the least likely to leave the sector – 6% – followed by 7% of technical staff and 8% of administrative or professional staff.

The UK-wide review of higher education over the last three years by the University and College Employers Association, Ucea, found that overall retention difficulties have eased since the last survey in 2005.

Overall, the sector is having relatively few recruitment and retention problems, it concluded, suggesting that universities are a safe haven in difficult economic times. Only 1.8% of institutions reported a “high turnover” of academic staff.

Ucea said the pay rises agreed between staff and employers in 2006 had made the sector a “very attractive” place to work, but union leaders pointed out that universities had opposed the increased wages outright.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “University staff will be unimpressed that Ucea has identified recent pay rises as an attraction for people considering a career in higher education. Those pay rises were opposed at every opportunity by the employers, and would not have been achieved without the strong action taken by UCU members.”

The survey of 114 universities (70% of the total) found that universities and colleges with staffing problems had introduced bonuses, upgraded posts, increased learning and development opportunities, and improved line-management skills to address them.

Universities still have difficulties recruiting staff to particular academic disciplines, but these remain the same as in previous surveys, Ucea said.

These include business and management, accounting, finance and law, where universities find it harder to recruit lecturing staff than professors or researchers. And in 2007-08, it was slightly harder to recruit biological sciences staff but easier to find information technology and computing staff, the report revealed.

Universities find it relatively easy to recruit staff for most support roles, though some reported difficulties in recruiting accountants and finance professionals.

Most institutions said they “sometimes” experience recruitment difficulties for academic, admin and technical staff, but not for clerical and manual staff.

Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea’s chief executive, said: “Ucea is pleased that the survey results show such a positive picture of the higher education labour market overall.

“The combination of the framework agreement changes and the 2006 three-year pay agreement, which delivered increases in excess of 15.9%, have clearly helped to make HE a very attractive sector in which to work.”

While the sector does offer job security, there are concerns that universities will struggle financially in future as the public purse is squeezed. In particular, vice-chancellors have yet to find out what research funding they will receive as a result of December’s research assessment exercise. Universities’ funding allocations for 2009-10 will be announced on 4 March.

(Source: Anthea Lipset

Richard Reid is the founder of Pinnacle Proactive, Specialising in theEmployee Assistance ProgramStress ManagementStaff Retention & Absenteeism. Take a Proactive Approach to Growing Your Organisation & its People. For more info visit


%d bloggers like this: