Academics’ career prospects increasingly uncertain
MAY BE PUBLISHED ON WEDNESDAY 14 JUNE 2017 AT 10:30 A.M.
The latest member survey conducted by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers paints a harsh picture of how the atmosphere around academic work has deteriorated. Layoffs at universities have resulted in unreasonable workloads falling on the remaining employees.
Of all Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers members, one in four state they have been unemployed in the past two years. In the 2010 survey, one in six (16%) members had been unemployed in the past two years, while in the 2013 survey, the ratio was one in five (19%). In addition, unemployment periods have become longer. In the most recent survey, the average length of an unemployment period was 10.5 months, while in the 2013 survey, the period was 1.5 months shorter.
An academic career consists of short-term work. Of all union members working at universities, 58% have a fixed-term employment contract. The result was only one percentage point lower than in the previous member survey. The number of permanent contracts has increased among teaching staff, but decreased among researchers. Even holding the title of Docent is no guarantee of a permanent contract at a university: only one third of academics with the title of Docent have permanent contracts.
- “Why are universities so reluctant to hire researchers permanently? It seems likely the answer lies in bad personnel policy and lack of competence in human resources management,” state Antero Puhakka, Doctor of Social Sciences, and Juhani Rautopuro, Doctor of Education, authors of the Kauas urat karkaavat survey report.
Uncertainty about the fate of one’s job has become more common. More than one in three (35%) of employees with permanent contracts felt their jobs were at risk. In the previous survey, the equivalent figure was 27%. As many as 61% of members working at universities felt their jobs were at risk.
More teaching staff, as soon as possible
The numerous cooperation negotiations and layoffs at universities are clearly visible in the results of the union’s latest survey. The reduced number of employees has resulted in unreasonable workloads falling on the remaining employees. For some, administration and teaching take all the available work time, with no time left for research.
Of all researchers and teachers, 46% stated they were under a great deal or extreme stress at the moment of replying. Especially for researchers, the long time span of the surveys indicates that workloads are constantly increasing. Members working at universities experience more work-related stress than their colleagues at research institutes.
Fixed-term contracts, uncertainty about the employment relationship and obtaining funding were named as the most important causes of work-related stress.
Applying for funding has become the fourth task that takes up an enormous amount of resources.
Increasing staff is clearly experienced as the most significant way to improve one’s well-being at the work place: 40% of the respondents considered it the most important means. The answers show an increase of nearly 10 percentage points compared to the previous survey. Among teachers, in particular, the difference to the previous survey is shocking: in the 2013 survey, 40% of teachers felt that increasing staff would improve their well-being, while the portion in the latest survey is up to 60%.
Despite everything, two thirds (66%) are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. The atmosphere in the work communities seems to have improved slightly compared to the earlier surveys.
I find my work meaningful, but there is too much of it. The requirements set for research, teaching and funding applications are completely unrealistic for just one person.
Foreign employees even more likely to have fixed-term contracts
The international members who responded to the survey were less satisfied with their universities than the Finnish respondents. Foreign academics were far more likely to work under fixed-term contracts than their Finnish colleagues – as many as 82% of them had fixed-term contracts. In addition, a far greater portion of them felt that the fixed-term contract often or constantly caused harmful levels of work-related stress.
Three out of four foreign respondents had experienced uncertainty concerning their livelihood in Finland. Language and culture had posed problems for 69%. As universities are constantly becoming more international, it seems strange that more than half of the foreign respondents had inadequate information about the working conditions.
A lot of stress to push the boundaries of know, teach and inspire. It would be great if we wouldn’t have to worry about the money and the future.
- “Nearly one half of the foreign respondents do not feel like they are a part of the work community. If universities are truly looking to become more international, integrating foreign employees to universities must be made a priority and good working conditions must be ensured,”says Eeva Rantala, General Manager of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers.
The seventh member survey of the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers was conducted in November 2016. A total of 6,755 survey questionnaires were posted to members. Answers were received from 1,906 members, with a final response rate of 28%. 300 members answered to the survey online. The response rate, 28%, was the same as in the previous survey conducted in 2013.
Eeva Rantala, General Manager, Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, +358 (0)40 7508 284
Antero Puhakka, Doctor of Social Sciences, +358 400 646 382