I'm an academic, and I feel underpaid and over-monitored

By Anonymous academic

I recently voted in yet another ballot on the possibility of industrial action over my university’s staff pay offer. This time around, I can’t believe that I am having to prepare to fight for recognition of the value of my work again. It feels doubly unfair since I’m surrounded by colleagues who don’t have to prove their worth over and over. It strikes me that we need to start asking serious questions about why academics are subject to so much more scrutiny and surveillance than their administrative peers.

When I joined my current university, I was appointed at a similar time and to a similar pay grade as an acquaintance. But there was one crucial difference: my role was academic, his was not.

The differences in our experiences were apparent from the very beginning. While I was required to engage in a gruelling two-day recruitment process that involved multiple presentations, meetings and a dinner before I reached the final interview, my colleague was appointed after speaking to three people for around 40 minutes.

I have since been through continuous internal and external appraisals of my work, while he has completed an annual appraisal and is largely able to get on with his work unchallenged.

He was then promoted without question by his boss to a newly-created role at a higher grade in a completely different part of the institution.

Despite having written a well-reviewed book, I find myself still awaiting the outcome of a promotion application which began months ago. It involved months of work and has been through four levels of scrutiny, just so I can gain pay and recognition for doing many of the things I already do. If I sound angry and disillusioned, that’s because I am. Why has this gap in our experiences of professional life been permitted to grow?

To address it, the government should look at universities’ swelling spend on the salaries of this growing class of high-grade administrative staff, and how this contrasts with the steady decline in real wages for their lecturers. This would be the best way to really defend the student interest.

Recent campaigns against the salaries of vice-chancellors have been helpful in this respect. But they have also distracted us from burgeoning bureaucracy by focusing on individuals rather than institutions. In my own university there are now more non-academics at the highest grade than academics and unlike their academic colleagues, those in administrative functions are paid bonuses related to the performance of the institution. This has compounded an already stark sense of division.

Furthermore, the scale and speed of administrative recruitment seems to have brought in staff with a limited understanding of academic labour. Our university’s HR department, for instance, views our contracts as part-time since our lectures are often not timetabled until 10am, and sometimes finish at 3pm. But this ignores the fact that academics do far more work than their timetabled hours suggest.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post from a friend of a friend on social media, who had just got his first administrative job in a university. One respondent joked: “You’ll be vice-chancellor before you know it!” A few years ago, I would have laughed along.

But now I wonder whether we might soon see a vice-chancellor who has no academic credentials at all? I worry that if we allow universities to be increasingly run by bureaucrats, they will become less and less places for the generation of new knowledge. Surely this is a the kind of reputational concern that the government should be addressing?

Some details have been changed.

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