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Taking action in higher education

Rising class sizes but more time spent on admin than students or research - life as a 21st century lecturer

27 May 2008 | last updated: 14 December 2015

Dealing with 100-250 emails a week, spending over half your time on administration, coping with rising seminar and lecture sizes, but spending less time with students. That's life as a 21st century university lecturer according to survey results released today by UCU.

Polling conducted by the College and University Support Network (CUSN) for UCU on the eve of the union's annual congress has revealed that administration dominates lecturers' workloads. The issue is set to be debated at the Manchester conference with delegates likely to call for more effective guidelines to curtail excessive workloads, and to ensure time for research and scholarship.

The survey* revealed:

  • more than half of lecturers (53.9%) say they spend most of their working week dealing with administration
  • over half of lecturers (53.6%) spend at least 15 hours a week on administration with a quarter (27.4%) devoting more than 25 hours of their working week to the task
  • more than a quarter (28.7%) said they deal with over 250 emails a week and those with 250 or more emails a week said they did just 0-5 hours of research a week, 5-15 hours of teaching, but 25 hours or more of administration
  • over two thirds (71%) reported increases in class sizes at their institution in the last 10 years, but only a quarter (23.4%) said they now spend more time with students than they did a decade ago
  • of the 71% who reported growing class sizes, nearly half (44%) said they were spending less time with students.

The full survey results can be found here. [91kb]

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This survey really details just how outdated the lazy stereotype of lecturers is. The electronic revolution has added to lecturers' workloads and the increase in student numbers is leading to greater class sizes, but less interaction between students and lecturers.

'Universities need to work with us to produce proper guidelines which limit excessive workloads and provide proper autonomy for academics to do research and scholarship. The admin overload issue is top of lecturers' concerns about workloads and employers must act to allow academic staff to get on with their jobs.'

College and University Support Network Chief Executive, Patrick Nash, said: 'An excessive workload is an increasingly troubling phenomenon for staff members in adult, further and higher education, particularly because of ever-greater bureaucratic tasks. In the last 12 months, 11 per cent of calls have been from those worried about their work-life balance; many struggling to cope professionally and emotionally with an unreasonable workload.

"We can offer advice and coaching where it will help but we need a shift in culture that ensures staff members have the time to perform their core responsibilities: teaching, research and bettering standards of education.'

From Wednesday 28 to Friday 30 May, some 400 delegates will gather in Manchester for UCU's annual congress. Confirmed speakers include Bill Rammell MP, minister of state for lifelong learning and further and higher education, and Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, both on Friday.

The full text of all the motions for UCU Congress and the timetable can be found at The relevant workload motions are HE21 and HE22 and will be discussed on Thursday afternoon.

* The polling of 467 people was conducted between 18 April and 19 May 2008. These results relate to only the higher education respondents of which there were 321.