Worldwide Academic Job Satisfaction

Professors in Malaysia and Mexico are more likely than others to be happy; British dons are not.

July 2, 2010

A study of academics in 18 countries has highlighted disparities in the satisfaction levels among university staff around the world.

The International Changing Academic Profession study, results from which were presented at a conference hosted by vice-chancellors group Universities UK in London last week, surveyed academics from countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas about their attitudes to factors such as internationalization and workforce casualization. The UK academics registered the lowest levels of satisfaction, followed by those in Portugal and Australia. The highest levels were recorded in Mexico, followed by Malaysia and Argentina.

Job Satisfaction on Scale of 1-5 by Academics in 18 Countries

2.5 Britain
3 Portugal, Australia, China
3.5 Finland, Hong Kong, Italy, German, South Africa, Korea, Japan, Norway, U.S.
4 Brazil, Argentina
4.5 Malaysia, Mexico

The survey’s British section, which was drawn up by the Center for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) at the Open University, shows that satisfaction in the UK has declined by 2 percentage points since a comparable survey 18 years ago, with the number saying they were satisfied falling from 49 per cent to 47 per cent.
The percentage of UK respondents who said they would not become an academic if they had their time again rose from 20 per cent to 27 per cent. However, the number who said they were actively dissatisfied also declined, from 28 per cent to 15 per cent.

The country’s most satisfied academics were professors over the age of 40, while the least satisfied were the over-40s who were not professors.

William Locke, assistant director of CHERI, told UUK’s Changing Academic Profession conference that those who had been passed over for professorships might feel that their expertise was not being sufficiently recognized. He also pointed out that judgments of satisfaction were multifaceted and depended on individuals’ expectations. "Academics can simultaneously express apparently contradictory views, depending on whether they are talking about institutional and sectoral issues, or their subject and department,” he said.

However, he added, UK academics "do seem more dissatisfied than their international colleagues."

Locke’s research also shows that the amount of time spent by UK academics on teaching during termtime has declined from 20 hours to 15 a week, while the number of hours spent on research outside term has risen from 20 to 25. The proportion of academics whose primary interest is in research has shot up from 15 to 24 per cent of the total.

Despite this trend,Norway, Australia and Italy all had even lower numbers of academics expressing a preference for teaching. The highest preferences for teaching were recorded in Mexico and South Korea, followed by the U.S.

Locke also highlighted an increasing "division of academic labor” and speculated that UK academics who undertake both research and teaching may now be in the minority, as they already are in the U.S.

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