Evidence shows a ‘crisis of staff well-being’ has engulfed tertiary education under National and is harming students

Posted By TEU on Mar 29, 2017 | 3 comments


Staff at tertiary education institutions are experiencing higher levels of stress, unsustainable workloads and are feeling more alienated from their jobs compared to a decade ago and reforms introduced by the National government are to blame, the results of a report published today by the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) show.

Findings in Education Under Pressure report suggest that reforms introduced by National have increased pressure on staff to change grades, dedicate less time to teaching and change admission rules, all of which lead to lower education outcomes for students. Overall the report shows that, since coming to power, National has presided over a period of rapidly declining staff well-being in tertiary education making the sector one of the most highly stressed in New Zealand.

Publication of the report comes one week after the Productivity Commission concluded that National’s approach to tertiary education has not worked and is failing to serve the needs of students, staff and local communities.

Findings in the TEU report show that in the last ten years:

  • The pressure to pass a higher percentage of students to meet government targets has become worse for 63 percent of over 1,000 survey respondents
  • The pressure to dedicate less time to teaching has become worse for 55 per cent of respondents
  • Support for improving staff well-being has become worse for 70 percent of respondents and one-third of staff who took part in the survey say they no longer feel able to support student well-being
  • Reported stress levels have increased to seven out of 10, where 10 represents extreme stress – significantly higher than the average New Zealander who has a stress level of 5.5 according to recent research.

The report’s findings provide a stark warning about the future risks to the sector as National plans to continue rolling out its market-based agenda. Legislation recently introduced by Tertiary Education Minister, Paul Goldsmith, would extend the reforms that both the TEU and Productivity Commission’s reports show are failing staff and students.

Commenting on the findings, Sandra Grey, TEU national president, said:

“Staff in the tertiary education sector are dedicated to their jobs and expect to work hard, but they should not have to sacrifice their well-being to the job. I speak to far too many members who are exhausted from the constant stress and feel that they have no say in how their institutions are run.

If staff are going to give our students the best possible education, they need to feel supported and be given time to be human away from their jobs, rather than constantly struggling under the weight of impossible demands imposed on them by National.

“We can see from this report that over the past decade the partnership between tertiary education staff and the National government has broken down to the point where the sector is now engulfed in a crisis of staff well-being. If there is one lesson we can take from this report it’s that we must deal with the root cause of declining staff well-being. This includes ending National’s failed experiment to make competition and profit the driving forces of tertiary education, rather than staff and students.”

Cat Pausé, TEU women’s vice president, said:

“The findings that show staff are experiencing unsustainable workloads is particularly worrisome for women staff, who already do a great deal of work that isn’t recognised, such as tending to the emotional needs and concerns of students. Women in the sector have to deal with enormous pressure from increasing workloads, while also trying to ensure the well-being of students.”

Phil Edwards, TEU industrial and professional vice president, said:

“What concerns me is that the low-levels of well-being shown in this report will only get worse as National cut even more funding to tertiary education and seek to reform the sector to put profits ahead of students. A significant cause of stress and declining well-being is the feeling that staff are losing control of their workloads. Every institution can take a huge step towards addressing this by involving staff in decisions that impact on them. Successfully tackling the issues this report identifies isn’t just about individuals, it’s about addressing the problems National’s reforms have caused right across the tertiary education system.”

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