Researcher Dr Charles Sedgwick discusses the results of the latest TEU survey which asked members how they were managing work and home life during lockdown.

TEU has just completed its latest survey of staff in the sector in some of the most challenging times, one could imagine. Within a few weeks, TEU members experienced almost instant lock-down and a complete switch to online teaching and learning. Despite the opinion of some upper level management this has NOT been a ‘holiday’ for staff and has in fact upped stress levels considerably and alarmed many about the foresight of their institution’s leaders.

The phrase ‘work life balance’ became redundant overnight as online learning meant revamping courses, assignments, assessment and student contact. Continuing work from the dining room table with children and partners who were also in the online space became the daily challenge for many. Collegial contact reduced to nil, but managerial emails abounded with everything from supportive advice and concern, to threats of redundancy, pay cuts and monitoring of staffs’ online presence.

In the midst of this over 800 staff responded to a brief TEU survey to gauge the current situation and to gauge staff reaction and needs as we change to Alert Level 3.

The survey is largely open-ended questions except for two scaled questions about stress levels and support from their institutions. Open ended questions require respondents to take time to describe their situations, feelings and concerns. The results are not only well thought out and balanced responses, but clearly highlight the extent of an often unguided and unsupported online experience under trying conditions.

Staff were keen to offer positive comments about genuine support from line managers and those close to their units and programmes. But they are also very critical of the mistaken, mixed, contradictory and arbitrary decisions communicated daily from higher up. There were instances of institutions distrusting staff by monitoring their online presence and warning them that this should be a productivity ‘as usual’ situation.

A particular contribution to stress, on top of worrying about family infection in Aotearoa or in their community, were the ‘business as usual’ statements, warnings of coming financial problems and ongoing restructuring and redundancy plans.

Despite all this, concern for students’ wellbeing, demanding they must receive a good education, as well as concern for colleagues were high on staff’s agendas. Staff insist it is important that future tertiary education is planned properly with genuine input from staff in all cases. Staff insist there must be adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), thought-out health and safety provisions for everyone, and a well organised cleaning capability in all institutions if they are to be opened for class in the coming weeks.

It should be re-assuring to New Zealanders that their tertiary education staff are prepared to be the next frontline as we try to recover from this pandemic and that concern for their students remains a top priority.

TEU will be sharing the survey results with members, employers, the Tertiary Education Commission and Ministry of Education, to inform their ongoing planning and approach to COVID-19.

Look out for the survey results and share with us any ways that we can look after each other at this time, and how we can collectively achieve a better future.