Four in five university staff struggling with mental health during pandemic

Abby Ashley-Gardner reports on the findings of a survey carried out by the UCU, in which it outlines that four in five members of university staff are struggling with their mental health during the pandemic

Abby Ashley-Gardner
17th March 2021
Image: Flickr
The University and College Union (UCU) has found that university and college members of staff are suffering from poor mental health and struggling with increased workloads due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over 12 000 lecturers and professional services staff at universities and further education colleges were surveyed by the UCU. 

The survey, published in The Guardian, found that more than half (57.5%) of those asked claimed that their workload had increased a lot, whilst more than one fifth (23.3%) were working a bit harder. 

In addition, the results show that nearly two-thirds (63%) of staff were unhappy with the level of support they had received from their employers, and more than a fifth (22%) were not receiving access to mental health advice. 

Those in marginalised groups including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people, LGBTQ+ members and disabled employees were all more likely to report higher workloads and subsequent stress.

More than a quarter (26%) of staff at universities and nearly half (46%) at further education colleges also reported that they did not feel safe at work because of coronavirus. The survey was carried out in December, shortly after the second lockdown. 

With spiralling stress levels and unmanageable workloads, the current situation is simply not sustainable

Jo Grady, General Secretary of the UCU

The UCU’s general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “Staff were already stressed and overworked before Covid, and over the past year they have had to deliver ‘blended learning’, while being forced to endlessly readjust their teaching plans. With spiralling stress levels and unmanageable workloads, the current situation is simply not sustainable.

“The pressure on education staff is being compounded by having to take on lots of unpaid pastoral work as university counselling services struggle to cope”, she added.

The union is calling on the government to invest more in mental health support, and for employers to reduce workloads and prioritise wellbeing to avoid the risk of industrial action from staff.

The UCU have been campaigning throughout the pandemic for most teaching to be placed online to protect the health of staff and students and to provide them with greater stability.

Raj Jethwa, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), said: “UCEA has worked collaboratively with trade unions, including UCU, to agree a risk assessment-led approach to the safe reopening of campuses and a safe return to work for staff, taking account of equalities considerations.

“UCEA has also made concrete proposals to manage workload and support the mental health and wellbeing of staff”, he concluded. 

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