PhD student Nigel Burnell discusses the results of the Higher Education Survey conducted in the summer of 2016.
The survey was conducted by the University of Surrey as part of the Leverhulme funded research project, Delivering Better for Less: Improving Productivity and Motivation in Public Services.
The randomized experiment, embedded within the survey, measured how much time academics would devote to students outside of office hours. This was in the context of a conflict between teaching (an exam) and research (a grant application) duties. The hypothesis was that a higher expectation of help on the part of a student would lead to more time being devoted to help the student by an academic. High expectations did indeed prove to be correlated significantly with how much time was devoted to responding to email requests about the forthcoming exam. Given that research has long been held to drive career progression for academics, devoting such extra time to students potentially comes at a personal cost. This reflects a pro-social approach by academics to their teaching responsibilities. This is at a time when the new teaching excellence framework, linking funding to universities to measures of teaching quality, is being piloted in our universities with imposed teaching quality targets. This raises the question of whether quality targets will reduce the intrinsic motivation of academics to help their students and actually reduce rather than increase public service productivity.
The survey also revealed important differences between the responses of male and female academics. Women in senior academic roles reported a significantly higher percentage of their time devoted to administration duties impacting on the time they could devote to students. However, women at all levels in male dominated science departments dedicated considerably more time to students, when in conflict with research duties, than their counterparts in other departments. Whether this reflects the expected role of women in science departments or other factors will be the subject of further research.
A working paper detailing these findings will be released on this website early in 2017.