University staff ‘anxious about returning to in-person working’

One in four staff members surveyed reported their workload had increased by more than a fifth.

University staff ‘anxious about returning to in-person working’ Getty Images

Two in five university staff are anxious about returning to in-person working, according to a union’s new report.

The University and College Union (UCU) Scotland has suggested there is staff support for a cautious start to the new term amid “increasingly excessive workloads”.

A survey by the group collected nearly 1000 responses across the country and found more than three quarters (76%) reported an increase in workload in the last academic year.

One in four staff members reported their workload had increased by more than a fifth, UCU say.

But as well as that, the report also offers measures which could help avoid the disruption of last year while also keeping staff and students safe.

A majority (86.5%) of staff want better ventilation on campus with 78.5% of the survey supporting the continued wearing of face coverings.

Regular enhanced cleaning was supported by 71.2% and enhanced hand hygiene/readily available hand sanitiser was demanded by 74.5%.

More than two thirds (68.6%) called for reduced occupancy of buildings and rooms while 58.8% are in favour of larger classes being delivered remotely where possible.

The combination of these factors on top of the workload left 76% of staff reporting their anxiety levels had increased during the pandemic – while 41% said they felt some anxiety about returning to normal.

Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said the report “underlines the need for a cautious, safety first start to the new academic year”.

She added: “UCU has been working with Government, employers and NUS to ensure campus re-openings are as safe as possible to protect students and staff, and it is welcome that the guidance for universities in Scotland does recognise the Covid challenges.

“Today we are urging employers to go even further to take on board the concerns of staff on ventilation, reduced occupancy and enhanced cleaning and hygiene – and importantly to continue with online working where appropriate and especially for larger groups.

“We’re calling on Government and employers to do more on ventilation – including capital investment in estates where ventilation is poor, to keep students and staff safe for the long term.

“Members have also told us that their stress and anxiety has increased during the pandemic, and that over four in 10 (two in five) of them are anxious about returning to in-person working – on top of this their workloads have increased exponentially over the past year.

“We want employers to recognise and work with us to address these issues, to support university staff in these challenging weeks and months – and to continue to support remote working and blended learning.

“The teaching and learning environment for students depends upon the people delivering that, so it is in employers’ interests to support their staff at this time.”

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