University of Technology, Sydney nursing staff's heavier burden
By Andrew Trounson, From: The Australian, June 08, 2011 12:00am
NURSING academics at a Sydney university are being stretched to breaking point as they work 50-hour weeks, with more than 20 contact hours, as a result of shifting teaching loads on to fewer staff to free others for research, while boosting international student enrolments.
The University of Technology, Sydney last week was instructed by a WorkCover inspector to undertake a risk assessment of its teaching workloads in which 60 per cent of academics have been dubbed "teaching intensive" and given extra load.
The National Tertiary Education Union has lodged a dispute with Fair Work Australia over the workload policy and is in conciliation talks with UTS.
The university denied staff were carrying unsustainable workloads and defended its workplace policy as being in line with the practice at other nursing faculties where teaching duties were balanced by students being away for periods on clinical placements
But faculty lecturer and NTEU delegate Suzanne Dean said the workload system was undermining the health of staff, with 15 having submitted written complaints reporting stress and ill health.
She said workloads were exacerbated when, a week before first semester, staff were told that the first year international student intake would more than double from 104 last year to 250.
Ms Dean said staff were commonly being forced to work more than 50 hours a week, including face-to-face teaching loads of sometimes 21 to 30 hours a week.
"UTS had never done a risk assessment on the new workloads," Ms Dean said.
But UTS deputy vice-chancellor (corporate services) Anne Dwyer denied workloads of such magnitude had been allocated.
Ms Dwyer said the workload policy was reviewed last year and had included consultation with staff.
"We will be seeking further information from WorkCover on the matter of what further risk assessments they believe should be undertaken," she said.
She pointed out a strategy to deal with the extra international student load this year was developed well in advance and that extra resources, including casuals, were put on. She said student feedback ratings on the quality of teaching were trending up.
But senior lecturer and subject co-ordinator within the faculty Patricia Farrar painted a picture of a last-minute shambles earlier this year as staff worked to prepare for the extra students.
She said casuals, many with no teaching experience, had to be given late orientation.
Construction work at the university meant there wasn't enough lecture space to house the extra students, forcing her to split them into a separate group so that she had to deliver two lectures back-to-back instead of one.
Dr Farrar, who is due to retire this year, said she ended up with a punishing load, working 60 to 65 hours a week, including up to 10 hours a day in the office, as well as her face-to-face teaching schedule of four hours of lectures and 12 hours of tutorials.
She said the schedule undermined her health and she has been on and off sick leave since Easter with whooping cough complicated by pneumonia.
"I pretty much fell in a heap," Dr Farrar said. "I really think it was the demands of an unreasonable workload that made me susceptible to becoming so ill."
She said the teaching load was made worse by the poor English skills of many of the international students.
She said the questionable integrity of English-language tests and university marketing pitches promising additional language support were to blame. "We tell [students] they can do it, we tell them we will give them a lot of support, but [it] might not be enough because their language proficiency on entry is just too inadequate," she said.
Ms Dean and Dr Farrar blame the workload intensification on an agenda aimed to boosting research by freeing up some researchers from teaching while loading teaching on to other staff.
NTEU branch president Tony Brown said teaching-intensive staff were being effectively locked out of nursing research because they simply had no time.
"The idea of the rounded academic involved in teaching, research and community is breaking down and this is a manifestation of that," Mr Brown said.
But Ms Dwyer said programs were in place for staff to develop research and that nursing academics had time to pursue research, such as when students were on placement.
To find out more, come along to the NTEU UTS Branch General Meeting on 16 June - 12:00-2:00pm - Venue (to be confirmed): CB10.02.330.