An investigation into administrative workload and support for academic staff at the Durban University of Technology
Qwabe, Bongani Penuel
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A number of studies have been conducted in relation to academic workload in higher education and many have noted a marked increase in workload over recent decades. However, fewer have specifically investigated the increase in the administrative component of an academic’s workload, and none have focussed on the current support given to academics by their secretaries in the context of a South African University of Technology. All academics require sufficient time to perform their teaching, research and community outreach duties satisfactorily, while Universities of Technology make additional demands on their academic staff in relation to such aspects as Work Integrated Learning, maintaining contacts with industry and new research requirements. The literature indicates that many feel that they are unable to cope or to cope adequately and that universities often do not understand the burden of the different tasks/activities they perform. The purpose of this case study was therefore to investigate the administrative workload experienced, and the support given, to academics at the Durban University of Technology. It specifically investigates whether the institution of a workload model for the university as a whole would be supported, and would be effective, in addressing equity and transparency issues in academic workload and thus in improving academic retention and research output for the university as a whole. This study used a mixed method approach involving three questionnaires administered to academics, their secretaries, and to senior management. In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted with some senior academic staff. The results of the research indicate that the great majority of academic staff members experience a heavy administrative workload and that many believe they are doing more than they expected at the time of their appointment. While the secretaries were better informed as to the nature and extent of the administrative duties expected of them, many also felt that they are doing more than they expected and both groups indicated strongly that there is a lack of transparency and equity between different workloads performed by different individuals. Over ninety percent of both academic and secretarial staff believed that a workload model would assist in ensuring a fairer balance in the work performed, but significant individual comments indicated the difficulties and drawbacks which should also be taken into account and the consequent need for flexibility and ongoing consultation with staff, before the imposition of such a model. The results also revealed that there was considerable uncertainty amongst respondents as to the current existence of a workload model. It was, however, established that the university is planning to implement a workload model across all six faculties and that a member of the academic staff, Mr Greg Parrott, has been tasked to develop the relevant software. He is in the process of collecting the information needed. Contact was made with Mr Parrott and information exchanged with him. It is hoped that the data gathered in this study will serve to support this initiative. Following an in-depth analysis of the results, this study recommends wide consultation over the implementation of the model and the employment of a pilot phase to iron out any problems. Flexibility within the model and ongoing consultation are also recommended. The study further recommends that academic departments should consider making greater use of WIL students from the discipline of Office Management who, as part of their work experience, can work closely with secretaries in departments which require additional secretarial assistance. Additional part-time assistance, possibly from retired academics, for specifically academic administrative duties might also be considered.