Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Dr Neil Clifton

Lecturers across England have reported ‘burn out’ due to the impact of the pandemic

Lecturers across England have reported feeling ‘burnt out’ by their added workload, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many lecturers have admitted to feeling exhausted due to the sheer volume of work they now face. Having to grapple with unfamiliar technology, reinvent their teaching method and find new ways to do tasks altogether, has collectively meant that staff face unprecedented challenges.

While professors are trying to ‘be there’ for struggling students, they are still juggling the needs of their own family and personal mental health. Many admit this has been ‘mentally draining’.

In an interview with The Guardian, Gemma, a senior academic at the University of Birmingham, explained how she has been inundated with students emailing her about serious welfare issues. Most commonly, students tell her: “I’m confused, I’m frustrated, I’m barely hanging on.”

Explaining her distressing experiences with such cases, Gemma said: “I feel out of my depth. I’m working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, dealing with this. I was just sobbing the other night on the couch.”

Alongside the time-consuming task of supporting anxious students, lecturers have also had to quickly adapt to teaching both in-person and online classes. This comes as many universities insisted on a ‘blended learning’ system this year, requiring professors to occasionally hold classes on campus.

Many staff members voiced concerns regarding the safety of this in-person style teaching, with lots displeased with being forced to work in such conditions. Some expressed fears over ‘unacceptable working conditions’, such as having to teach in rooms with limited or no ventilation, as well as criticising their institutions for failing to publish robust risk assessments.

Janet, a sessional lecturer at a university in the Midlands, told The Guardian that being sent in with a face shield was simply not good enough and that better safeguarding was needed to ensure safe in-person teaching.

She went further to explain: “I am seriously terrified of going in, especially because we are hearing that students don’t report their symptoms in fear of being locked in [their accommodation].”

“I feel out of my depth. I’m working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, dealing with this. I was just sobbing the other night on the couch”

– Gemma, Senior Academic from University of Birmingham

Many professors around the country have echoed these concerns and expressed fears concerning how, despite the dramatic increase in the number of infections at several universities, in-person teaching has persisted. However, officials assure that there is no evidence of transmission in teaching settings.

With increasing numbers of students either opting not to go to in-person seminars or being forced to move exclusively online because they are self-isolating, staff report feeling undervalued.

Gemma said: “In my seminars roughly four to eight of 16 students attend, yet the university insists we come in. To say we feel abandoned and disposable would be putting it too mildly.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady acknowledged this: “Staff face unmanageable workloads and incredibly high levels of stress, constantly adjusting their teaching to ever-changing government guidelines and management demands, whilst colleagues and students yo-yo in and out of self-isolation and lockdown.”

Though faculty burnout has always been an issue in higher education, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic and is said to be worse than ever before.

Helen, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, revealed how the added demands this year has increased staff’s hours by up to tenfold, explaining: “I was given 60 hours for workload planning – it took 500 hours.”

Many lecturers accuse universities of giving them ‘unrelenting job expectations’ and explain how institutions need a ‘reality check’ regarding the unsustainable demands for staff this year.

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