Five ways to wellbeing on campus

Universities will need to increasingly focus on wellbeing, support, inclusion and trust for both staff and students,” Elizabeth Baré, Janet Beard and Teresa Tjia warn

The analysts point to the impact of COVID 19 on staff and students and suggest ways to palliate the pain, in a new paper for Uni Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Of which there will be plenty. For a start, students who started in 2020 and 21 have had one/two years without much experience of campus life – and they have not all enjoyed remote learning. The authors point to learner-engagement scores in the 2020 Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching as indicating a “significant early warning” of a “a level of disquiet with the quality and experience of on-line education delivery and a diminution in the sense of institutional belonging and support.”

And uncertainty, isolation and for many, living with actual or anticipated unemployment, meant the two years were hard for staff, especially the casually-employed academics who do so much of the teaching.

Which is bad for them, and will be bad for students, “reductions in casual academic staff are likely to diminish the number of available contact points for students and increase the amount of student support/pastoral care work required of full and part time” (teaching only and teaching and research) staff,” they warn.

“At the same time, performance pressures remain and may be intensified for staff, and existing workload management processes guarantee teaching-free time to undertake research.”

Which overall present five challenges

* optimising support: with “appropriate staffing ratios” of academics and student-facing professional staff

* retaining and building capacity: “staff reductions represent a human impact on those staff who remain as well as those who leave but, as importantly, a loss of knowledge and expertise necessary to rebuild and reframe institutions.” Funding for improving conditions for casuals and retaining staff could come from foregoing payrises in the enterprise bargaining round now underway

* “aligning reward to the new reality”: as teaching requirements increase management may need to reduce research expectations for academics

* create the “sticky campus,” where staff and students will want to be

* human digital connectivity: “develop new forms of learning experiences where on-line and highly engaged face-to-face teaching blend seamlessly, which are appropriately aligned to course content and can be flexibly deployed to meet the needs of specific cohorts of students.”

The take-out: “universities will need to increasingly focus on wellbeing, support, inclusion and trust for both staff and students; this will be a key ingredient to a vibrant and healthy higher education system.”