I got a bit cross about an article in the Times Higher about paying academics bonuses to boost our productivity. You can read the article here. The article reports on a study carried out in Germany which suggests that paying bonuses (it seems some fairly substantial bonuses) to academics means that productive academics cluster together and that the practice got rid of lower performing candidates. The bonuses are paybale for research outputs /attracting funding and taking on management duties. Universities have discretion as to how they pay bonuses with some dividing up the pot at the end of the year based on relative performance of its academics. I feel slightly sick thinking about this. I am probably in danger of just ranting. I haven’t thought this through fully and I haven’t looked at any research on this but my initial reaction to and gut feeling about performance related by for academics is that it is just wrong. It is wrong on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. I’ll try and articulate them here.
- Performance related pay by definition introduces competition – particularly where a finite pot is divvied up amongst staff based on performance. Academia should not be competitive, it should be collegiate. We should be working together to think about complex and interesting problems. We should not be guarding our knowledge, we shouldn’t be afraid to share it. We shouldn’t be encouraged to take all the credit for work we had help with. Competition for research grants etc is one thing but asking us to compete for a big chunk of our livelyhoods is not going to help research or our students
- That brings me nicely to students – where are they in all this. I don’t see mention of rewarding good teaching here. Are we saying that good performance in relation to teaching doesn’t matter? It’s not worth rewarding? Well that’s just great isn’t it.
- How do we measure performance? If performance related pay is linked to publishing certain types of outputs in certain types of outlets what happens to all the other types of really good an important work? How to keep doing that? How do we keep researching things that are not currently fashionable or rather how do we keep researching things that aren’t related to money?
- A closely related point is about assessing performance in academia generally. This is utterly subjective and of course the metrics put in place across the sector or by individual institutions will be fairly crude and will not be able to capture the complexities of what we all do, the variety of what we do and the fact that we all do some of those things better than others.
- There is of course also the point that academics, while not badly paid really, are hardly paid according to our level of education, knowledge, skills and expertise. We have battled our way through undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees, in many cases professional training and eventually PhDs. We are considered very junior in our sector at a point in our lives and at an age where many sports stars have retired and where in the commercial sector you can expect to have established a career with a salary that goes with it. I don’t know a single academic who is in it for the money but it would be nice to feel that our contribution to society is valued.
- Academics don’t need to be paid to perform better. In areas where maybe we do struggle it is not because we don’t want to do a good job. It’s not that we can’t be bothered to write that latest article or spent the day sitting on our backsides watching daytime TV rather than preparing teaching materials. The reality is that academics are expected to do far more of everything and the pressure on our time is ridiculous. Most departments are under-staffed, all are under-resourced. We are expected to teach more, research more, do more of our own admin because why pay administrators when the academics can just do it, we are expected to comply with more and more processes and policies with time-consuming and largely pointless paperwork… Staffing departments properly and providing crucial funding for networking, conference attendance etc will make our research and teaching better on all sorts of levels.
- And that I think links nicely to the thing that really pissed me off about the article – the insinuation that we (academics) need to be bribed into becoming more productive. The idea that we are a bunch of lazy good for nothing layabouts who don’t work from early May to late September and have 4 weeks off over Christmas. Every academic I know works really hard and every single one of them wants to do a good job whether that’s in teaching or in their research.
So, do I think we should have performance related pay? No, no, no. It’s a stupid idea. It’s an idea that will damage academia and HE further. It’s an idea that really does make me feel sick. There’s so much wrong with it, I still don’t really know where to start. Urgh.