1. Freedom of Information and mental health in Higher Education staff

    In May 2019 Pressure Vessels, a report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), sought to understand increasing levels of stress on the mental health of academic staff.

    A follow-up report released today, Pressure Vessels II, updates and broadens the data, drawing from several FOI requests made on our site WhatDoTheyKnow.

    Dr Liz Morrish, a Visiting Fellow at York St John University, and Professor Nicky Priaulx, a Professor of Law at Cardiff University used Freedom of Information to understand the changing state of staff bodies’ mental health, analysing the demand for counselling and occupational health services within HE.

    The first Pressure Vessels report focused primarily on academic staff, while this follow-up broadens the brief to incorporate professional services staff.

    “Professional services staff are often marginalised in discussions about the higher education workforce, despite the significant roles they play. They are also more likely to be vulnerable to restructuring and redundancy,” say the study’s authors.

    Of course, like every other sector in society, Higher Education has experienced a severe change in working conditions due to the global pandemic. But as Dr Morrish points out, “higher education staff and managers would be unwise to disregard the additional pressures this will bring. Like the virus, workplace stress is here to stay and must be addressed.”

    The data in Pressure Vessels II was obtained by requests for information made to 17 universities, on staff numbers accessing counselling and referrals to occupational health for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 academic years.

    The first report inspired Sheffield lecturer Tom Stafford to plot the figures onto graphs for each institution — he also offered to make graphs for any more data that could be obtained from other HEIs.

    We are pleased to see WhatDoTheyKnow being used as part of a campaign to understand conditions and press for improvements. It’s just one more example of how our right to information can be used for the greater good. Read Pressure Vessels II here.

    Image: Nik Shuliahin