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Norway’s researchers struggle under Covid-19, survey shows


Report warns of academics feeling stressed, undervalued and ‘always close to tears’

Most employees at Norwegian universities and colleges feel unhappy, worry that their work is undervalued and are angry at a lack of pay increases, a survey on the impact of Covid-19 has shown.

The survey, collated by the Forskerforbundet, the Norwegian Researchers’ Association, received responses from almost 5,000 members of the association at 37 institutions. It was carried out to ascertain how the pandemic has affected researchers in academic institutions across the country.

More than half of respondents—56 per cent—said they had felt unhappy about their work environment and workload during the coronavirus crisis. In a case study, one respondent said he had not had time to write research applications because of constant “firefighting” in teaching students.

The researcher also said that the standard of teaching had deteriorated considerably, and that it was increasingly difficult to find cover for sick leave.

“We are always close to tears,” the researcher was quoted in the report, which was published last week. “The extra work caused by coronavirus is wearing us out. The pandemic’s effects on us have been, and continue to be, absolutely horrible.”

While 41 per cent of respondents said their working conditions were acceptable, many complained that they felt poorly taken care of by their employer. Around half of respondents said they did not feel that their efforts to cope with working under socially distanced conditions were recognised or valued.

The report warned that many research projects had been interrupted and delayed, and staff are dissatisfied with how their institutions facilitated their scientific work during this period. Furthermore, only a few respondents said that their employer had contributed to a good home office solution for them.

"Research life can be lonely enough as it is,” said one respondent. “But when you sit most of the time in your home office, this loneliness is reinforced. This affects progress, motivation and efficiency. My institution has done very little to help with this.”

Only one in three employees say they had received compensation for extra work undertaken during Norway’s two national lockdowns in spring and autumn of 2020 either in cash or as time off in lieu.

However, there are large differences between job groups when it comes to such compensation. Most technical and administrative employees at Norwegian universities said they had been able to take time off, and 20 per cent reported that they had been paid overtime.

However, among scientific staff, the situation is different. Just 4 per cent said they had received overtime pay, while 12 per cent took time off or were allocated time off in lieu.

Around 8 out of 10 academic scientists say they had spent more time on teaching in 2020 than usual, while more than half reported spending less time on research activities. Almost 70 per cent of respondents agreed that they had to delay ongoing research work.

The head of the Forskerforbundet, Guro Elisabeth Lind, reacted to the survey by saying that research staff needed support on many different levels.

“This survey is a strong indication that research has suffered greatly during this pandemic,” she said. “Our ability to develop new knowledge, which we as a society depend on, has been badly weakened. It is important that this is highlighted and that we have a solution soon.”

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe