University teaching has traditionally been regarded as a low stress occupation. In historical point of view it could be true, but it seems not to be so at modern universities. In occupational stress literature with the focus of the sources of occupational stress in university there are not so many comprehensive studies, but most of these are well documented by majority of the literature sources.
The aim of our study was to get more detailed comprehension about sources of pressure in university academics*. In order to achieve the objective we performed a pilot study in Tallinn University of Technology (TUT). The original plan was to collect the data of sources of pressure in university, as letting the academics to "speak for themselves" and to hear "the people' voice" i.e. the interview as qualitative research method was adapted. Participants named during the interview 9.95±4.53 sources of occupational stress, and we identified 90 separable sources of pressure in university academics. As the number of stressors was so large, the question arose as to whether this is a phenomenon unique to this particular university or whether an equally large number of sources of pressure exists in the academics of a university in another academic culture as well.
The second phase of the study was to carry out an empirical survey in several Estonian universities. Therefore we wanted to know whether the sources of stress are transferrable in a cross-cultural study - in other words, whether the sources of stress in university academics that are described in our previous study are also valid in a dissimilar culture. We presumed that the academic culture of Bordeaux University is significantly different from the academic culture of TUT, although the academics' work is similar, as the subjects taught in the universities are fairly similar within the faculties of science and engineering. For the empirical survey, the checklist Academics' Occupational Stressors Inventory (AcadOSI) with 90 separable sources of stress was created. The stressors were ordered randomly within the checklist, i.e. they were not classified. For responses the Likert-type forced choice 6-point scale was chosen as widely used scale in occupational stress research; the anchors we use were between "very definitely is not a source of pressure" (1 point) and "very definitely is a source of pressure" (6 points). The next step was to develop a web-based research environment with the electronic checklist AcadOSI-Estonian and AcadOSI-French. From data analysis emerged eight main factors of stress in university academics:
- University Life/Social Relationships (23 items or sources of pressure);
- Students and teaching (20 items);
- Workload (9 items);
- Personal Life and Professional Identity (10 items);
- Evaluation of Knowledge in Society (consisting of 9 items);
- Bureaucracy (10 items);
- Personal Development (4 items);
- Infrastructure (5 items).
The framework of stress factors accounted for 53 percent of the variability (R2=0.53; p< .0001); the correlations between the factors ranged from 0.33 to 0.67.
We found that the sources of stress were not university-specific and were also not academic culture-specific. The research shows that all 90 sources of stress were involved as stressors for academics at different Estonian universities as well at the University of Bordeaux. When comparing the work stressors of the academic staff of various Estonian universities, a difference was found in the intensity of sources of pressure, but this difference was statistically not significant. Comparing the work stressors of the academic staff of Estonian universities with the work stressors of the academic staff at the University of Bordeaux, statistically significant difference was found in the intensity of such sources of pressure. For example, in the occupational stress profile of University of Bordeaux, the major sources of stress were workload, professional development, and bureaucracy. On the other hand, in Estonian universities the main sources of pressure were worries about the evaluation of knowledge in society, bureaucracy, and high workload. In both academic groups the average occupational stress level was high - more than one third of academic staff members suffered from work stress, respectively in Estonian universities 38.9 percent and at the University of Bordeaux 39.1 percent.
One most intriguing cultural difference was how academic staff members feel about the students - in other words, to what extent the students are a source of stress for the academic staff member. For academics in Estonian universities, students were significantly higher source of pressure than for academics from University of Bordeaux. Estonian academics significantly more blamed students for their different levels of preparation for studies at university, inadequate study skills, low level of preparation, low study/work motivation, absenteeism, ineffective time planning and time management, unconcern and lack of responsibility, low level of discipline or inadequate behavior.
Compared to previous empirical findings described in literature, this study uncovered a remarkably wider range of different sources of stress in university academics.