Staff at a university in regional New South Wales have reported a high level of mental health issues, including severe depression, anxiety and burnout, according to a new survey.

Key points:

  • About 40 per cent of staff surveyed at the University of New England have reported symptoms of burnout
  • Union representatives say university management is “unaccountable”
  • There are calls for the Chancellor to step down

About 20 per cent of staff at the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale were asked about their wellbeing in the survey commissioned by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

More than a quarter of respondents reported symptoms indicative of severe depression or anxiety.

Almost two in five reported symptoms of burnout, while 29 per cent said they experienced workplace bullying on a daily basis.

“I think the results are really shocking … but they're not really surprising,” NTEU branch vice-president Matthew Allen said.

“To be honest it's really distressing to read,” Dr Allen said.

“You're reading about people talking about wanting to leave their job with no other job to go to … talking about actual serious and diagnosed mental health conditions that they've developed as a result of work.

University of New England staff report depression, anxiety and burnout in 'shocking' survey

Matthew Allen says action needs to be taken to reverse the “problematic” culture.(Supplied: Matthew Allen)

“I think there are problems across the university sector, because of the pressure the sector has been under for some time.”

The ABC has seen anonymised comments from some of the survey respondents which detail some of their attitudes.

“I took a lot of mental-health leave this year, I have spent a lot of my personal time crying, being anxious and miserable,” one respondent wrote.

“My doctor keeps telling me to quit on the grounds that it is illogical to continue in a job that is making me sick,” another said.

“I used to love coming to work … I just feel that UNE doesn't care any more.”

Like many universities across the country, UNE announced a restructure in 2020 due to the financial pressures of the pandemic, in which it cut more than 100 jobs.

'Unaccountable' management

In response to the survey, the union has called for the Chancellor, James Harris, to step down immediately, and for an independent investigator to examine the university's culture and governance.

“We have in my view a particularly problematic management culture, and a lack of accountability,” Dr Allen said.

Dr Allen said he was confident the sample in the survey fairly reflected the overall staff experience.

“There's a perception that management are totally unaccountable, that they don't listen to us, that they don't have the best interests of UNE at heart.

“They need to hear just how angry their staff are.”

The university has been contacted for comment.

The revelations come in the wake of the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood, amid allegations — which she denies — that she assaulted a teenage girl at a licensed premises earlier this year.

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