Statistics and reports don’t emanate from nowhere and it is true that ’no smoke without fire’. For many years, universities have been acting as closed clubs with their own internal rules for assessment and evaluation. The mis-trust in the performance of universities has been growing for many years because of their failure to solve population and society needs. More remarkably is to update their systems to help young people to find jobs and to meet future challenges. The universities are more internally focused on how to survive and their staff are busy searching for funds and own promotion. Gradually they are increasingly isolated from both the society and population needs, as it is clear from failing to integrate the UN-SDGs in their activities.
Nature (one of the world’s most cited scientific journals) has published several reports about the malfunctioning at universities. For example the infected work environments with many cases of victimised colleagues, e.g. Lund Univesity in Sweden (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01621-8); Max Planck Institute of Garching in Germany (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05634-8, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05668-y).
There are also many other examples of unhealthy working conditions at our universities. A global study highlights long hours, poor job security and mental-health struggles. This study (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00101-9) involved more than 4,000 scientists who has painted a damning picture of the culture in which they work, suggesting that highly competitive and often hostile environments are damaging the quality of research and education. This is specially true among young Ph.D. students (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03459-7) where they expressed the widespread and deep-seated frustrations with training, work–life balance, incidents of bullying and harassment, and cloudy job prospects (see ‘Free thinking’). This survey also included new questions suggested by early-career researchers, including ones on student debt, bullying and harassment, and career responsibilities. A question about mental health — asked of all respondents for the first time — shed light on some of the more troubling effects of higher education.
Some funding organisations (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05071-7) started to take serious steps for cracking down on harassment and bullying. Scientists who have been sanctioned by their institutions could lose out on funding from e.g. the Wellcome Trust in the U.K., one of the world’s largest research-funding charities. Another funding organization, in the U.K. ‘The Leverhulme Trust’, has revoked a £1-million (US$1.3-million) grant from prominent palaeontologist who was also disciplined by his institution, the University of Bath, UK, after an investigation found he had breached its anti-harassment policy (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06764-9). An elite US science academy expels a well-known astronomer following harassment complaints (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01461-6). This is the first time the National Academy of Sciences has kicked out a member for violating its amended code of conduct. It is clear that they are much lack of actions by strategic funding organisations and well-ranked universities around the world to follow the example of the U.K. and the U.S.
It is also documented that sexual harassment is rife in the science (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05404-6). Existing policies to address the issue are ineffective, concludes a long-awaited report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The NAS ‘the U.S. national academy of science’ told Nature that no one has used the complaint system put in place last year, even though several academy members are known sexual harassers. It is unfortunate that we let negative and destructive attitudes, what regards gender issues in general, to exist in our academic environment (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02640-7).
Enough is enough, we know what are the problems but we still don’t know yet how to cope with the corruption, abuse of public resources and how to improve the working environment at universities and our academies. With increasing globalisation and mobility of young academics and qualified professionals in the global landscape of science there are still huge needs to re-examine the existing multi-layered structural defects and obstacles to achieve sustainable/healthy working environments. Higher education should not be part of the piling-up social injustice and ought to demonstrate good leadership in the global journey for prosperity.