Contact Hours

November 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I had a good chuckle to myself recently. It is not often I can say that these days, given that work has become a slog of workload versus work-life balance.

Over the summer we were told that students wanted more contact hours and yay, so it came to pass. Students now have an extra hour of class time.

Unfortunately they are now complaining that that time is too much for them. What they really meant was that they wanted just a couple of hours per day of each subject and preferably any extra hours on different days – rather like school.

The upshot if this is that timetabling staff are running around like headless chickens trying to accommodate them. Unfortunately, staff do not just teach, they undertake administration and and have to go to meetings, bucket loads of them.

My meeting quota has gone up this year threefold. I know sit in on all sorts of things that I have no interest in, authority over, or understanding of why I am there. In fact just the other day I had to sit in a three hour meeting in order to read out five names from a list right at the end. A good use of my time? Probably not. But it is time I have to block out on my timetable from other, more useful, things.

I believe this will be a saga that runs for the considerable future as someone tries to figure out why there is not enough time to timetable everything the way students would like.

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Consumer Rules

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

As was predicted many moons ago there is a new feeling afoot in the education world, at least on the student side.

What I said was that turning students into consumers would create the same feelings in them that they have when they buy a latte or a new sweater. If they do not like it or the service, they will return it for a refund or recompense.

Right now there is a big case around that very issue.

It would seem that a student who only graduated with an upper second or  2:1, felt let down by the university as they knew they should have got a first. Feeling aggrieved, they decided not to look to themselves and their abilities to answer the assignment questions, but to the law to recompense them for their failure.

There are issues with the case as brought by the complainant, not least that it has been some time since graduation. However, the relatively recent belief, that if you pay for something you have rights to recompense if it is not to your liking, has probably stimulated this belated complaint. Over the coming years there will be more of this happening when students do not live up to their own expectations.

Many is the time I have had students come to me saying they simply must get a first on this or that assignment.  I duly point them to the criteria that I will follow during grading. When of course they do not obtain the holy grade, they naturally come to me to ask why. My first weary question is always have they read the feedback; a question that is always met with silence and a repeating of their need to obtain the higher grade. This naturally requires me to go through the whole essay pointing out where they went wrong, which takes up valuable time.

I realise you may believe this is what the student is paying for, and yes, there is an allowance for this in my workload, but nothing more than 15 minutes per student per subject. Going through feedback with students goes over that limit easily. This limit is set by the university and is not of my doing. I am quite happy to spend time with students helping them to achieve better grades next time; after all, that is why we teach, isn’t it?

By way of illustration of the lack of understanding the university has about actual interaction with students, we were given instructions to force students into more than one personal meeting, on top of any other guidance we gave them. There were no more workload hours to be able to do this, we just had to magic the time out of thin air, or rather swap our own time for the work we would have to postpone in order to do this. My colleagues were not impressed, and the flurry of wheezes to make this seem like it is happening have exploded across the university.

Naturally, this lack of personal time for the students will be another ‘big issue’ in the future. Personally, I am happy to spend all day being in front of students if someone else will do all my administration and write a few articles for me.

I wonder if I can sue the university for that?

Given this new found desire for litigation, I for one cannot wait to backdate my complaint about my primary education, I should be Prime Minister by now.

Pay Me What I’m Worth

September 7, 2017 Leave a comment

There is more information coming out about how well VCs pay themselves. Today it was made clear that for 2015-16 they paid themselves an average 2.5% in raises.

I recall at the time that they told me I was not worth more than 1%, even though I was working evenings and weekends to keep up with my workload.

I also recall that my new HoD was earning twice as much as myself. Being a keen observer, I noted that they spent a lot of time in meetings and always went home by 4pm. Nice work if you can get it.

Gis a Job

August 31, 2017 Leave a comment

A new survey suggests that “half of Scots who graduated from university and some college courses in the past five years are working in ‘non-graduate’ jobs.”

This seems to be one of the problems of the last 15 years of ever increasing HE student numbers.

It reminds me of a poor war strategy with no end game.

Numbers of University students gaining a degree rose from a peak of 90,000 in 1994 to over 400,000 in 2012. This is a positive step in giving our young adults te step up they need to become successful individuals contributing their knowledge to society.

The unfortunate problem is that this only tends to work in a society that has some developing to do. Countries such as China and Africa have benefitted from increasingly focusing on education for their young. Their economies are expanding exponentially because they are starting from a low base. Agreed the two examples have different reasons, but they illustrate the point.

For developing economies, having increasing numbers of graduates creates opportunities for growth because it attracts foreign investment from high wage economies to these low wage economies without seriously denting the organisations ability to produce technical and value-added goods at cheaper to market prices.

South Korea is an example of how this benefits an economy, as, ironically, was Japan after the WW2. Originally both of these were low skill, low technology economies which benefitted from inward investment by outside actors.

Education for both has been crucial to bring them close to the top of the economic tree. However, both now are suffering from an educational overload.

The point is, that the more graduates you have, the more graduate level jobs you require to keep these highly educated individuals occupied and productively happy. At first graduates will place the blame for their lack of career on themselves; but over time the examples of failed graduates to reach the heights they were told were theirs, will create an ‘expectation’ in the minds of those just starting out that they too will not be able to gain the sort of future they were sold by HE.

Eventually this will lead to a youth backlash. Already my students are starting to tell me that they only come because they have no other way to gain a supervisory level job. For them a degree is akin to a day-release course, familiar to many in the 1970s and 1980s. This means that knowledge is a servant of wages, not the other way round.

Having interviewed enough students who drop out of our courses, it is plain to see that many only arrive at our doors as they see no way of getting welfare benefits otherwise. At least by taking on a year of a degree they can take out student loans to pay for leaving home and setting out as an adult. That year gives them the opportunity to find some sort of employment that will pay their bills moving forward. They can at least put on their job applications that they are doing a degree, even if they fail to turn up at all.

At root, it is not the role of the student to create suitable employment, it is the broader society and economy that needs to create graduate level jobs, otherwise there is no need for so many of our young to go to university when they plainly do not see the merit in it, but are compelled to do so. It has become ‘school’ all over again.

Unfortunately for late-capitalist societies, the only way their economies can survive, is if there are plenty of people at the bottom who are prepared to work for the minimum wage. Does this also remind you of a pyramid scheme?

Categories: education, jobs, life, students, work

Charting the HE

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

A good article appeared a little while ago online. It set out the rise in fees in relation to the expansion of HE in the UK. In my humble opinion it is worth a look, just so you can see some of the figures around HE today.

It is not perfect, for instance it show how UK fees are the second highest around the world, but does not then continue that with country comparisons throughout. So while we are second highest, is that due to the numbers of young people attending an HE institution or for some other sort of reason?

An interesting graphic shows the number of young people applying for place. Here it highlights that the numbers are still rising, despite fees now being nearly 20 years old.

It is hard to generalize from these graphics, but they do provide food for thought at this time or exam results.

Categories: education, jobs, life, students, work

Sign on the Dotted Line

July 26, 2017 1 comment

Something I mentioned when fees were muted last century is about to come to pass.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson has announced that students are to get ‘value-for-money contracts with universities’. With this the consumerization of HE has reached a zenith. Students will be allowed to challenge universities over too few teaching hours or inadequate facilities.

This may sound like a righteous solution to students having to pay fees. After all, if you are paying for something, you need a ‘right of refund’ in the event of the goods not being of acceptable standard.

The one fly in the ointment here is that how do students know what is an ‘acceptable standard’? Of course you say, they will use the university ranking guides published in newspapers. However, these are often very sketchy on the fine details of particular courses, which naturally vary according to the type of degree being undertaken.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming year. My university has re-jigged classes to give them extra hours, which of course requires that they are rewritten to allow for that. However, this has not been supported with joined up thinking for two reasons.

1) Students are not aware that this will mean they have less time to undertake paid work to pay for their fees/living expenses. Increased hours will inevitably spill over into days when they previously expected not to have classes and were available for work.

2) Classes have not had the extra hours spread about the timetable to prevent boredom in class. Instead they have just been given an increased solid block of time. This means instead of two hours straight teaching time, they now have three or more! Previous problems with non-attendance will pale into insignificance in future as the amount of class-time missed increases significantly.

This will of course be realised too late to deal with the problem for the coming academic year and we will have to muddle through.

At the end of the day, value-for-money can only exist if staff are also part of the equation. Things like having your workload split evenly between teaching and non-teaching might help. I for one am tasked with spending most of my time on things other than teaching. I sometimes feel it is a travesty to call myself a lecturer when I am a glorified administrator for most of week. You would think that with the increased contact hours for what teaching I have, this would even things out. However, you would be wrong.

Other benefits would be to have an office, this fad of ‘hot-desking’ or shared offices might be on trend, but it does not suit the need to spend time on teaching matters.

Time will tell if students become litigious, but it will also prove the point.

Top of the Class

Some universities are apparently giving more and more firsts to their students “with some universities giving first-class degrees to more than a third of their students.

This of course assumes that students are worthy of a first.

In my experience there has not been a sudden upward trend in the abilities of students. In fact I believe it plateaued a few years back and has since gone down.

Of course, I can only speak for my own department/discipline. However, we all have to spread ourselves about as external examiners these days. So, I have been able to view the board outcomes for a wide variety of universities. In general it is the Russell Group that seems keen to promote students to a first class degree when there is little evidence of first class work to support or warrant it.

In my area, students are not becoming more intelligent, quite the opposite. Over the years students have become resistant to learning, expecting the rote learning from school to spill over into their university careers. The amount of students who come to me asking to be able to resit a lower mark than they wanted has trebled.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is no mechanism to allow these students, who have not attended, nor done the reading, to ‘have another go’. In our increasingly commercialized HE sector, students are seeing a degree the same way they see their shop purchases. If they do not like what they have ‘bought’ they expect to be able to return it for a ‘replacement’.

You cannot blame them for this; it is we after all, who have encouraged them to think of a degree as a ‘purchase’.

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