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Archive for the ‘colleagues’ Category

Break Time

Well, it is nearly time for the Easter break and things have heated up at work.

There is a rush to get things done and of course there are deadlines for assignments. This week is also the time for all those meetings that people have been putting off. It is also the time for students to come to you looking drawn and full of angst and timidly admitting to you that they have not actually thought about the assignments yet and have no idea what they need to do. This is probably due to the fact that they were not in class when the assignments were explained.

I have stocked up on energy bars and coffee ready for the onslaught.

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Graduating with Honours

January 14, 2018 Leave a comment

It seems we are mean graders, that or our students are not up to standard. A recent article caught my eye regarding the amount of students who came away with a first class degree last year.

The article states that more than one in four gained a first. That sounds incredibly like the old argument we had over grade-inflation for A-Levels. In the past barely 20 per cent gained a first, but now that students can complain loudly, there is a suspiciously large number of them getting higher grades.

A less thoughtful person might assume this is to help smooth the burden of paying more for their degree and to attract those fat cheques each student brings to the university. Others may assume that students are just getting more intelligent or at the very least putting in more effort now as they are seeing how they are paying for their degree.

I leave it up to you to decide which is closer to the mark.

The Future of HE

January 1, 2018 Leave a comment

It is incontrovertible that HE had a bad year in 2017. With all the scandals about Vice Chancellor’s pay and false advertising of facilities. Students are naturally unhappy with where ‘their’ money is going, even if they will not actually pay most of it back.

All of this has meant problems for ordinary staff. My example is just the tip of the iceberg; given ever more teaching (and thus grading) to be done in the same amount of time as the previous half amount. Or to be given increasing administrative duties while not being rewarded for the increase in responsibilities (job descriptions being altered without contract renewal). Then of course there was the paltry 1% pay rise while ‘non-teaching staff’ were honoured with more than that.

Students, as a result, were peeved to find out that they could not access me that often as I spent most of my time in front of a class, not elsewhere. Of course, they have not done their case many favours as they spend more time in paid employment than they do on their academic work. This results in grades that do not reflect their ideas of their own abilities; leading to general dissatisfaction.

One thing is certain, HE needs an overhaul and nothing I have heard so far will do it.

Fireworks last night may go on longer for HE.

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.

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.

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.

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