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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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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.

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.

Should there be comprehensive universities?

An article caught my attention around the comprehensivisation of universities.

Are universities perpetuating social class? In the UK there are distinct groups of universities, with Oxbridge at the top, the Russell Group next and the Post-1992 group.

In a lot of ways, these are representative of classes in the main. The best schools have their pupils go to Oxbridge, the middle classes go to the Russell Group and the rest hit the old polytechnic sector.

What the author of the article does not seem to do is give clarity on how that system could be turned into a comprehensive one. Yes, it would be good if students all received the same experience at university, but that would assume that all universities are created equal, with equal resources and equally good staff. It also depends on class sizes, ability of students, etc.

Would it be possible to balance out these aspects across such a vast sector of 450,000 plus students?

The problem with this way of thinking is that you are suggesting a national curriculum for universities. That would essentially turn, what is a difficult balance of research, knowledge and delivery skill into a rote process anyone could do.

A less generous person might suggest that this is what they may be after – reducing the skill means reducing what you need to pay staff.

If anything, perhaps we should be revising all universities upwards to meet the highest standards. However, that would mean more resources, smaller classes and better initial schooling. All of which would cost vast sums to achieve.

Harrumph.

Categories: education, jobs, students, work
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