Archive for the ‘work’ 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.


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.

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
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