The Value of Everynothing

There is an interesting article in the news today ‘Students say university ‘value for money’ falling’. I thought it interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was something I warned of a few years ago, and, secondly, because it comes at a time when students are voting in ever increasing numbers.

When fees were mooted I tried to advise my then HoD that it would open a door for consumer complaints, due in part to the notion that students could now put a ‘value’ on their education. Far from allowing students to see how much things cost and so understand they should put in more effort to gain the highest qualification possible, I advised it would allow them to evaluate every teaching session for a sense of ‘value for money’. This would now be the overriding concern of students rather than seeing how hard staff work to make sessions function as they should, student would sit back and silently say – “impress me”. This despite them not actually knowing what that might mean in real terms, other than whether the topic/delivery bored them or not.

My colleagues suggested that this could easily be negated by showing students how their money was being spent and why it was good value. Students of course, not being ones to understand that their fees pay for administrators, campus security, water bills, photocopying paper, telephone calls and personal tutorial time, as much as for the poor lecturer who has to excite them day after day, week after week.

I also pointed out that the rumours were true, teaching staff do spend less contact time with students, not out of choice, but out of necessity and workload ‘orders’. I for instance was only in front of a class for 10 hours a week at the time. However, it takes two hours to design, prepare and produce each hour in a class. This is after all HE and so there is no national curriculum to draw upon. In many ways, it would be useful, given that for every hour of class time I actually have four hours of non-teaching duties.

Some of you are now doing the maths on that and have come up with the result that fitting this into a 38 hour week is not possible, so must be untrue. However, I can assure you it is not untrue, my working week does span the 60 hour divide. I work most evenings and weekends and do not take leave until the summer months when I simply must have a break.

Of course this ‘summer’ time is when I am supposed to be at my most active non-teaching and non-administratively. So, instead of using my annual leave for relaxing, I am rushing round researching and writing. Yes, this will aid any career aspirations I might have in the long run, but in the short run, it is tiring. Other’s would use this leave (holidays) to go on holiday, or to do things with/for their family. Instead I sit forlornly looking out the window at the sun, listening to the sounds of people having fun, wishing I was them.

These are the things students should be made aware of, not the cost of photocopying paper. For them such trivialities are irrelevant; they focus on what they can see in front of them day-to-day – the lecturer. If my time is spent on non-teaching things, it is impossible to be in front of them for as long as they think in necessary to provide value for money.

You are probably wondering about that mention of voting earlier. Well, students voted in larger numbers this time and for parties that promised to eradicate fees if they won and even back-date that. Now that is ‘value for money’ in anyone’s book. The message that students pay for a host of things they use but do not think helps them gain their degree, is not getting through.

Of course it probably never will in a consumer focused society that turns everything into a cost. After all, who cares about workers in factories making high-end phones, it is only the quality of the phone that matters. Shoddy goods are made because workers are treated badly and paid little for their efforts.

Hang on, are there similarities here with how HE staff are treated by their employers? Low pay or below inflation pay rises, check. Staff expected to work more hours than they are paid for, check. Staff criticised for not being the ‘best’ or ‘most innovative’ lecturer, check. Staff criticised for not publishing at A* level, even though they have little time to do so, check. Staff criticised for not being ‘available’ to students 27/7, check. The list goes on, but you get the drift I am sure.

Students are the middle-aged voters of tomorrow, if they know the value of nothing today, then the future is going to have to be based on a consumerist notion of value in things, rather than people.

Perhaps we could put tags on everything to show the cost of each and every process on campus. 10p for flushing a toilet, 5p for loo roll, 50p for the lights being on while in a lecture, £2 for a lecture, etc..

That of course, is a recipe for a disaster no sane person would want.

So we are left back at the beginning, education is either free or someone has to do some very detailed explanations of the ‘value of things’. It would probably fall to the poor old lecturer again to do this as they are the very front-facing friction point for students. ‘Is that another job I have to do as part of my workload?’ Oh dear.

Get What you Deserve

I learnt a long time ago that if one wanted to get through life without all the regret and histrionics, one should not expect too much.

The ‘sweet spot’ is to go for small increments and anything larger that happens to you is a big bonus and will probably fill you with more joy than if you think you deserve it in the first place.

So, when new tasks come around at work, I do not think I will receive anything other than a crock! There will be no recognition for taking on additional tasks, just the unreasonable fact that what little time I once had to do the things to aid my career, is smaller than before.

That said, I have been able to mitigate the worst of it. Given I actually have a substantial role that no one else has been bothered to get their head round, I can make a strong case for refusing most of the extra work.

Having said that, if I were one to be flexible with rules and regulations, I could probably take much time to daydream in the office. Of course the hope would be that no one ever questioned my work, lest they realise it is mostly flimflam. Failing being very popular with my line manager, I have taken to knowing the rules better than they; much to their chagrin at times.

Do I get what I deserve? Sometimes; but that is only right if I want to avoid stress.

Categories: education, jobs, life, work

Board Time

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

It has been one of those few weeks where you seriously consider the point of carrying on working.

Suddenly everyone wants work completed the day before yesterday, but they have not asked until the day after tomorrow!

What this tells me is two things. One they are stressed out and have been lumbered with more work than they can cope with. Secondly, and consequently, they have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing and only remember when it is too late to really do something about it.

Unfortunately I was on the receiving end of this stress driven anxiety the other day. A seemingly innocuous message arrived asking about a report they had asked me, by email, to write just before Christmas that was supposed to be due back that day.

‘What report was that?’ I enquired scouring my email for a hint of what I might have missed. I could find no trace of any email in my rather overstuffed work email account. A previous debacle had turned me into a hoarder of emails, so these days I rarely delete emails until they are at least three years old and some are kept in perpetuity.

Queue a headless chicken routine from the requester. This got particularly animated when I asked if they had been in contact before to enquire where  I was with said report. Of course they had not, probably too stressed to consider following up.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I spent a very bored day and night, about 18 hours in all, when I should have been doing something else completing their report. At which point you would think they would appear grateful. Not this person, their retort to me when I sent it to them was more like ‘and don’t leave it so late next time’!

As this was me doing them a favour in the first place – the scenario is too long to go into here – I suppose I was well within my rights to feel aggrieved a this.

I have resolved in future to do less favours and act more like the character in the cartoon below.

 

Categories: colleagues, jobs, life, students, work

Anatomy of a Failed Meeting

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

I was right, the meeting went something like this:

I was basically fobbed off and told they would look into it. I have waited a couple of weeks to report back, in case they actually did something positive.

In the end it has simply been stored up for another day.

I despair sometimes of people in charge. If they only took a brief amount of time to actually look at the job they are asking people to do, they would realise it cannot be done in time.

Categories: colleagues, jobs, work

Expectations

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

I have a meeting today to discuss my workload. I anticipate that it will go something like this:

 

 

Although I do hope that common sense will prevail, especially as I have not had a break at all since September – official holidays aside.

Categories: colleagues, jobs, life, work

A Cost of Living

January 7, 2017 Leave a comment

The following article caught my eye today – The Straight As

It tells the story of an American student who decided to drop out due to the high tuition fees and the debt he was being placed in.

This is a trend that will hit UK higher education at some point in the future. While I have to say there are some in HE that seem to get paid a lot for not really understanding their market, there are those of us who spend 48+ hours a week doing our jobs, trying to do it the best we can. Plus we do not get paid as much as administrators. I noted that tube drivers get paid – £49,673 in 2015 more than most lecturers.

I can empathise with the students, but their fees are not paying for any largesse in my life.

When the complaints do start to rush in, I expect to see more students dropping out half way though. This will of course start a panic with administrators who feel we must change our courses to meet the non-existent expectations of students, who are actually complaining about inflated fees to fund 6% pay rises at the top rather than the 1% of the bottom workers – lecturers.

Ah, the insulation of the higher echelons from reality.

Categories: colleagues, education, jobs, work

2017

January 1, 2017 Leave a comment

George Bernard Shaw wrote:

“the reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

To you all in 2017 I say, may you be the unreasonable man or woman.

Happy new year.

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