Reporter 461, 12 February 2001


The trials of a drowning sheep

Des McLernon
School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Alan House
Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences

In years to come, researchers trying to explain the decline of British universities will probably stumble across a wretched little document entitled the Transparency Review.

They will then uncover how some cost-cutting civil servants and superannuated, pettifogging, bureaucrats, devised an insane new ‘initiative’: "Let’s get academics to fill out a Web-based diary for every hour of every day for three weeks – even get some to do it for a whole year!"

And why? "Well, to make sure they’re not misusing (HEFCE) taxpayers’ money of course!"

For years, like many in this under-funded sector, we have routinely worked evenings and weekends, made ‘efficiency savings’, increased productivity and watched our salaries being steadily eroded.

Universities couldn’t function without this goodwill/stupidity.

And our reward? We are now drowning (not waving) in a sea of TQA/QAA, RAE, TR, Audits, Concordat Research Staff Reviews, Accreditation, Investors in People Standards, HEQC Edicts, Peer Reviews, Module Reviews, Course Reviews and Student Feedback.

We have become so obsessed with monitoring quality in teaching and research that we often have neither the time nor the energy to actually deliver it. And who cares, as long as we fill in the forms and tick the correct boxes?

So in the end, aren’t we our own worst enemies? I mean, will we all now revolt and metaphorically burn our Web diaries on the Parkinson steps? Or perhaps, as in the past, we’ll just conform like reluctant sheep, while politely bleating our disapproval from the staff coffee rooms?

Bet you’ve already guessed the answer – BAAAAAA!

This cheesy food is pasta joke

Claire Ryan
Hybrid Library Project Officer

I am writing to complain about the ever-diminishing quality of the food in the Senior Common Room dining-room. I have been using the dining-room since June last year and the food seems to get worse on an almost weekly basis.

As a vegetarian, my expectations of canteen food are never very high, but the dining-room really takes the biscuit.

For vegetarians the only choices for a hot meal are the vegetarian pasta (which is usually cheesy and stodgy) or a jacket potato. There are no hot fillings for the spuds and the only cold vegetarian ones are cottage cheese or rubber cheese (which steadfastly refuses to melt!).

To make matters worse, on more than one occasion I have arrived a little after 12.45 only to find that the vegetarian pasta has run out already and so have the jacket potatoes, so all I could have were the remains of the cold salad bar.

How hard can it be to provide a varying and edible menu? There are several other food outlets on campus, and all of them (including the refectory, which I would guess caters for much higher numbers than the Senior Common Room) provide more choice and better quality.

I usually go to the Senior Common Room dining-room with a group that includes meat eaters, and they too report that the food is generally very poor (with the exception of the fish and chips, which is beyond reproach).

Now you may say that if the food in the Senior Common Room is so bad, why don’t I go elsewhere? But why should I have to? I would add that this is by no means a slight on the serving, waiting or even the cooking staff in the Senior Common Room, as I would guess that they have little say into what goes on the menu and what they have to cook with.

I know I speak for many when I say that there must be an improvement in the food if the Senior Common Room is to retain its customers and gain new ones. As it stands at the moment there is no way on earth I would recommend it to others.

I keenly await a response.

Our clerical staff are undervalued

Penny Robinson
Director, Division of Arts and Social Sciences, Centre for Joint Honours

It is good news about the Joan Balchin Memorial Travel Fund awards, which enable people to travel to further their education.

No one could fail to welcome this initiative. But the bad news is that these are apparently open only to administrators.

It is impossible to be unaware of the fact that the University has numerous staff on clerical grades doing administrative work but not receiving the appropriate status or pay. Many of these clerks are graduates; not a few also have higher degrees.

The Reporter item mentions that applicants must be eligible for membership of the AUA – well, clerical staff on Grade 4 and above are welcome to join that association, which recognizes the nature of the work they do.

Not so the University, unfortunately: "Make your contribution, don’t get the title or the pay, and, if you want to travel to broaden your education – sorry, can’t help."

We need to value our clerical staff more.

Bye bye blackbirds

Cynthia Foster
Careers Centre

I hope it is not going to be University policy to destroy any further birds’ habitat on campus as has happened behind the Economic & Social Sciences Building to house the new extension.

The shrubs and bushes previously planted there were always vibrant with the chirping of many blackbirds and other species, but now that the shrubs have been removed and the area flattened and grassed over there is a lamentable deathly silence.

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