My blog last week on emotional resilience sparked a healthy debate via Twitter, email and through the comments on the blog. Clearly many people are thinking about this problem that is endemic within higher education, and what we need to do to approach it. Of course, we’re not even touching on the experiences of those facing stress in other sectors – teaching and healthcare. I’m very much interested in the organisation as a being at the moment.
29th March The HEA published a report on ‘fellowships and student engagement’, unpicking the impact on fellowships and teaching which is a nice read. However, a line is included that students are more able to contact and interact with staff “outside of formal class hours/work on activities other than coursework”. This casual comment worried me as it massages the expectation that staff are always available.
30th March Dave Cormier wrote about the resilience that students need to demonstrate to become successful learners. This seems a combination of emotional and academic resilience, and what we might thinking of in the UK more in terms of transitions? This reminds me of Helen Beetham’s work on digital wellbeing.
31st March Times Higher Education article suggesting stress is not always a bad thing. There is no mention of institutional responsibility or support.
2nd April Frances Bell discussed the idea of institutional fragility and links to some further excellent writing on resilience and well being.
OMG. This Minion really does look like me. I shudder to think when I am in charge what I will actually look like? But you know what, I don’t care. I’ll be in charge and sorting out this unholly and ungodly mess.
I hate just to turn out a blog post unsubstantiated and ill referenced, but sometimes I do think plain and simple opinion is important.
I wonder at what point education innovation in the UK is going to entirely come to a halt. It can’t be far off if it hasn’t already done so.
I have spent an amazing day with education researchers from around the UK being trained. But we were peering over our vol-au-vents and thinking well this is all great, but there is no funding for me to do this.
What on earth is seriously happening to the UK Higher Education Sector. Come on.
I can’t entirely blame the organisations involved who previously dished out vast sums of money to support pedagogy and technology projects, training, networks and research. But I do look back feeling quite enraged at things like CETL (Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) a few years back that dished out some £350 million pounds to the sector. WHAAAT? Around half of that investment is no longer visible or of any permanent use to the sector. But gosh, what we could do with a few pounds right now.
OK so these organisations are busy licking their wounds but the fact that they haven’t stood up with the HE sector to lobby for support is unfathomable. What however seems to have happened is almost instantly they underwent significant institutional change and reorganisation to reposition themselves as commercial ventures. OK that may be impressive, but personally I feel utterly let down by them, and like many others, having worked on and supported work in the sector for decades, I feel utterly betrayed. In some quarters, entire repositories of educational materials have gone. Do prospective students and families realise what an absolute mess the whole thing is in?
So what is it with UK Higher Education? We are supposed to be players in a global market, to be widening our entry gates, to be ensuring students have grande employability opportunites, to be keeping up with increasing and insane demands of the NHS and professional bodies (yes I deal with three on one single course of 15 sutdents per year). So really, how can we evaluate and address simple questions without money? I’m not even talking about full economically costing to buy me out for one hour a month, that is ridiculous. But to put it simply for me 1) I DO need to feel some sense of value on what I am doing by my institution, 2) I need some fair reimbursement for the extensive time I put in (outside of work) working in YOUR HIGHER EDUCATION SECTOR and 3) I wouldn’t mind the odd financial reimbursement for the training or odd conference here and there that increasingly I pay for myself. I am 47 and am still renting a house. We talk about the NEW generation of people experiencing difficulties, but there is a whole generation who are still struggling?
But size of money isn’t everything I’m not saying research investment is the be all and end all. I’ve worked in industry and know that throwing millions of pounds at projects does not necessarily produce inventive steps or life-changing results. UK universities that receive funding to produce results targeted toward certain outputs and impacts – that by definition cannot be robust research. Money increasingly goes to more polarised body of institutions and I hate to hear of money simply being wasted because they received so much and it is the end of the financial year. This is WASTEFUL to the UK overall. This knocks blue-sky research. Bashes creativity. We have a generation of researchers now (well, the ones with the jobs), who entirely think about the outcomes of their work rather than even thinking what would be interesting, what if we combined these theories…..innovation has come to a crashing halt.
University problems OK so I moved from scientific research to education a few years ago. If we think that about half of UK universities aren’t bothered with learning and teaching at all, so the investment isn’t going to come from these institutions, then there is practically NO money for very fundamental EDUCATION research from anywhere else.
1 There is little money for education research and investment. 2 There is not much money to invest in developing education. 3 Nobody is interested in your child, or investing in what their needs are to gain a fruitful education.
I really can’t see how enough of the UK is going to compete globally for very much longer
I absolutely do think a university education is tremendous. But it isn’t fair, it isn’t equal, and great parts of it does not work. I bite my tongue talking to prospective students and parents in talking about education when I know the majority of my time and that of colleagues is administration, sorting out timetables, I count bus tickets, I input data, we verify administration decisions, I spend an vast amount of time requesting rooms or car parking. I might say these things flippantly, but when students need accommodation then I am on the case. But I do think, why am I doing this when I do absolutely know people who would be far bester than me in doing these things. Please sir – we want to teach!!!! Don’t start me on workload administration – my 9 year old niece would do this for me. Charmingly, one of the senior faculty members who introduced the scheme (that I do not condemn overall) did not even realise we inputted the same data year on year.
So what happens next? OK so it is well established that academic hours are huge, but nobody does anything about it really. Academics have always worked long hours but usually writing papers and because they are engrossed in their research. I work weekend to stick boring numbers into a workload system. Because I have to compile over 200 documents for an NHS programme review. A complete and utter waste of time in terms of real value given to students. And this brings the notion of ‘hyper stress’ – immense stress by the shear volume of tasks, and things like data input if you are tired, dyslexic or whatever, do take a huge amount of attention-to-detail and skill to undertake correctly.
This worries me totally. I’ve had an amazing day today at a research workshop in London and I am tired of the conversations that show that we will do the research anyway. We all sat there thinking about the important work needing to be done, and with few exceptions, and verified by coffee and lunchtime chats, well, we’ll do this anyway. We will work evenings and weekends to make sure the concerns we have with international students, widening participation, making sure young people get the best out of their university experience……..we will make sure these get addressed. Not because of any UK sector leadership that used to come from the HEA or Jisc, or from our institutions…
…but because of us.
Is this a form of torture?
The situation has become so bizarre that you start to think that you are living some crazy dream. Is this a form of torture? I’m in my mid-40’s and driven to at times work around the clock for a job I’m allocated 2 days a week for? Because I’m under allocated on a system (despite having a fantastic boss) I still have to take on more. I’ve never been so physically ill in my life. But is this some joke? Is someone going to leap out from behind a lamp post and say you silly thing?
Part of some big master plan!
Perhaps I should just admit defat and stop caring. Is this what is intended? Am I supposed to just put all PowerPoint slides on Blackboard and assess every student by multiple choice questions? Because frankly, with no money for innovation, with no realistic look at what academic staff do, that is where we are.
I’ve not blogged for a while. I think my feelings are cyclical and run in long waves fuelled by intense spells of work activity that either lead to phases of excitement when I actually achieve something, or depression when I do not. I’ve always had very acute ‘gut instincts’, and this might be because I am a gut physiologist and understand the beauty and power of the intestinal enteric nervous system being far more sophisticated than that knot of fibres in our heads that we call our brains. (Our ‘little brains’ are far more interesting than that great big lump we carry around on our shoulders). Animals are totally powered by their instincts and their sensory systems, and if anyone has ever thrown a ball for a springer spaniel, they will watch the animal run and find the toy not by using their eyes at all, but entirely by the power of smell. We humans are useless at that.
The enteric nervous system is entirely ill-understood, and that is mainly because it is so well hidden. People don’t really understand the full structure of it, or how it works. What we do know is the gut is one of the few parts of the body that completely has its own control unit and can fully work when severed from the brain. There are no electrophysiological, imaging or scanning techniques that can look at gut electrical waves / functions or activities as there is in the brain. Science always studies the bits of the body it can most easily test or retrieve, and certainly will always study those that attract the funding. Unfortunately the gut, apart from stomach ulcers, has never been very trendy. And very, very unfortunately, this means that probably the most common ailments to mankind, and certainly still one of the biggest killers of children as it was when I wrote my PhD thesis 20 years ago, that is diarrhoeal disease, still go reasonably unexplored.
So yes, it worries me when I have a hugely positive day surrounded by national teaching fellows in the afternoon who personify dedication to young people, passion and creativity in learning and teaching, and yet I arrive home totally depressed. As usual, my brain is several hours behind what my gut has already felt. Come on. Hurry up and decipher. This is wrong. But what?
What IS wrong?
I work with amazing people – my third university now in around ten years. I met more amazing people today. I think my realisation today is that in universities, anyone achieving the cool stuff, the innovative stuff, they do it in their own time? It has culturally acceptable for many years to dedicate time to research interests outside of work, ‘oh, I don’t do that at work’, ‘oh, I’m a kitchen table researcher’. I think what struck me today more than ever, is that academics are now dedicating time to their TEACHING OUTSIDE OF WORK!
TEACHING OUTSIDE OF WORK. Not just in terms of their time commitment and their willingness to give up their spare time, but in terms of the technology they are using and the support they are getting from global communities. OK I know I still feel like a newbie to the sector because I spent a fair chunk of time in industry. I always feel like I don’t entirely belong, and I am standing on the outside looking in, but WHAAAT? WHAAAAAT?
I am not just mildly annoyed by colleagues for years saying, ‘oh we daren’t involve the XXXX department in this’, or ‘oh we are doing it anyway’. I am getting absolutely sick to the stomach about it. Do parents and prospective students fully understand the fact that universities spend vast amounts of money on the administration and infrastructure to support the organisation, but not on what goes on in terms of delivering the education within it?
The Crimson Corporate University of Snerterton-Upon-Snerterton
I can’t help but be reminded of Monty Python’s Crimson Permanent Assurance – ‘people are not wearing enough hats’ – and a dead organisation that started to regain its own mind and set sail in a different direction. In my experience, if not careful, a poorly run organisation becomes an organism that takes on its own slime-like life form – the processes and systems become its lifeline, nourished by the bureaucracy and energised by the acronym-filled emails. (Yes I really did have an email yesterday containing 19 of the buggers). The organisation starts to evolve no purpose other than to support itself. I think this for me, with the easy eyes of an outsider new to academia, is what I have observed over the last decade. Academics and administrative teams become increasingly busy with the ‘business’ of making the organisation work. Staff are now completely bamboozled with targets, surveys and key performance indicators. But I’m not sure all is lost, because the amazing thing is that when ‘enrolment’ week began last week, the buzz of excitement within the university was immense. Staff were absolutely thrilled to be meeting new students once more. Yes, well yes, because that is what we WANT an SHOULD be doing.
You can never find a futurologist when you need one, although the last time I met a futurologist he had entirely read the first paragraph on Wikipedia on the subject. Well, my crystal ball tells me that I can now see the sector fragmenting. I see the private sector jumping ahead of the game providing online content and accrediting learning. I see a university elitist group separating off from the main who attract the research funding and the high-end applicants. I see polytechnics returning to provide ‘real-life’ training for those wanting a vocational option.
UK National Student Survey Data Question 22 – Student Satisfaction. (HEFCE, benchmarked, registered data, available: http://www.hefce.ac.uk/whatwedo/lt/publicinfo/nss/data/2010/ – onward).
Many people are therefore going to be very busy. But I see everyone else contributing to OPEN ONLINE LEARNING for the purpose of simply imparting their passion about various subjects to students, and for free.
So those are my gut instincts and my brain’s interpretation of the day. Although reading this now, I don’t think this IS the future. THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING NOW.