Soimon sez

Oi you lot! Awright! Yer, s’me, Soimon, guvvner up the HR. As yer know, oi’m from Essex, the fahkin best coun’y in Engerland. S’why oi always ’ave me ’olidays dahn Sahfend.

Naaw, open yer lugoles cos oi’ve gotta few fings to say. Since takin over this manor, oi’ve bin wotchin you lot, you wiv yer poncey degrees and namby-pamby PhDs. You lot are givin me the hump. Yer know why? Cos yer teechin is shit. Naaw, oi ain’t done no teechin’, oi ain’t got no teechin qualifikashuns, dahn’t know nuffin abaht teechin actshully. So’s oi’m to’ally unbiased and can say yer shite.

An’ ta proove it, yer gonna get observed an’ yer’ll get a crap score an’ then the boot. Then me an’ Clarry, who’s a bit mingin but oi would, will hire a bunch of HPLs on the minmum wage to do all the work. Then we’ll get the board o’ guvvners to ’and us out a massive bleedin pay rise. Luvverly jubbly.

Oi’m gonna close a few rubbish departments an’ all. Whassa point of ’istory? Oi mean, oi dun’t even remember yesterdie. An’ as fer Maffs, werl, oi was always crap at it sos we’ll chuck that aht the windah.

Naaw oi’ve got you lot sor’ed, oi’m off dahn the pub for a pinta Stella.


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Taking a Bath

Dissenter’s Blog has not mentioned the dubious goings-on at other universities around the country for a while: too much happening at Kingston. Yet the corruption that is infecting us is infecting others too. An article in The Guardian by Aditya Chakrabortty attacks the obscene pay awards of vice-chancellors at Bath and Manchester (where 140 staff are going to be sacked) plus benefits normally associated with big plutocratic bosses who run major companies, sometimes into the ground.

The article points out the reason: the boards that govern the universities are populated with industry fat cats, well used to nodding through their own massive pay awards. Money for these riches comes from the staff (1% pay rises standard now) and the students through fees and high accommodation costs (remember the UCL rent strike?). Kingston’s governors are similarly drawn from business, with just a smattering of staff representatives. Looks like KU’s desire to be a big university has succeeded on that point.

Still, some good news. Bath’s cossetted VC resigned the same day the article was published. Well, sort of. Over a year’s salary to come, plus the car, and the super-plush Georgian house. The price of talent eh?

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The staff deficit model is dead. Long live the staff deficit model.

Once the shortstuff architect of KU’s disaster was removed, mollifying sounds issued from the SMT — well, from Dave ‘Plastic’ Mack anyway — to the effect that Kingston would no longer hold the academic staff responsible for Kingston University’s plight, the crumbling student applications, the sagging league table positions, the dulled-bronze TEF result. As ever with the SMT, its words counted for little. The ‘staff deficit model’ lives.

This is clear enough from the staff monitoring that has become part of everyday life at Kingston. Students now have mobile apps to report staff who are absent from lectures or whose feedback is late. These have already been misused against staff who had done nothing wrong. Clarissa Dashboard is marshalling course data, reading to pounce on any courses with ‘performance’ problems, which of course she will view as a problem with the teachers.

Now, you probably thought you were a decent teacher; you have, after all, a teaching qualification, quite possibly a fellowship of the HEA, plenty of experience, and some decent feedback from the students, at least some of the time (so long as your subject is not too unpopular). But no, you were all wrong. Simon Stoned (head of HR in case you’ve forgotten) has opined that some lecturers don’t know how to teach. You may wonder what expertise Simple Simon has in pedagogy. None so far as this blog knows. An extended probationary period of 18 months for new lecturers is proposed. One member of staff has already had their probation extended due to adverse module feedback. Yes, one MEQ can screw you at Kingston. The mismanagement seems unaware that feedback can be poor for many reasons other than teaching quality, notoriously difficult to measure anyway. Certain groups of people can be disadvantaged, women for example (sexism has not disappeared), or those who teach unpopular subjects, or even those who demand more from their students in the tradition of higher education.

Now the SMT wants to introduce formal management observation of us, complete with a form to assess our competence according to a deficit model. Forcing teaching staff to observe each other in this way is guaranteed to sow division and undermine collegiality, already tattered throughout the University. This looks the best way to destroy what remains of staff goodwill with a consequent disastrous impact on our ability to do our jobs.

And this is not the end of it. What will happen to the few remaining principal lecturers and readers? Is demotion imminent? Professors are under threat too; calls for voluntary redundancies have been circulated. As with Grade 10s, their positions are looking wobbly. Shrinkages to departments under Plan2020 have increased workloads (3 or 4 times in Geography) and necessitated the hiring of more HPLs. More are facing cuts, notably Mathematics which may disappear altogether. If one wanted to shake a university apart and hurry its destruction, this looks an ideal way to do it.

More on all this in forthcoming posts.

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Introducing The KINGSTONS

Introducing THE KINGSTONS, an exciting new band based at Coolhurst, playing their brand new single, Ronnie. It’s gonna be a smash hit. They’ll be humming it along the corridors of the Business School.

The Kingstons are:

Scratching and purloining — Prof Phil S Tine
Vocals and costumes — Billy Booker
Spanish guitar — VEP Figas
Bass guitar — Sit Vacant
Drums — Red Dundant
Engineers — Wal and Terry Sevrance

Ronnie – words and music nicked by Prof Phil

What they’re saying about The Kingstons:

We is wicked – Prof Phil S Tine
Serious shit man – Ronnie T
I like Taylor Swift myself – Stevon

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New thinking from the SMT

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The tyranny of student feedback

Early module feedback has just been collected and no doubt management will seize this as another heavy stick to beat the teaching staff, already shattered by the goings on of the last few years. Whatever the results for individual lecturers, there is an undeniable trend. Students have lower attention spans and are enthusiastic complainers; feedback is more volatile than ever.

Management say that we need to improve our NSS scores in order to compete with other institutions. This may have value if student opinion is considered the prime measure by which to judge the quality of the education at universities. But plenty of evidence suggests it is not.

In the age of the screen, we observe that students struggle to concentrate for long. Lack of work effort is an inevitable consequence. Significantly, they don’t like to read books. They are quick to claim that their lectures are boring or uninteresting, or proffer any number of reasons why they don’t feel ‘engaged’ in their classes.

The question is how much has bad feedback to do with the actual teaching and how much with students’ lack of subject interest or lack of application. Some students choose their subject based on employment prospects rather than intrinsic interest. Subjects that require a lot of classroom teaching, the highly employable sciences for instance, are more likely to suffer from unfavourable feedback. In arts subjects, especially Fine Arts and Fashion, there is far more emphasis on production, although performance subjects like Music require a sound theoretical knowledge base for any serious student. Maybe that’s why Music at Kingston has had problems in the recent past: our students don’t like theory just as they don’t like books.

We are in danger of enslavement to student feedback. Academics must ask themselves what their teaching is trying to achieve. For senior management it is simple: good pass rates, a high number of good degrees, and, most important of all, good NSS scores. So teachers feel constrained to aim for these, even as we wonder about the old university ideal of acquiring deep understanding and learning to think. Our bottom line for teaching is whether the students, with appropriate levels of study effort, acquire the requisite knowledge and perform well in assessments. From their point of view, success would seem to be the highest grades for the least effort, good teaching the classes that divert them the most from the time-consuming task of thorough learning. Student satisfaction and student achievement are not necessarily the same thing.

Unfortunately management no longer appreciates this. Hence the pressure on staff increases, their demoralisation gets worse; eventually this makes it harder than ever to please the students. The proliferation of feedback at Kingston is all part of the University’s malaise, and that of higher education in the UK. Even as our students think they are improving the teaching through critical feedback, they are in fact hastening its decline.

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