Thursday, February 22, 2018

On Hierarchies

Today has been a tough day. I spent a lot of today trying to remind people that those striking in the UK about university pension cuts weren't just lecturers. Many other university staff were striking, including librarians and professional services. But, if you were following this in the news, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was purely an issue which affected academic staff. Take this from the leader of the Green Party:

Or take the BBC who actually reported that the USS pension scheme was a "lecturers' pension scheme"  (which it is not, because I'm professional services and I am in that scheme).

All of this was emotionally draining. As I've said before, staff who support the work of the university in non-academic roles have been shut out of the conversation and ignored. It got me thinking...if we continue to devalue staff in universities, how long can we expect them to stay?

But what do I mean by devalued or ignored? I have worked in Higher Education administration for over three years now and have some observations (and apologies for some generalisations coming up).

Professional services staff service many committees whose membership is academic staff. This is the norm and is why universities are self-governing. Professional services staff can be called onto advise, but that (expert) advice can be easily ignored and, more often that not, we sit in silence at these meetings. We act as a second tier, destined to record the conversation but not really be part of it.

Administrative staff are easy targets. As we implement policies, processes and changes, we are at the cold face of grumblings and grievances about bureaucracy, paperwork, and obstructionism. We are subject to the same decision making by senior staff, but often people find it difficult to distinguish between the decision makers and the implementers.

Furthermore, when major issues arise, it is always the academic voice that is heard, not that of the rest of us. I recall going to hear the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford speak about the challenges the university was facing and it was all about the need to recruit early career researchers and provide affordable housing for them. No care was given to support staff who struggle to afford to live in the most expensive city in the UK but without whom the university would cease to run effectively.At another event about women's equality, again the whole conversation was couched in terms of getting more women into academic roles. I asked the Vice-Chancellor and the panel why it was that we don't talk about getting women into top professional services roles (such as Registrars) but no one had really considered it.

I am very disheartened today. I feel that today cemented what I have been feeling for a while which is that we are always an afterthought, rarely praised but often scapegoated. This isn't enough to make me leave Higher Education immediately, but I don't think it is sustainable to feel undervalued and not respected. I'm not sure how the system can improve but I worry that the more invisible we become, the more our enthusiasm and passion for Higher Education will wane.

1 comment:

  1. Well said - professional services are frequently blamed for being bloated and inefficient in universities but we have never been anything but short staffed. The good academics respect our role but the majority just use and abuse.

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