Applications crisis

Inspired by

Alan sat despondently in his office. The latest UCAS figures were in, and they were awful. A 12% drop in applications. Worse than Wales, as the VC had snarled derisively at him. He didn’t really see why it was all his fault. The Marketing department reported directly to the VC, not to him, and that campaign about feeling the love had been bloody awful. However, the Head of Marketing could do no wrong. Maybe if he wore such short skirts he’d get on better with the VC?

He reproached himself for that unworthy thought, and wondered if he should have been spending so much time on the University College of North Burston project, but on the other hand, that was a chance to get students from an entirely different market. It could save the whole university.

He looked at the document open on the screen in front of him. It was headed ‘Emergency UCAS strategy’. The rest of the document was blank. He sighed heavily. 4 January. UCAS deadline 15 January. Most schools’ internal deadline for student drafts: 14 December. There was no way of retrieving the situation now, but the stress ball which had hit the door as he left the VC’s office had left him in no doubt that he was expected to do something.

He got up and made a cup of coffee. Maybe he no longer had a PA, but at least he had a proper coffee machine in his office, courtesy of the previous VC. And his office was big enough for pacing. He paced.

Alan was a mild-mannered sort of person. He’d worked his way slowly up the academic ladder, or steadily, as he preferred to think of it. His wife had been happy to be a homemaker, so he’d been able to move institutions regularly in search of promotion, and to be truthful he much preferred administration to his original research on late 19th century British industrial history (beginning of the end, as he liked to think of it) or to teaching (just the end). Deputy head of department, head of department, pro vice chancellor, deputy vice chancellor. He’d almost got to the top job, but now he was at the end of the line. Bill Noakes had made it clear that they needed to mutually agree his departure. It wasn’t too bad: he had plenty of years of service, and he was going out on a six-figure salary. All the paperwork had been signed and he’d be off in a couple of months. As he paced he tried to analyse why he was feeling so despondent.

His critical thinking skills were a bit rusty – too much public relations and bonhomie at official gatherings, perhaps. But as he thought about the injustice of his situation, he started to get more and more fed up. There was an issue of professional pride at stake here. Why was he taking the blame for everything that went wrong at Burston Central? He’d always been loyal. He liked to think that he’d tempered the VC’s ideas into workable compromises. He was the creative person, the visionary, the one who’d come up with the idea of the University College of North Burston which would save the whole institution.

He straightened his back and strode over to the computer, recklessly ignoring the splashes sent over the side of his cup by the increased pace.  It wouldn’t be his office for much longer, let the next person deal with the stained carpet!

He got out the UCAS figures again. Fuck ‘em. He was going to be logical about this.

A little later, Alan got up from his computer. He carefully locked the workstation screen,  put on his coat and went over to the Sainsbury’s Local which was opposite the main campus. He came out carrying six empty wine boxes and went back up to the sixth floor. He emptied the contents of his desk into the boxes and tucked them carefully behind the door. Then he carried on with his normal duties for the day.

At around 5pm, he returned to his office. The corridor was dark.  He started ferrying the boxes down to his car. Once the last one was safely stowed, he went back up and sat at his desk. He read through the email on this screen one last time.


Bcc: News Desk, Burston Gazette

From: Alan Chilcott, Deputy Vice Chancellor

Subject: Fall in Applications

All staff will be aware of the fall in applications to Burston Central for the next academic year. Despite the best efforts of the Marketing department, our applications are down 12% on this year, worse than the sector average. With our rivals in a similar position, there is no chance of increasing applications for this year without a severe compromise to our entry standards, which is clearly unacceptable to all of you.

This reduction in student numbers will probably translate to a reduction in budget of around 10%. At the Vice Chancellor’s request, I am therefore taking immediate action to mitigate the effects of this. The following courses will now suspend recruitment because their applications are too low for a viable entry:

Media Studies


All modern foreign languages

International Management studies

All other weird-sounding ‘management’ courses

We will be consulting with the relevant unions over a concomitant redundancy programme over the next 90 days. I’ve enjoyed working with you all, but unfortunately, the institution hasn’t shaped up. We tried, but we’ve failed.

He pressed send. Then he shut down the computer, put his Blackberry on the desk, turned out the lights, and left the office. As he walked in the dark towards the lifts, he smiled to himself.  Sod them. And sod their succession planning. They weren’t going to want him back after this.

Wading Through Treacle fictionalises the stuff in HE which you couldn’t make up. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send me accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too:

If you want to read the Advent Calendar 2012, which has a bit more of a narrative, see the ‘About’ page.

3 thoughts on “Applications crisis

  1. Pingback: Popularity contests | Wading through Treacle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s