Professionalisation

The Centre for Academic Practice was just beginning its weekly meeting. Hazel Gibbs, the Head of Centre, looked round the table to check that everyone was there. The team were settling comfortably round the table with mugs of coffee. Ruth was passing round a home-made cake. There was a low buzz of conversation.

“Ooh, Ruth, you shouldn’t have. I ate far too much at Christmas.”

“I was so going to be good today.”

“Mmm, what a treat.”

“Don’t mind if I do. Thanks.”

“Anyone see Panorama last night?”

Hazel waited until everyone had a piece of cake. She cleared her throat.

The voices died down and everyone looked towards Hazel.

“Right, everyone. Thanks for coming, as ever. Now, we’ll do our usual roundup of news, and then the only other item I want to discuss is the new target for Higher Education Academy recognition. I think I’ve mentioned this to most of you already.”

A murmur of assent went round the room. Rich was the only person who looked surprised.

“Not me, Hazel.” He looked hurt.

“Yes, sorry, Rich, I know you’ve been off for a couple of days. Are you feeling better, by the way?”

“Yes thanks, just a touch of stomach flu. Was that my back-to-work interview, then?”

One or two of the others sniggered.

Hazel forced a slight smile. “Now then, Rich. Of course not. Pop into see me after the meeting for that. The HEA target is… Well, let’s get to that in a minute. ”

She looked down at her iPad. She’d lost the thread.

“Yes. Round-up.” She looked significantly at Ruth, who was sitting to her left.

“Shall I start?” Ruth looked round the table. “OK. Well, this week I’ve mostly been working on the new resources for teaching observations. Trying to get a balance between support and compulsion. Not easy.”

There were nods round the table.

“And of course the usual rounds of School meetings and so on. Oh, and I ‘attended’,” she made a sign of inverted commas with her two index fingers, “a webinar on MOOCs. Really interesting.”

“MOOCs?” Rich looked incredulous. “Are you reinventing the English language? What’s a MOOC?”

Carol jumped in. “Massive Open Online Courses. They’re free online courses that anyone can join. The Ed Tech team were talking about running one.”

Rich rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything. Ruth glared at him.

Hazel sighed. “Thanks, Ruth. Perhaps you could pop a little summary of the webinar up on the blog?”

Ruth nodded.

“OK. Now, who’s next. Carol?”

One by one they provided a summary of their activities. Hazel took a few notes, but it all seemed pretty similar to last week. Worthy, but dull. She didn’t have anything interesting to add when it came to her turn, either. She listed the university committees she’d attended that week, together with the various ‘task-and-finish’ groups for particular projects. None of which seemed to have made much progress. None of them had finished.

She took a swig of her lukewarm coffee. “Right, that’s great, everyone. Thanks. Now, on to the main item.”

She looked around the table. “As most of you know, I was called in to see the Deputy Vice Chancellor on Monday.”

Most people around the table nodded. It was a small team. She often chatted informally with individuals about how things were going. It was good for bouncing ideas around. The only problem with that approach came when someone felt left out, because they hadn’t been in the office when she was bouncing. Rich was still looking offended.

Rich raised his hand very slightly. “I thought he’d left?”

Hazel was embarrassed. “Yes. Alan’s left. But there’s an Acting DVC – Sam. The Dean from Health and Social Care?”

“Has there been an official announcement?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. Sorry, I should have sent something round.”

She had lost the thread again. She looked down at her notes. DVC. meeting. Targets.

“Anyway. I’ve been to see Sam. He’s got a brief for, er, students, and student experience, and all of that kind of thing. The VC’s in India but Sam wants us to get going with the new agenda. I’m sure you’ve all read about all of the teaching staff at the University of Huddersfield now having professional recognition with the Higher Education Academy.”

More nods.

“Well, of course, you’ll remember that we suggested this to the VC a couple of years ago, and he thought it was a waste of time.”

Eyes rolled around the table.

“Well, surprise, surprise. They’ve changed their minds. Sam says he can see that their student survey figures have improved, especially for teaching. Although he’s assured me that this could be correlational, not causal.”

Smug smiles and nods around the table.

“So, Burston Central has got targets for HEA fellowship now.” She looked up. “50% by the end of this year, and 100% by the year afterwards.”

Most of them had heard these numbers from Hazel earlier in the week, but it was a good opportunity to rehearse their feelings. And do some more eye-rolling.

“About time too.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Does he think we can wave a magic wand?”

“Academic year, or calendar year?”

Only Rich looked genuinely aghast. “You’ve got to be joking. How are we going to do that?”

Hazel looked at him. “That’s what we’ve got to work out. And I need hardly remind you all that as far as the VC is concerned, we’re here on sufferance. He wants to see results from this strategy, or …”

She didn’t finish the sentence. The DVC hadn’t either, so she wasn’t exactly sure what the consequences might be. On a rational day, she’d shrug her shoulders and decide that there was no sensible end to the sentence. What were the chances of a mass redundancy? The university was solvent, and they were jogging along, doing a fairly solid job, like most service departments. On a bad day, though, she could imagine the worst. She didn’t want to be known as the person whose department was closed down.

The others were still silent, waiting. She pulled herself together. “So. Let’s think about a strategy.”

“How many people are HEA fellows already?” asked Carol.

Hazel sighed. “Good question, but we don’t know. The HEA won’t tell us, because they say it’s confidential.”

Trish chipped in. “What about HR? They ask us every year for the annual data protection whatsit.”

“Indeed. But apparently, they don’t actually log that information anywhere. They’d have to go through all the forms again. But they don’t have the man, er, person, power to do it. And we aren’t allowed to see the forms ourselves, because some of the other information on them is personal.” Hazel sighed again.

“So we’ll have to survey every member of the teaching staff again to get a baseline?” Rich’s question was rhetorical. He spoke very slowly, as though explaining something to a small child.

Hazel ignored his tone. “I guess so. That’s if we need a baseline.”

Ruth backed her up. “We could just assume we’re starting from zero. Since we don’t have a baseline figure. I don’t think a survey will be practical, Rich. You know what it’s like getting a decent response rate from academics.”

Nods round the table.

Rich tried again. “So how will we know if we’re succeeding, if we don’t know where we’re starting? And how will we know whether people have achieved the fellowship, if we aren’t counting?”

Hazel shrugged. “Of course, we’ll have to start a system of registration. In collaboration with HR. But we can’t afford to spend weeks or months working out the baseline.” She realised that she was now speaking slowly, mirroring Rich’s patronising tone. Damn him. He really brought out the worst in her.

Rich contented himself with a raise of his eyebrows, and sat back. Point made.

“Anyway.” Hazel tried to regain some purpose. “Let’s share some ideas for gaining accreditation.”

Off they went, thinking about how to ensure that all teaching staff at the University were in possession of some kind of recognition of their teaching skills.  Clearly, Hazel intended this discussion to be productive brain-storming. Chris wondered if it would be more accurate to describe it as defeatist whinging.

“We could try workshops, but nobody will come.”

“Can we get HoDs to make it compulsory?”

“We could do all of the support online.”

Chris snorted involuntarily and tried to disguise it into a coughing fit. He turned to the wall slightly and rolled his eyes in a direction nobody could see. Hell was likely to freeze over before anybody at Burston Central completed an online course.

The brainstorming session was well into its third cycle of repetition before Hazel decided to call a halt.

“Well, thanks, everyone! Some great ideas there.”

Chris closed his eyes, the better to roll them in peace. He really didn’t think the cheery tone was warranted.

Hazel continued. “Ruth, I saw you taking lots of notes. Could you write us a little summary before our next meeting, please?”

Ruth looked pleased. “Sure. Although I may have written down what I wanted to hear more than what was said. Haha. I was just taking notes for myself, really.”

“I’m sure they’ll be terrific.” Hazel looked down at her iPad again. “Now, we really must move on.  Any other business?”

It was nearly lunch-time. They all sat silently, willing each other not to speak.

“OK. Great!” Hazel closed the cover of the iPad. “See you all later”

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