By eight o’clock, Bob had packed away his stuff and managed to force the empty box into the recycling container in the kitchen. He hadn’t seen anyone else yet, though he’d heard the main door open and shut a couple of times. The strange arrangement of dividers, boxing everyone into their little pods of four, meant that you had to get up to see what was happening elsewhere in the office. In contrast, the four desks did feel rather close together, as if you’d know too much about what was happening in the area. He drew his elbows in involuntarily.
He had popped in to see the office previously, but it had been Easter vacation, and hardly anyone had been around,. He’d forgotten to ask who else was in his group of four. He hoped one of them wasn’t Martin. Not that he had anything against Martin. It was just that it had been hard enough getting any work done when the two of them shared a reasonably-sized office.
He sighed at the thought. He knew Martin meant well. And it was vital that somebody stood up for people’s rights. It was just that he didn’t always think that Martin picked the most important things to stand up for.
At least he’d missed the election buildup, if not Martin’s analysis of the fallout.
Bob plugged in his laptop and started to look at the university policies on student experience. He wasn’t really sure what his new role was going to be. The new head of department had been rather vague about it. “All the departments are having an academic lead for Student Experience” he’d said, “You can talk to the woman in Marketing and PR about it, she’ll tell you where things are up to, um, what’s her name, now…”
Bob had later found her name, and emailed her, but she hadn’t replied.
Trouble was, there wasn’t any actual named university policy on ‘student experience’. And pretty much every other policy probably had some impact on student experience, so you’d have to fit in with all of them. What the hell was the student experience, anyway? He thought he’d understood it when he’d been offered the job, but now he couldn’t get a grip on any part of the concept. Where to start? He began to doodle a kind of mind map.
Bob was surprised, a while later, to be disturbed by a loud throat -clearing just behind him. He turned round to see one of his ex-students standing at the next desk. For a moment, Bob wondered how he’d got into the office. Then he put the face and the name together. Ajay. Of course. He’d spoken to him on the phone, when Ajay was covering his teaching while he was on secondment, but not seen him for years.
“Hi, Bob. Sorry if I disturbed you. I just wanted to say hello, and welcome back.”
Bob smiled. “Ajay. Hi. Good to see you. I didn’t hear you coming in.”
“You seemed to be quite absorbed. I wasn’t sure whether to disturb you”
“Oh. Well, that’s good. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to work in here. But it looks as though I might!”
“It’s pretty quiet today. Everyone’s marking at home, I think. Anyway, I’ll let you get on. Just thought I’d say hello. I’m just next to you, here.”
Ajay sat down at the next desk. There was about a metre between their chairs.
Bob leaned over. “Great. It’s good to see you again. And thanks for holding the fort while I was away.”
Ajay smiled shyly. “No problem. I enjoyed it. Bit of a baptism of fire, but it’s been interesting.”
“I heard they’d managed to keep you on. Glad me coming back hasn’t put you out of a job.”
“Well. It’s still only temporary. No permanent posts unless you’ve got a PhD.”
Bob made a sign of commiseration. There weren’t too many experienced accountants who could teach on the professional courses and who had a PhD. He was glad he’d been appointed before the new rules came in. “Are you going to do one?”
Ajay sighed. “I guess so. I’ve got to finish the PGCHE first.”
Bob gave a wry grin. “Don’t tell me. You’re not enjoying the reflective portfolio.”
“Good guess.” Ajay paused. “I don’t know why. I suppose we’re just trained to record the facts, in accountancy. I can’t see how what I think about my teaching is particularly relevant to anyone except me.”
Bob grinned more widely. “You’re bringing back painful memories! I did manage to pass it, though. Tell you what, I’ll bring you mine to have a look at.”
“Would you? Thanks, Bob. It’s due in a month or so, and I just don’t know where to start.”
Bob laughed at that. “Wasn’t the point of the portfolio that you were filling it in all year?”
“Well, I’ve been keeping my lesson plans and stuff…but I don’t really know what else is needed.”
“God, don’t look at me, I haven’t even thought about any of that stuff since I finished it.” Bob wondered if that was really true. Surely something had gone in? Nothing came to mind. He shrugged. “OK, I’ll try to remember it tomorrow.”
Bob looked behind them. “So, who usually sits over here?”
“Vanessa and Nawaz. They’re both part-time. I don’t see much of them.”
Bob tried not to look pleased. “Oh. I’m so used to sharing with Martin, I assumed he’d be in this pod.”
Ajay looked a bit uncomfortable. “Um. He’s got a desk by the window, in the corner. He was just on the other side, actually, but, um, he ended up moving.”
Bob decided not to ask more questions. Martin could definitely be relied on to tell the story from his own special perspective. “Well, it’s good to be sitting next to you, Ajay. I’d better get back to this.” He waved vaguely towards at his desk.
They smiled at each other and returned to their invisible bubbles.
Bob found that he hadn’t got the slightest idea what he’d meant by any of the scrawls in front of him. He scrunched up the paper and prepared to start again. Student experience. Student experience in accountancy. Students, experienced in accountancy study. Students’ experiences aggregated into an amorphous blob. He sighed.
Was there any chance of anyone getting responsibility for the staff experience?