Bob was making good headway on the marking. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he was almost enjoying it. Not in itself, because it was a very boring exam task which had produced 173 almost identical answers. More because it made him feel in contact with the students. Which was a bit weird, because it was only looking at their papers, and he didn’t even know any of them, but it was sort of evidence of progress. The University College hadn’t been quite the same. The numbers had been so small, and things were kind of incremental there; a proper first year group showed a lot more evidence of change. Or something. Anyway, he was happy to be back in the department, even if he had copped for covering Harry’s exam marking while he was off sick. And he’d known that would probably happen. Harry was always off sick in May and June.
He was listening to Bob Dylan. He becamse aware of a slight noise behind him. Oh God. He hadn’t been singing along, had he? He draped the headphones around his neck and turned round. His Head of Department was hovering behind him.
“Sorry, Gordon. Was I disturbing you?”
Gordon looked confused. “Sorry. No. What? Sorry to disturb you. I can see you’re up to the eyes in it.” He waved at the two piles of exam booklets.
Bob followed the gesture with his eyes. “Oh, no. That’s fine. They aren’t going anywhere. I’m probably ready for a break anyway. Coffee?”
Bob led the way.
Gordon looked round the little kitchen area. The shelves held a surprising variety of jars of coffee and boxes of tea bags, all carefully labelled. There were a few notices on the walls.
“REMEMBER TO RECYCLE THE MILK CARTONS”
“Your mother doesn’t live here. Wash your own cup AND SPOON.” That one had appended to it, in red biro “But somebody sexist does live here. Everyone should wash their own cup, wherever they are”
“Please get rid of your milk on Fridays”
“My son is doing a sponsored litter-pick on Sunday, could you sponsor him? You can sign below and leave the money in the jar underneath”.
“Union meeting 2pm Wednesday, to discuss management restrictions on notices in open plan offices”
“I haven’t been in here for a while. It’s quite cosy, isn’t it?”
“Home from home, Gordon. Milk and sugar?”
“Just milk, please.”
Bob handed him the mug. “Cheers.”
“Anyway, Gordon. Did you just want to have a look at the kitchen, or was there something in particular?”
Gordon looked blank for a moment.
“Oh. Yes.” He looked at the hand which wasn’t holding the mug. “Must have put it down somewhere.” He backtracked to Bob’s desk. “Here it is.” He picked up a slim document, branded in Higher Education Academy colours, and handed it to Bob. “Student Experience Survey 2015. Go to page 5.”
Bob opened the booklet. Gordon leaned over and pointed at the second graph on the page. “Look at that. It says students value industry and professional experience the most, more than teaching and research.”
“That’s interesting.” Bob was thinking about how he could use the information to encourage his colleagues to develop more links with employers. It was bloody difficult trying to get them to engage with the profession. Some of them had no idea how much practice had changed in the last ten years, particularly on the financial advice side. He scanned the back page of the executive summary. Not a massive sample, but maybe it was robust enough. He’d have to check out the full methodology.
Gordon seemed to be waiting for more of a response. “Yes, well, I think it’s more than interesting. Do you see what ammunition this gives us with the VC?”
Bob was at a loss. “Um. Well…”
“Because we’ve got so many professional qualified academics. Just what students say they want. And yet the VC is always nagging us to do more research. ‘Get more people in the REF,’ he says. Well, that isn’t what the students want. This shows it. We’ve got a different skillset in this department.”
Bob thought that this was a bit of a leap. “Well, there are benefits to being research-active,” he started.
“Yes, yes, I’m not saying there aren’t.” Gordon took the report back from him. “I’m just saying that we can take the pressure off a bit, and focus on those industry credentials.”
Bob sighed to himself. “True. Well, I’ll make sure I incorporate the findings into my student experience plan for next year. So we can build on those credentials. OK?”
Gordon looked mollified. “Yes, good idea. In the meantime, I’m going to get an appointment with the VC to ask him to stop banging on about research and start promoting professionalism.” He drained the mug and put it in the sink. “Right, I’m going straight off to ask Phyllis for an appointment.”
He turned right out of the kitchen. Bob stood still for a moment. Ten seconds later, he passed the kitchen entrance, going in the opposite direction. He glanced at Bob. “Haha. Forgot which office I was in. The door’s the other way on this side, isn’t it?”
Bob gave a polite smile. “We all do it.”
Gordon hadn’t waited for a response. Bob heard the electronic lock click on the main door.
He turned to the sink and washed and dried the two cups. He smiled to himself. You couldn’t knock Gordon for trying, but he didn’t think the VC was going to give up on research that easily.