On the third day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, my VC sent to me, three French exchanges, two DVCs and restructure of the university.

Sunita looked at the clear patch on her desk. She pushed some more files away from its edge, and wondered if anyone would notice if she were to lay her head down on it for just five minutes. She looked around the office. Everyone was staring at their monitors, tapping at their keyboards, focused intently on something which must surely be useful.

The movement of her head must have caught Ye’s eye. She looked up and smiled at Sunny. Sunita turned the corners of her mouth upwards by a fraction. OK, so they probably would notice if she took a nap. Was there any end to the disadvantages of an open plan office? She turned her eyes back to her desk and sighed heavily.

She reached for the phone and dialled the head of languages. The number went straight to voicemail.

“Ramsi? It’s Sunny here. Could you give me a call back? I’m still short of three French exchanges for the mobility figures and I wondered if you had any contacts we could use. Cheers. Talk to you soon.”

She didn’t hold out much hope of a returned call from the Head of Languages. He was permanently angry. About the cuts to his department, the focus of the International office on attracting non-EU students and what he perceived as her lack of interest in modern foreign languages and the opportunities for internationalisation closer to home. She had total sympathy with him, but she’d been told clearly where she needed to put the resources of her department.

She looked again at the spreadsheet in front of her. Mobility targets. Why, why, why was it so difficult to get students to leave Burston and go to one of their partner universities in the rest of Europe? Granted, some of the partners were in places all-too-similar to Burston, but surely the equivalent of Burston in Romania offered mind-opening possibilities which were worth the effort? She’d spent a fortune on glossy brochures showing Transylvanian castles, Spanish tapas bars, quaint Bulgarian donkeys and Slovenian ruins. Some of her staff in the international office thought the leaflets pandered to the worst kind of European stereotypes, but it had mostly worked.

Except for these three French placements in Roubaix. For some reason they just couldn’t get them filled. She’d even had a special leaflet done, with photos of cobbled streets, plates of moules-frites, Eurostar trains (‘back to Burston in four hours‘ – though she wasn’t entirely sure that was a selling point), and cycle races. No luck.

She could probably smooth over the lack of placements with the Erasmus+ team at the British Council, and replace these placements with some extra ones elsewhere. The real problem was that the Roubaix connection had been the VC’s idea. He’d personally brought the contact to her and asked her to set up the exchanges. His six months there as a visiting lecturer in the 90s had been one of the highlights of his CV, according to the chair of Council at the VC’s convocation, which all of the senior team had been expected to attend. He’d even got  the Director and senior team of the Roubaix Ecole de Commerce over for three days and hosted a special reception in Burston Civic Hall. Sunny had had to plan the visit. It had been very difficult to fill the three days, the reception had cost a fortune, and at the end of it they’d arranged three student exchanges which would normally have been sorted out with a couple of emails between the relevant departments. And now nobody wanted to go. It was only a matter of time before the VC asked to meet the three lucky students who were going to Roubaix, and what would she tell him? That is wasn’t really the job of the Head of International Partnerships to chase language students to undertake a voluntary placement in what might be the wettest, most miserable corner of France? Or that if Languages hadn’t been so heavily slashed in his first restructuring, there might be more students available to go?

Suddenly, she had an idea. What if she were to distract his attention with something else…maybe a big, funded, project? Or an invitation for him to speak at a prestigious institution in China? Or a series of speaking invitations? That was it. She opened a new email message and started typing.


9 thoughts on “On the third day of Christmas

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