On the sixth day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas, the VC sent to me
Six Student Surveys
Five REF Stars
Four Closing Calls
Three French Exchanges
Two DVCs
And restructure of the university


Pam sat in the open plan office, trying to remember what it was she’d wanted to concentrate on, if only the distractions of people coming and going would reduce enough to let her get on with it. It was there somewhere, hovering around the edge of her thoughts…

There was a cough right behind her. She spun her head round.

“June! You gave me a fright!”

June spoke in a stage whisper. “Sorry. I don’t like to disturb everyone by clumping in.”

Pam raised her eyebrows. “Most considerate. Thanks. I’ll try not to disturb them by shrieking when you come up behind me. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“His nibs wants a report on the department’s response to student surveys on his desk by Monday.”

“Which surveys? Why now?”

“All of them. Because the new DVC wants a report from each department,”  June lowered her voice, “and because they’re deciding before Christmas who’s going to head up the new teaching hubs .”

“Teaching hubs?”

June bent closer to Pam’s ear. “You know, the reorganisation. No more departments. Just three teaching hubs. And what will the rest of them do then?”

Pam fought the urge to wheel her chair fractionally away from June’s face. “What?”

“Don’t you read the all-staff newsletter?”

“I must have missed it. Been busy with, oh, teaching, marking, exam-setting, pastoral support….”

June shrugged. “Well, whatever. He said you could give him a ring after seven tonight if you need to talk to him.”

“Tonight? But I’ve got choir…” Pam trailed off. “OK. Whatever. Did he say how long it should be?”

“Nope. But he usually says ‘no more than a page’ for anything going upstairs.” June looked upwards to indicate the direction of travel of the report.

“OK. Well, thanks for coming to tell me.”

“No choice. You never answer my emails, and your phone goes straight to voicemail, and he said it was important.”

“Oh. Sorry. Well, you know how it is. Students come first.”

June’s expression indicated that she didn’t think her place in the pecking order should be quite so low, but she simply said. “OK then. Monday?”

Pam nodded. At least that solved the problem of wondering what she was meant to be working on. As June walked away, Pam sighed deeply. What on earth was June talking about, three teaching hubs? And what had that got to do with surveys? And why a report on surveys? What use would that be? She opened her notepad and began to make a list of surveys which their students had completed in the last few months:

  1. National Student Survey
  2. Burston Intermediate Survey
  3. Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey
  4. Postgraduate Research Experience Survey
  5. Domestic Student Barometer
  6. International Student Barometer

She decided to discount the last two. Response rates were never over 15% and they never got useful data at departmental level. Especially the international one – they only had about ten international students on the course, anyway. They were just a pet project of a previous PVC. And there was no way Geoff would remember about them. PRES and PTES were slightly better in terms of response rates, but they hardly had any postgrads, so absolute numbers were low. She decided not to bother with them, either. So. NSS and BIS, the survey for first and second years which was intended to prepare students for the NSS to identify problems in a timely way . What useful information could she put together at departmental level? She could write the summary without rechecking the detailed data: “Results have varied slightly from year to year, but on the whole, Biology students at Burston Central are about as satisfied as their counterparts in other similar institutions. Student comments indicate that we still have work to do to improve timetabling and feedback on assessed work. Programme teams continue to address the issues raised by students as part of their annual improvement planning.” She wished that ‘upstairs’ had read the ‘Making it Count’ report, because surely if they had, they wouldn’t ask for a summary of departmental reports. Everyone knew that the results of the National Student Survey were disciplinary-dependent. Didn’t they?

Pam sighed again. Surveys had seemed to be a perfectly sensible idea – taking a snapshot of what was happening. How had they generated such an industry of analysis, comparisons of un-related data, report-writing, and teacher-shaming? And why had she agreed to be the departmental survey co-ordinator, complicit in perpetuating this activity? Or was she just being cynical? Was the original aim still being served, at least at course level, if not at institutional level?

Pam stared into the distance for a while. She could write an excoriating critique of the process. That would probably be the honest, academic, thing to do. But to what end? Geoff would just have to write something else himself to pass ‘upstairs’. He’d be pissed off with her, and it wouldn’t make any difference to the end result. The path of least resistance was to produce a short, bland report which would satisfy Geoff. If it helped him in his mission to become head of a teaching hub, who was she to argue? Reaching for the headphones, she clicked on her Spotify account and looked at the genres offered. In the absence of one marked ‘chasing your tail’, she picked ‘Oldies  Pop Christmas’.

She opened a new Word file on her computer and started typing.

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6 thoughts on “On the sixth day of Christmas

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