They aren't getting better in universities either, despite all the hype to the contrary. I sat in disbelief the other week, listening to the great Quality Assurance Agency guru tell us how grateful we were all going to be once the QAA had managed to turn us all into proper professionals. I have to admit he's a wonderful public speaker. You'd sell your granny after listening to him for half an hour. I was ready, once I'd set my disbelief on hold for a bit, to follow him like a rat running down to the river Weser. Then I got a grip on myself. Hold on, I thought, aren't academics professionals already? What's the QAA going to give us that we don't think we have now, except more burdensome papers?
This worried me so much that I lay awake every night for a week, going over the possible advantages to any of us in education of the innumerable hours of inspection, the documentation, the threshold levels and benchmarking teams, the outcomes and inputs, the robust and vigorous guidelines or the endless training that turns out to be some chap with an overhead projector telling you the obvious. At a safety officers' training session for newly appointed academics, all with PhDs in something or other, a trained trainer put up an overhead that listed what you should do in case of fire which read: SHOUT FIRE, LEAVE ROOM, CALL FIRE BRIGADE
If that isn't dumbing down, what is? But try to avoid one of these training sessions, and you'll find yourself and your institution in trouble. The only surprising part of that particular training session was that we didn't have to practise shouting "Fire!" to make sure our decibel levels were robust enough, but I imagine that that is likely to come our way some time over the next couple of years.
What I tried to say to the devotees of He-Who-Would-Sell-Your-Granny- for-Tuppence (HWWSYGFT), all two of them in a room seating 60, was that there doesn't seem to be much evidence of all this drive to professionalism really doing us academics or the students much good on the ground. The constant round of inspections is utterly relentless and eats into teaching time, which will soon be referred to as Quality Time because the students will value so highly the minimal contact they manage to have with those of their tutors who aren't filling in more forms or being inspected again.
The acid test is this: would you advise anyone to go for a career in education these days? And would you, if already in one, have chosen something different, given that you now know that you're not going to be a real professional until the QAA decides you're fit for it? The catastrophic decline of applications for PGCE courses shows how people feel about careers in primary and secondary education, and a similar decline will surely come in higher education. What is certainly here is a reluctance of younger colleagues to become involved in the life of the university outside their own departments, which will have serious knock-on effects in a few years. I like to think that there is a whole generation of women younger than me surging up the promotion ladder on their way to running departments, becoming deans, PVCs, vice-chancellors and the like, but the evidence is pretty underwhelming. They're all too busy struggling to make time for their research and marking to take on admin as well.
And the pay is a disgrace. You spend seven years getting a first degree, a master's and a doctorate and then you start at a derisory salary. Not that it gets better as you rise up the promotion ladder. Someone told me that in 1980 the two groups of public sector workers paid more highly than professors were brigadiers and headteachers. Now, apparently, professors have been overtaken by civil servants and even by majors. And what's more, the gap between the salary of a professor and a brigadier, which was pretty minimal in 1980, has now widened to an abyss. I'd transfer into the Army tomorrow for a brigadier's salary, and if pay rates go on plummeting I may even end up transferring for a second lieutenant's.
No, the sad fact is that all this nonsense about professionalisation has been swallowed by funding bodies and not remotely opposed by the CVCP or any other of the wimps who doubtless hope for promotion into bodies like the QAA. Academics have been so cowardly that they probably don't deserve a pay rise. We shall simply have to gird our loins and prepare to sell our grannies.
The writer is pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick UniversityReuse content