After 20 years of teaching in higher education, this is why I am walking away

There are now so many regulations to abide by in higher education, it's a wonder there is any academic freedom left, says Steve Wheeler

June 7, 2017
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After nearly 20 years teaching in higher education, I'm walking away.

I have taken voluntary redundancy from my post as associate professor at Plymouth Institute of Education. Recently I was informed that the computing and ICT specialism that I have helped to develop and deliver for the past 10 years has been cut from the B.Ed primary teacher education programme (yeah – try explaining that).

I have mixed feelings about walking away. On the down side, I will miss teaching my undergraduate students, and the wonderful times we have enjoyed together exploring questions such as "who should define the curriculum?" and "what is the best way to integrate technology into the classroom?" Thanks guys – it's been great spending time with you, and watching you blossom into excellent educators. I will also miss working with my many splendid, caring, intelligent and incredibly entertaining colleagues at Plymouth, especially those with whom I have developed real friendships.

I would like to thank all those in the institute who have supported me, even when some of my ideas might have looked a little crazy. 

On the up side (and this is why I'm smiling) I certainly won't miss the petty bureaucracy that is on the increase at a university near you. Ask anyone who works there. They will tell you. There are now so many forms to fill in, regulations to abide by and rules to follow, it's a wonder there is any academic freedom left, or even any time to think. Nor will I miss the penny pinching austerity. Most higher education leaders are now ruled by their accountants and finance officers, who seem to think that the most important mission for universities is to make money. The balance sheet, it appears, carries more weight than quality pedagogy.

It seems to me that the sole reason university heads emphasise "student experience" is because they want to maintain a positive image from good feedback on the annual National Student Survey forms. Their key desire is to stay near the top of the league table. I won't miss the exam boards, budget cuts, tedious mark uploads and reports, the "research excellence" framework, Ofsted inspections, the academic offence committees, mandatory compliance training days, the ethics boards and the *interminable* meetings that could easily have been conducted by e-mail.

All of this is now behind me, and I'll have plenty more time on my hands to pursue new directions. I haven't felt as relaxed as this in many years.

I'm not retiring. I will still continue my personal research into technology integration, social media use in education and mobile learning – but without the pressure of having to publish in the "right" journals. I will still blog and write as much as I wish, and I will continue to teach and speak, wherever I am invited around the globe. I'll continue to supervise my handful of PhD students and keep myself updated on the latest technology trends. And I have some personal projects planned, included writing (fiction) and playing my instruments (guitars, keyboards), and I've also been commissioned to present a new radio show playing 70s and 80s vinyl (real fun).

The show will be syndicated worldwide via the web as well as being broadcast across the UK. Watch this space.

I'm very positive about my own future, but I'm fearful for the future of higher education – I'm not sure how it will survive if it continues to be dominated by profiteering accountants who cut and cut and cut again, and expect those that remain to continue to work just as well with dwindling resources. I worry about how universities will survive when they are frittering away their greatest asset: the intellectual capital of academics who really make university what it is.

But I have a hope that among the remaining academics there are many who will maintain their integrity no matter what is thrown at them, and who will continue to work tirelessly with what they have to give their students the best possible education.

My main website is here, if anyone wants to get in touch. I'm now available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and cocktail parties.

Steve Wheeler is associate professor (senior lecturer) in information and computer technology at the Plymouth Institute of Education. This article originally appeared on his blog

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Reader's comments (1)

Well said enjoy the retirement. Universities are now run by bureaucrats not academics and the result is useless form filling, paperwork, procedures, quality control, number and money counting on an unbelievable scale combined with looking at every useful expenditure as a costt rather than an investment. These bureaucrats mean no pay rise for academics and higher fees than necessary for students. I am not criticising many excellent support staff and course offciers who do a fantastic job just the useless tome wasting, resourceand money wasting bureaucrats that are slowly demoviting academics and stopping them do what they want to do which is high quality teaching and research and appropriate adminisitration.

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