Letter: Hoops, sticks and Treasury tricks (1)

May 18, 2001

It comes as no surprise that there is mounting resistance to the latest review of teaching and research time ("Dons rebel over onerous review", THES , May 11).

Natfhe members are probably correct in stating that the completion of hourly work diaries is an illegal imposition. This is an old Treasury wheeze first used in the Royal College of Science in Dublin in the 1870s to divide and rule an independently minded staff.

The University Grants Committee used the daily diary for selected staff in 1970, but the total hours worked by lecturers averaged 50 hours a week and, in fact, gave the Association of University Teachers salary-bargaining ammunition. No more was heard of diaries until now.

Since universities and their staff are in the private sector and not in any direct contractual relationship with government departments, the Treasury cannot instruct individual staff members to comply. The old UGC never instructed universities to do anything; letters of "advice" were sent to vice-chancellors, recognising that they were masters of their own ships and not part of a unified public sector.

The government knows its powers over universities are very restricted, hence an encircling group of quango-type organisations making constant demands - the research assessment exercise, the Quality Assurance Agency, staff diaries of the working week and so on. These are a series of hoops through which universities must jump, thereby exercising increased central control. The threat of the money tap from the Treasury being turned off via the funding councils is the big stick held in reserve. In effect, creeping rationalisation.

H. C. S. Ferguson

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