Lost on the paper trail

September 28, 2007

Tim Birkhead superbly describes the Kafkaesque bureaucracy under which academics toil in our universities today and the open contempt with which management routinely treats us ("Blank faces and bungled systems", September 21).

No one disputes the need to be accountable and show that we are providing value for money, but we have reached the stage where every mind-numbing, morale-destroying, time-wasting bureaucratic exercise is justified by managers on the grounds of accountability or quality assurance.

Instead of focusing on teaching and research, academics now have to devote their time to an endless cycle of annual reviews, strategic reviews, periodic reviews, quality progress reviews, institutional audits, strategic plans, annual staff appraisals, research monitoring exercises, research awaydays, not to mention the bureaucratic leviathan of the research assessment exercise.

Each of these involves months of administrative work, countless meetings and endless paper trails. Managers seem to equate the quality of any activity with the number of forms completed or number of boxes ticked.

The vocabulary has changed, too: we constantly hear the phrase "The university requires..." or "The university has decided that...", as if academics are no longer part of the university. It seems to be them (university bureaucrats) and us (academics), with academics serving the university bureaucracy, rather than vice versa.

Sadly, I cannot see any sign of change to a more enlightened regime - too many bureaucrats have a vested interest in perpetuating this over-regulation, because their careers and salaries depend on it.

The Government repeatedly tells us to be more like the private sector, but no private company would last five minutes if it had to cope with the amount of bureaucracy imposed on academics today.

Senior academic
at a Russell Group university

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