Not grumpy but full of gumption 1

January 21, 2005

For Jim Mills and his circle of thirtysomething friends, UK universities appear to be populated by middle-aged "nay-sayers and gloom merchants" on the one hand and young and optimistic eager beavers on the other ("Thirtysomethings are sick of grumpy old staff", January 14).

If Mills is to be believed, this younger group holds the elder group in contempt, doesn't envy the long working hours of young contemporaries who entered other professions (lawyers, accountants and managers), because working in a university has left them time to think, enabled them to spend weekends with their families and to publish prolifically. These young academics portrayed by Mills even have time to become research assessment exercise groupies and to spend time saying nice things about the Higher Education Academy over lunch at the British Library. To judge by Mills' article, they twinkle like stars in the academic firmament.

What they aren't doing, or so it seems from Mills' portrait, is being distracted by bureaucratising forces or juggling their research and teaching with the demands of academic administration or management, which is how it should be for nascent academics. Good luck to them.

But who are the Scouts and Guides who have been keeping the show on the road during the move to mass higher education: running programmes; leading subject groups; turning up for open days; going on overseas recruitment missions; managing tight resources in a context of a huge increase in student numbers (an issue that Mills mentions only in passing); supervising the postgraduate research of the new generation of academics; and giving newcomers to the academic profession space to develop? Not those "grumpy" older colleagues whom Mills is so willing to disparage, surely? Mills is in for a shock when they retire.

David Head
Plymouth Business School

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