Support our service staff

September 10, 2015

A Times Higher Education analysis revealed that support staff are in the majority at 71 per cent of UK higher education institutions (“Academics in the minority at more than two-thirds of UK universities”, News, 3 September).

I have worked in the higher education sector for more than 25 years, and in that time I have seen the enormous growth of accountability, auditing and reporting. When I started my career, there was no teaching assessment, quality assurance assessment or research assessment, no freedom of information requests, no data protection, no Key Information Sets.

So the need for a body of professional services staff is not surprising. Universities provide a range of services well beyond teaching and research, including accommodation, catering, events, hospitality and cultural performances. Income from such activity supports core activity.

Through the Association of University Administrators, I have seen professional staff work closely with academic colleagues to improve service, to enhance the student experience, or to produce insightful research. Technical staff, accounted for in the professional services grouping, are vital to science teaching and research, and are a clear example of this kind of partnership.

While some may hanker after the simpler days before the advent of accountability and scrutiny, there are many more who appreciate and work collaboratively with professional services staff, recognising the level and complexity of the tasks that those staff undertake, ensuring that academic time is reserved for academic pursuits.

Universities quite properly set high standards and have high expectations of their academic staff. They apply these criteria to their professional services staff as well. Most of my colleagues are well qualified; many are also professionally accredited; and the majority of them deliver consistently excellent service.

Instead of looking at the percentages, we should assess the value and benefits that my colleagues provide, and remember that they are dedicated to ensuring an enhanced experience and delivering an excellent service. These are the indicators we should be assessing them by.

Kathryn Fowler
Vice-chair, Association of University Administrators

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Reader's comments (2)

"Ensuring that academic time is reserved for academic pursuits' Just what is being said here? Does Kathryn Fowler think that teaching staff have non academic time as well as academic time? Or does she believe that executing the shabby charade of the REF, defending one's job from Heads of School who assert that one is not bringing in enough external funding, who insist on impact, or who waste time spinning rankings or student surveys count as 'academic pursuits'? Management have a lethal record (think of Imperial College) of 'ensuring an enhanced experience'
I think she means that if the administrators were not there, then someone else (academic staff, perhaps), would have to do those tasks (or at least, the mandatory ones). I don't think she is suggesting for a minute that the entire time of a member of academic staff is spent on beneficial academic work. Please don't mistake the decisions of management for the work of administration.

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