Support surplus

September 1, 2016

It is axiomatic that those who deliver the main mission of a university need support in doing so. Many support staff do feel valued through our constant reinforcement of that axiom (“Professional service staff feel ‘undervalued’, study suggests”, News, 23 August).

It is not always clear why the malcontents on the support side have a beef about where they stand in the primacy of any university’s mission. Perhaps it has something to do with the attempted blurring of the lines between support and delivery. While support staff should support academics, and while we academics should deliver the mission, often new initiatives emanating from “the centre” impede us.

Any new initiative seems to be delivered using the powerful tool of “supporting students”. That a support “facility” exists may suggest (but should not conclude) that it is needed. Academics should have the right to refuse any new initiative, but this right has been diluted. Senior support staff have impacted on assessment choices, teaching styles, feedback timing, office hours, course designs, attendance behaviour, “professional” development…to name but a few – all under the veil of “supporting students”. Growth in the number of support staff suggests that students are incapable of navigating their way through student life.

We should be trimming support, not bolstering it. If support facilities do work as claimed, I find it peculiar that students always seem to find their way to our offices first.


“Support staff” implies that we are here to support someone else in their job rather than having our own mission. Human resources would do well to redefine this terminology in job descriptions. Many roles are carried out with little or no connection to academics, but those that are are usually delivered by people with professional skills that academic staff might not always be aware of. Mutual respect is always beneficial.


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