Blog confidential: Strangled by red tape

June 3, 2010

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Strangled by red tape

I am an allied health professional and have just started at a university as senior lecturer on a small course funded by a strategic health authority. It offers training for a very profitable qualification, and is oversubscribed.

With the coalition government contemplating massive cuts to the academy, I have a suggestion to make: why not take a look at the number of regulatory bodies overseeing my course? It is up for revalidation and I cannot believe the number of organisations involved in the process, all working separately.

I have to map my course against a set of standards from the Health Professions Council, another set from my professional body, plus Quality Assurance Agency and internal quality assurance standards. I also have European competencies to consider.

When I have completed this exercise, I have to send the documents to internal readers in the university, an external reading group and an administrative student-data reading group. This all comes on top of the yearly cycle of external-examiner and health authority reports, annual reports to the professional body, as well as student feedback and service-user inputs. Oh yes, I also have to teach the course, lead modules and undertake tutorials.

I am new to the academy, but this seems crazy to me. The red tape involves a range of managers who seem to spend most of their time travelling around the country duplicating work. I write to you not as some sort of flag-waving Cameron supporter: I'm a political refugee with no home for my emancipatory views, but I believe in taking responsibility for my work. I must have written and rewritten documents totalling 60,000 words. The whole system is pointless. If I complain, colleagues look as if to say: "Do you really think you are cut out for academic work?"

I don't think your experience is necessarily the norm - professional qualifications do have a range of regulatory bodies, but most standard degrees do not in my experience lead to so much duplication.

The issue seems to be what to do next. Most academics are unprepared to consider the crazy amount of work they have to put into these things: they become conformist and organisationally focused, and critical thinking takes a back seat.

If cutbacks are on the way, let's look at where there is duplication within universities and their allied bodies. We have to be objective, but these external organisations wield great power and influence. Within them are individuals who have families, commitments and jobs.

When cuts come they are rarely sensible, wise or logical: more often they are born of vendettas, animosities and grudges.

Your experience seems authentic but can easily be ignored by what are ultimately conformist institutions. There must be a better way of working: based on trust, with universities networking new and innovative approaches. I fear that the futile tasks such as the ones you describe will deplete scholars of the creativity they started out with when they entered the academy.

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