Blogconfidential: Forms of torture

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Forms of torture

February 10, 2011

I have just come from a quality assurance meeting. Yet again, I had to sit through three mind-numbingly boring hours trying to find a reasonable way to audit the quality of teaching staff.

Those who push this agenda seem to me to be completely obsessed by detail, routine and the need to control absolutely everything. For them, the minutiae of regulatory box-ticking appears to be a paradisiacal pursuit. To me, it is hellish.

I accept that we need some way to gauge the standards of teaching in the academy, but the obsession with quality assurance is killing any notion of creativity. I object to it on principle.

Out of a sense of professional obligation I do attend the meetings, but they are slowly driving me insane. It's obvious, but I would rather spend my time pursuing my research or teaching, which is what I am paid to do.

I also have a problem with exercises that validate existing degrees: what is the point and what do they actually prove?

So how do I get out of these meetings? Often they are mandatory and there is great pressure on everyone to attend. How do others cope? And can you find me a get-out clause before I flip?

I suspect that many of our readers have, like you, sat through these terrible meetings and felt their life force draining away.

Do these regulatory frameworks make an appreciable difference to standards in our universities? I tend to agree with you that they stifle creativity and a sense of purpose among academics.

Higher education institutions should be among the most exuberant, exciting and intellectually stimulating settings, but in the past decade or two, the burden of bureaucracy has increased enormously: now it threatens to fill our days with tedious form-filling and box-ticking exercises.

Most teaching staff are overextended with a range of commitments as it is, and quality assurance is for many the final straw. It is, in my opinion, over-controlling and fatally flawed.

That said, we do need some sort of regulation: if we dropped quality assurance programmes altogether, the result would be a glut of creative but disorganised workers buffeted by a constant barrage of criticism from frustrated students.

University staff do need to be answerable to someone. While regulation needs to be balanced with trust, trust comes from accountability.

It seems unlikely that you can avoid the meetings in any legitimate manner. I go to them...occasionally. The truth is that I have developed a reputation for not turning up to briefing days. I have been sent harsh emails from my dean telling me to pull my socks up, but frankly, a bit of heat is worth it to avoid these tedious meetings.

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