Cast-out staff have to mingle with students

November 2, 2006

The common room, academics' sanctuary from the clamour of ever more demanding students, is under threat, the University and College Union claimed this week, writes Phil Baty.

The union spoke out as Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College (BCUC) confirmed that it was scrapping its staff lounge and cafe - forcing academics to eat, drink and "relax" with students.

"It is difficult enough having to teach ever larger groups of students without having to eat and relax with them too," said Andy Pike, a national official at the UCU.

"The common room or staff room is an increasingly rare facility these days. But it is an important space where you can have a few minutes to yourself and to have a cup of tea and a discussion with colleagues without being approached by students asking for help with their coursework."

The college is redeveloping its main High Wycombe campus as part of a fresh application to obtain the coveted full university status. Its bid was turned down last year by the Quality Assurance Agency.

But the redevelopment plans have infuriated staff.

Stephen Soskin, UCU branch chairman, copied staff into a letter to BCUC director Ruth Farwell last week.

He said: "Let me say now that, if it is the intention to remove all dedicated staff relaxation and catering facilities at the High Wycome Campus, the UCU finds this totally unacceptable.

"Staff are entitled to areas within BCUC to relax, speak openly with colleagues and enjoy a proper break from the work environment, including students, as dedicated as we are to them. We also believe that there are occupational health and safety issues here about the wellbeing of staff."

Martin Briggs, BCUC deputy director, told The Times Higher : "BCUC has ambitious plans to enhance and expand its main campus in the centre of High Wycombe. Included in these plans are new cafe facilities for the benefit of staff and students.

"At BCUC we see staff and students as members of the same community, so we believe it is important that both should be able to take advantage of the significantly improved facilities."

Have you lost your common room or is it under threat? E-mail

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