Don's diary: Trip that banishes redundancy blues

May 7, 2004

December 2003

Strongly advised to consider voluntary redundancy because my post (as head of academic quality and standards at a new university) is apparently no longer needed. Stunned, but hugely supported by colleagues, friends and family, I start job searching. On Christmas Eve, I receive my "reward" for 11 years' hard work: a redundancy letter.

January 2004

Email former colleagues now at the University of the South Pacific: "Anything going in Fiji?" I'm invited for a couple of months as a quality assurance consultant.

February

Too upset to go to my own leaving party, but Australia beckons.

Staying with a cousin, I cover the essentials in one day: Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, even a wallaby in a national park.

Scary internal flight to Suva, Fiji, in a plane that looks and sounds rather like a second world war Spitfire. The campus is fabulous, with rows of palm trees, exotic flowers and wild mongooses. Hot and sticky, but there's a tendency for a sudden downpour.

We use focus groups with staff (a rich mix of expats and locals) to consider current quality assurance practice and establish future systems. I quickly learn the friendly Fijian greeting - Bula! - but everyone is fluent in English, and of course we're all speaking the common language of quality assurance: openness, transparency, accountability and so on.

Issues similar to those facing the UK are high on the agenda: maintaining standards in the face of great expansion; meeting student and employer needs; widening participation, lifelong learning and student support; maintaining an international position as well as regional distinctiveness.

Additional local challenges include the need for paper-based distance learning since, as one dean put it: "You can't plug a PC into a coconut tree."

Working to tight deadlines on writing up the new quality handbook while everyone back home thinks I am sunning myself. Well, there is some time to visit local markets, a Coral Coast resort (on the day my redundancy money drops arrives), and the tiny island of Toberua - fabulous, even with its metre-long striped water snakes.

March

Spent last night at a barbecue on a friend's verandah, fruit bats circling overhead. A final day's work to complete before flying to Los Angeles. I'm met by Holly, a friend from art/astronomy conferences (my hobbies). We attend a signing of her book on Virginia Woolf, then on to the Philharmonic. What a day! On the roof garden of the concert hall, with floodlit skyscrapers towering above, Holly comments: "You should lose your job more often!"

Unlike Fiji, it really doesn't rain here. Go dolphin watching, discuss US quality assurance on the beach and join in a wedding.

On to San Francisco. The view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the hill above Berkeley is breathtaking. Great contrasts between the city and the redwood forests and dramatic coastline to the north, where I stand on the cliffs watching sea lions play in the surf.

Mid-March

Arrive back to more rejections, but interviews set up while I was away result in an offer.

April

My "reward" for 11 years' hard work? A redundancy letter on Christmas Eve, a trip round the world and a new post.

Valerie Shrimplin is quality manager (validation and review), academic affairs, University of the Arts London.

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