Don's Diary

September 19, 1997

Monday

A start-of-term feeling pervades the office. In July a ballot authorised the merger between the Association of University and College Lecturers and the Association of University Teachers and the past seven weeks have been a time of expectation and preparation. Today the former AUCL head office in Southsea becomes an AUT regional one. We have national responsibility for the 1992 group (the "new" universities and colleges of higher education), so in some ways little will be different.

The office is just the same, and it is only in the detail that the change is apparent. Boxes of green-headed AUCL stationery have been replaced by others which contain the AUT turquoise and orange colours, and the plate on the door has been changed.

Arrival of the post and first telephone call distract the staff from pondering the, as yet unknown, adjustments that will have to be made under the new regime. Jonathon, my counterpart in the Manchester office, wants to speak to me. We have been preparing additional information for the website for some weeks and he is confirming that we are now virtually one!

Tuesday

Lay officers have traditionally represented AUCL on a range of outside bodies where they have often met with their AUT opposite numbers. On some committees both associations have held seats, and we have got to work out where we have to withdraw one representative. This will cause disappointment, as most officers, lay and paid, enjoy having a direct input, which is representative of members' interests, into their specialist area. Luckily, there is little obvious overlap. Each time the telephone rings every eye turns to the answerer, conversation stops, and ears are pricked lest someone might say AUCL by mistake. A reminder of the penalty for forgetfulness, the price of everyone's favourite cake, hangs on the wall.

Wednesday

Another list! My directory, compiled in July, of the new universities and colleges of higher education, is already out of date. I have worked from a variety of sources, the three-year old Higher Education Funding Council for England bible, the Department for Education and Employment updates, prospectuses, The THES's "Noticeboard", and telephone calls to individual institutions. It is tedious stuff, but now the errors are corrected.

One of the most frustrating aspects of my work is that some of the information I have to unearth is elusive. Published material (most of it from government agencies) is innocuous. How many female professors are there, for example, as opposed to women on that scale, ie senior academics as opposed to administrators? How many retired lecturers, in total, receive Teachers' Superannuation Scheme pensions? How many lecturers are on fixed-term contracts? Why, when these figures are finally released, are they two years out of date? Results of the 5,415,176 subject entries for the GCSE examinations were tabulated and released to the press the day before the official day which demonstrates what some areas of educational number-crunching can achieve within the span of a few weeks. Sadly, not within the realm of higher education.

Thursday

Routines are falling into place. The initial trepidation which any new employment invokes is dissipating and I can concentrate on the beginning of term for my daughter who is about to start her A levels. She is instructed to bring her syllabuses home so we can discuss their viability in terms of her commitment before she embarks on two gruelling years.

The spectre of university fees hangs over our heads. I was married in the United States and had Chris been born there her college fund would have been started 16 years ago. As it is, I have two years in which to amass enough money to ensure that she is not deterred from entering higher education by the debt she will accrue. Even now she is thinking about sponsorship and it will be interesting to see how far the computing industry will be willing to support her.

Friday

The bumf from the Trades Union Congress arrived today. AUCL was not affiliated to the TUC, but AUT has been for more than 20 years. Our involvement this year was limited to a couple of our lay officers and our assistant general secretary, Christine, going to the congress as a visitor and attending the joint reception.

Spend the morning with Dawn, the membership secretary. We need to analyse the effect of the merger on recruitment. Proportionally, the old AUCL (how much easier it is to think of it as that now than it was at the beginning of the week) received as many applications through its website as the AUT in the same period; responses to newspaper advertisements proved very cost-effective; and telephone enquiries have led to more than one form being faxed out and returned in only the time it would have taken to complete it. We have found our new colleagues, most of them employed in what is now our head office in London, to be amiable and helpful. A week has not been long enough to determine the full impact this office's change of status will have on staff, though there is cautious approval for what we have so far seen.

Erica Halvorsen

Research officer for the AUT in Southsea.

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