Hard slog and grunge

May 19, 2000

If the core activities of teaching and research are not to be driven further to the fringes of our working lives by the rising tide of "grunge" then we need to be much tougher on grunge and its causes (Leader, THES, May 12).

At any given level of externally imposed grunge, we can hope to cope a little better with improved time and paper-management. But when the reading on the grungeometer is already into the red zone, as surveys on workload and on stress have repeatedly shown, we must urgently attend to the causes too.

What might they be? Are there common causes linking the transparency review, appraisal, research assessment and the multitude of demands being visited on us by the Quality Assurance Agency?

Here are two more: the secular reduction in resources (funding per student and per research-active member of staff) that drives us to compete ever more vigorously for them; and the lack of trust in us to do our jobs properly (which drives the demand for ever more forms of'quality assurance).

A third factor is the sophistical blurring of the boundary between the cost of following good practice and the added cost of demonstrating that good practice is being followed. The paradox is evident: to have the means to teach or to do research at all, we are being required to spend ever more time doing other things that inevitably displace our teaching and research activity.

We need to draw on our understanding of the causes of grunge if we are to take effective steps to protect creative academic work, in the name of which the grunge is so often, and so misleadingly, defended.

Harry Lewis

School of philosophy

University of Leeds

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