New year, new dreams, old admin nightmare

September 8, 2006

A fresh academic year is about to begin. The Times Higher asks university staff what they are looking forward to - and dreading - in the terms ahead

* I'm looking forward to meeting the new intake of students and guiding them through the degree and on to careers in medical research (or any other direction), teaching in depth in my specialist area to final-year students and engaging with students in small tutorial groups.

I'm dreading an enforced merger of my department with another - it will take up valuable faculty time but bring little short-term advantage; continuing to work without a significant pay rise; having to undertake tasks that should be delegated to administrative staff; the overcrowded timetable that drives much of my teaching into the evening and means that I will see less of my children.

Anonymous biochemist

* I left the UK at the end of the last academic year to take up a chair in Canada. The difficulties of living and working in London on an academic salary were no longer tolerable. Canada offers considerably better salaries to academics and the opportunity of a lifestyle far in excess of what is achievable in the UK.

At the start of this new academic term, I am particularly looking forward to my six-minute commute to work, enthusiastic students and improved prospects for academic research funding.

Mark Larché
Professor of medicine and biochemistry at McMaster University, Canada, and former reader in allergy and clinical immunology at Imperial College London

* I am looking forward to teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students and to the fresh start that a new academic year brings. I am not looking forward to the increasing number of administrative meetings that I have to attend, particularly those relating to top-heavy "quality assurance" procedures run by central administration.

Anonymous historian

* I have great apprehensions about tuition fees and the student expectations that will accompany their introduction. Will students expect 24/7 access? Our personal mobile phone numbers? Will we have to sign non-liability contracts with them? Will they expect superior food and wine for the college/ departmental parties, not the cheap plonk from supermarkets in Calais or the noxious university home brand that passes for white wine? Not that they've ever complained before, but now they might be expecting vintage years. It could be a nightmare

Anonymous film studies lecturer

* As the new academic year opens up before us, I am looking forward to meeting a vast array of young people with no scientific preconceptions or their own academic interests to protect. It will be a pleasure to interact with new people, who after hearing about our work for the first time might provide new perspectives on old problems, and I look forward to building an internationally recognised research team to help illuminate the common diseases that affect modern Britain, such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.

This year will be difficult as research funding becomes harder to obtain, and the pool of researchers applying for this finance is ever increasing. This is a problem gaining momentum with each passing year and, as is eternally true of these things, each year is harder than the last.

Russell Crawford
Postdoctoral research assistant in the division of maternal and child health sciences at Dundee University

* I'm involved with training secondary school teachers on our PGCE course. I dread ringing up every school in the region begging them to provide placements for our trainee teachers - it's simply not a priority for schools and demand always exceeds supply, so we have to rely on goodwill and favours.

I always look forward to seeing trainee teachers arriving as timid students and leaving as confident, self-assured practitioners. Sometimes I think we should videotape them at the start and end of the course to let them see the difference for themselves.

Anonymous educationist

* The positives are stimulating academic debate with both colleagues and students, completing publications and seeing them in print, conducting research fieldwork across Europe, teaching (when the students are lively!) and seeing my students graduate.

The negatives are paperwork - the mountains of administrative tasks that take up a large chunk of time - and striving to reach research assessment exercise deadlines for publications.

Anonymous politics lecturer

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