Quarts into pint pots

March 31, 1995

Do not put today's Synthesis: Buildings and Estate Management in the bin unread. These are your working conditions it is talking about. This is also what "managerialism" in universities is about, making a quart fit into a pint pot. This is what "those people" do and why they are going to have to do a lot more of it if students are to get a half way decent deal in our increasingly overcrowded universities. It is not good news for departmental fiefdoms. Professor Lapping will have a fit.

Some 1,400 university administrators will gather in Bristol next week for the annual meeting of the Association of University Administrators. This conference provides an invaluable opportunity both for exchange of experience and for training. Our Synthesis reveals how sorely both will be needed as university staff tackle the pressures financial stringency is imposing.

Universities are under horrendous pressure: more students, no capital, urgent repairs, health and safety requirements, demands for more computers, for research space, campaigns for greater greenness, for better security, for better libraries longer open hours, for more study spaces.

Even if they could afford the interest charges, universities could not raise the capital nor build or adapt buildings fast enough to meet these demands. And anyway they have not got the income to service the debts. No wonder the number of managers and administrators is going up and no wonder their activities provoke resentment and suspicion. Squaring the circle is increasingly difficult. Those charged with securing hitherto private space for general use and running buildings and facilities for the greater good of the institution and its "customers" - a word to provoke outrage in itself - will need all the training and all the mutual support the AUA can muster.

The new university of Lincoln, being designed by the firm which 30 years ago brought us the University of York, will have no earmarked departmental space. That is the future.

Most academics will not see such changes as improvements. Getting from here to there will rightly be seen as deterioration unless there is more money substantially to upgrade facilities at the same time. This is the nitty gritty of delivering still higher productivity in higher education as called for by the Council for Industry and Higher Education in its evidence to the Shephard review.

The industry-dominated council's faith in the possibility of re-engineering higher education without losing personal contact between teacher and taught is touching. It betrays its industrial orientation: high productivity and high quality can indeed march together there given investment. But in higher education it is not so clear. If it can be done - and the council recognises the funding question must be tackled if it is to be possible - it will mean a degree of central institutional management, and acceptance of such management, hitherto unacceptable in most old universities.

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