Teacher audit

March 25, 2005

Name: Paul Murray

Age: 50

Job: Principal lecturer, Environmental Building Group, Plymouth University

Salary: Circa £40,000 pro rata

Background: After spending five years in the Merchant Navy, I went to Leicester Polytechnic (De Montfort University since 1992) to study building surveying. I worked as a chartered building surveyor for 13 years, both in the UK and overseas, then joined Plymouth University in 1992 to set up new environmentally focused building/ surveying degrees. I have a strong teaching development background and led the Student-Centred Learning in Construction Education project, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Last September, I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship, which was a great reflection, not just on my own efforts but on those of the whole team I work with at Plymouth.

Working hours and conditions: Until recently, a typical working week was 55 hours. In 2003, I reduced my contract, for personal reasons, and now work less than 30 hours most weeks. I am fairly strict about allocating my time for the university, as I now have other commitments. I am writing a non-academic book on major life-change.

Number of students and staff I work with: I am blessed with groups of between 30 and 70 students - and that makes it easier for me to innovate in terms of teaching activities. I work with a small team of six construction-related lecturers within a larger school of about 30 academics. The supportive - and non-competitive - working environment here at Plymouth is brilliant. This year, I am also tutoring on the university's learning and teaching in higher education course.

Biggest challenge: Finding the time to fit everything in. The NTF award is a great honour, but it means that, within my three days a week, I have to make space for a sizeable teaching, research and development project while honouring my routine university commitments. As a result, I find I have to work fast and be highly focused. I also tend to ignore things I perceive as a waste of time.

Worst moment in higher education: I haven't really had a worst moment in my university career; I love the job. The pressure doesn't get any less, year on year, but I find university life so much more flexible and creative than the professional/business world I originated from. Also, I try not to allow the usual bureaucratic bugbears to affect me as I find it de-energising to focus on the negative aspects of the job. I tend to get the bureaucratic nonsense out of the way quickly. My worst period, however, was in the months leading up to our Quality Assurance Agency subject inspection in 1998. Our courses were new, we had no graduates, the core teaching team was minuscule and we felt real pressure to do well. (We did, but it took six months for us to recover.) Best excuse for bad behaviour: The best excuse I received from a student for handing in late coursework was: "I got attacked by rats in my flat and they ate my submission." Yeah, right.

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