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Universities - how are you all doing?

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Wow, it seems like an age ago that I started this thread https://www.ukhillwalking.com/forums/off_belay/what_will_happen_at_universities_in_september-718343?v=1#x9180653 about what Universities will look like in September and now here we are with some of the answers, but still many huge questions.

I've just finished a long email to my boss to say more or less "I'm f*cked, totally done, wiped out by the last six months of non stop firefighting and reinvention and don't know that I'm going to be able to last much longer before I have to walk away for the sake of my sanity.  Please send help."

How's everyone else?

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 Dr.S at work 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

its been fun so far.

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In reply to Bobling:

> I've just finished a long email to my boss to say more or less "I'm f*cked, totally done, wiped out by the last six months of non stop firefighting and reinvention and don't know that I'm going to be able to last much longer before I have to walk away for the sake of my sanity.  Please send help."

Throw the question back to you: 
What do you think should happen?

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 Hardonicus 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Fooking rubbish. Thankfully not much teaching till after Xmas so I get to see the dust settle a bit before going in balls deep.

Post edited at 01:34
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 gavmac 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

First week back teaching (Scotland based). Tbh it was great to have students back, albeit in the virtual environment. We're fully online until at least Christmas, hopefully able to start the practical and field trip parts of our programme sooner (which are key for our students).

My biggest concerns were/are the technology, building community and student engagement. The tech has worked well so far. That's a relief. 

I'm certainly working hard! Probably around 70 hours a week. I've had some pretty low moments over the last few months... I've found turning my house into my office hard and I miss the energy and social aspect of being on campus. But, I've been lucky to have an excellent line manager and very honest and supportive group of department colleagues.

I can very much empathise with how your feeling. Wishing you the best and hopefully some of the answers start to come. 

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In reply to FactorXXX:

> Throw the question back to you: 

> What do you think should happen?

Honestly I don't care at the moment.  I just don't want to carry on as I am ruining my own mental health and ignoring my own children for the sake of others' children.

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 Old Skooled 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Fine, to be honest - but I do live/work in Denmark. I'm sorry things are so bad for you and hope they improve soon. 

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 gravy 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Poised to nose dive into oblivion and trying our best to take the country down with us.

Dismayed at the incredible rate of premature ageing amongst my colleagues and avoiding the mirror in case it's me as well.

Disintegrating mentally under the work load, disintegrating physically under requirement to be strapped in the same chair looking at the same screen 11 hours a day.

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In reply to Hardonicus:

> Fooking rubbish. Thankfully not much teaching till after Xmas so I get to see the dust settle a bit before going in balls deep.

What's so magical about the date of Christ's birth, such that it's all going to suddenly come right? Unfortunately the hard facts suggest otherwise:

https://www.gordonstainforthbelper.co.uk/images/covid_spike_Sept_9.png

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 wintertree 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

I flogged myself at the expense of family to get through all my roles (most concentrated over the year into May/June by bad luck) and to take a big laboratory cohort remote for labs that happened in June.

Having seen how our senior management (central not departmental) treated us with absolute contempt as they tried to use the “opportunity” for some sweeping changes then lied to the media about it when it made the news, then repeated the “treat em like shit” cycle a couple more times, I realised this is not a system I am going to retire in.  So after 23 years in the system (one way or another) I’m done.

I have massive concerns about the effect I am seeing on many of not friends and colleagues who are all flogging themselves, have been for 7 months, have no end in sight and haven’t had any downtime.

All this so we can bring students in to residence to spread covid and do mostly remote learning.

I’m glad you sent the email - there will be help from others who are in a better place life-wise to flog themselves - I had to offload one party of my role due to the time collision and the extra work reinventing the labs; I owe a couple of kind people big time.

Talk to people - I’m glad you posted.

Post edited at 08:18
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 Rob Parsons 10 Sep 2020
In reply to wintertree:

> Having seen how our senior management (central not departmental) treated us with absolute contempt as they tried to use the “opportunity” for some sweeping changes then lied to the media about it when it made the news ...

What was the story? And which institution?

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 wintertree 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Parsons:

> What was the story? And which institution?

The other Dr Wintertree in the house still works there so I’ll stick to slight evasion I’m afraid.

Edit: deleted my reply as this is not in The Pub but I’ll drop you a PM later when I have some time.

Post edited at 08:27
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 Rob Parsons 10 Sep 2020
In reply to gravy:

> Dismayed at the incredible rate of premature ageing amongst my colleagues and avoiding the mirror in case it's me as well.

Ah, but you miss the point - in the Brave New World of all-on-line-teaching, that problem can be addressed by real-time image-processing software: those doing the teaching will be kept looking permanently young and enthusiastic; the students involved will be kept looking 'engaged.'

The endgame of course is to have the teaching done by AI robots. But perhaps a couple of years yet before we get there.

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 Rob Parsons 10 Sep 2020
In reply to wintertree:

> Edit: deleted my reply as this is not in The Pub but I’ll drop you a PM later when I have some time.

No problem, thanks.

> Having seen how our senior management (central not departmental) treated us with absolute contempt as they tried to use the “opportunity” for some sweeping changes ...

Definitely we need to watch out for those in power using the current health crisis as a pretext.

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 RentonCooke 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Similar. My leave was pooled for the summer period and I've worked every day of it. My schedule was already hectic, but has been seven days a week, no less than 12-hour days, plenty of all-nighters, and never really switching off.

All of it mostly just treading water, for no discernable outcome, and mostly to satisfy some bureaucratic box-ticking process that has brought us no closer to figuring out how teaching will actually be delivered. 

We haven't helped ourselves though.

The inability of university staff (admin and academic) to break out of their traditional mindset, the bloody-minded attachment to quaint Oxbridge process, and the desire to debate and form a committee for everything has made this a hell of a lot more difficult than it should have been. The absolute piddling objections people can come up with, and a desire to continue fighting their personal battles and vendettas in the midst of it all has been infuriating. Much like the wider world where some people have lost everything while others have been living it up on paid furlough, some staff, students, and presumably their parents, seem to be having an entirely different experience of it all and apparently have zero regard for the fire-fighting that has been done to get this up and running. 

I've already decided to walk. Submitted my notice last week to leave in Jnuary (extendable to April if they are absolutely stuck). I'd rather be consuming my meagre savings and living off JSA than doing this any longer.

Post edited at 09:08
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 the sheep 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

On the whole its been pretty good. Being a critical worker i have had one day off since lockdown, however working from home with some time on site each week has worked well. I found the time to run most days which has helped. I have had some labs in through the entire process and now have all funded researchers back on site in a controlled manner and its all working out so far. 

There is however the avalanche ahead when we get all the students onsite and are expected to deliver practical teaching and a whole host of other onsite teaching. With the kids back at school students going to uni and the seeming general spread amongst young people then a second wave seems inevitable.  

The biggest challenge we faced was with our younger kids education. My wife and I both worked through and we are very glad they are back at school for structured education!

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 ianstevens 10 Sep 2020
In reply to FactorXXX:

> Throw the question back to you: 

> What do you think should happen?

Employ more staff. It's that simple. This could be people who have recently finished PhDs/postdoc roles or other fixed term teaching positions. For example, my previous department opted to not renew contracts for the equivalent of 7 full-time teaching staff, who provided c. 1/3 of the contact hours. The interest here was clearly in saving money, rather than delivering a service to the students. The university has since over-recruited, and is sitting on a huge endowment and could easily afford to make a loss for a couple of years. The money is there, staff are available yet universities are not employing people. 

However, it's academia. So the solution deployed will be to overload staff, chastise them for not taking holiday whilst simultaneously piling more work on them, and send an email about how they "care about mental health". 

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 wintertree 10 Sep 2020
In reply to RentonCooke:

> and the desire to debate and form a committee for everything has made this a hell of a lot more difficult than it should have been. The absolute piddling objections people can come up with, and a desire to continue fighting their personal battles and vendettas in the midst of it all has been infuriating.

As a colleague of mine said in the early days “This is how wars are lost”.   I decided how my June lab activity was going to run in mid March and just bloody mindedly pushed it through when the decision was finally made to abandon physical teaching.   The interminable wait for decisions on exams, term 3 and and then the coming future term burnt weeks then months of irreplaceable preparation time, and comes at an astounding human cost.   I’m a firm believer that sometimes taking a month to make the “right” decision is not appropriate; you make a decision in days then you spend a month making it work.  

> some staff, students, and presumably their parents, seem to be having an entirely different experience of it all and apparently have zero regard for the fire-fighting that has been done to get this up and running. 

A couple of the student complaints I saw back in April/May beggared all belief.  They clearly had no idea of the effect the complaints had on people who were barely holding it together to minimise the unavoidable disruption.  HE as a sector appears to have pulled of a blinder in adapting to this and keeping the wheels on the teaching programs and there’s very little gratitude going about for those who did it after the committees and senior management managed to make some decisions.  I don’t know a single person who gave up as some (not all) schools did - despite also picking up the slack with their own children from outright school courses (ie no structured distance learning support).

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 Offwidth 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

I retired. My colleagues who didn't have that choice have never worked harder. The institution is in a swirl of uncertainty mostly down to external unknowns.

If you need someone independent to talk things through, message me through the site. I provided advice for decades through various academic unions and have some spare free time.

Post edited at 09:41
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 Hardonicus 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I mean that we will have a better idea of the long term impact and whether teaching will be predominantly staying online or not. At the minute it is all so up in the air that I pity anyone trying to deliver a practical degree course (I'm in engineering) without knowing whether people are going to be on campus and whether there'll be more lockdowns etc.

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 Hardonicus 10 Sep 2020
In reply to ianstevens:

> However, it's academia. So the solution deployed will be to overload staff, chastise them for not taking holiday whilst simultaneously piling more work on them, and send an email about how they "care about mental health". 

This has one of the more hilarious aspects of this whole debacle. Weekly briefings from the VC suggesting we all need to take some leave (he managed it inexplicably) while piles of emergency admin coupled with extremely tight turnarounds are being rammed down our throats. I lost 20 days this year and I'm pretty fed up.

We have some online mental health mindfulness bullshit website. Like I want to sit at a computer for any longer than I have to.

Post edited at 09:44
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In reply to Bobling:

Pretty good, really.  I am part time which reduces pressure on me.  At department level however people are being practical and positive dealing with huge uncertainty.  Senior management appear to have a clear direction identified.  I don't always agree with it but know there isn't a "right" answer so as long as there aren't ridiculous proposals am happy to go with things and support the strategy.

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 Welsh Kate 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

I have over 30 days leave to take before the end of September; I'm off tomorrow to blow 11 of them (assuming no significant changes to Scottish restrictions in the meantime) and have had no proper rest since February when I had a week-long break and wasn't very well. I'm utterly bushed, and advised my head of school back in July that various colleagues including myself were on the edge of breakdown. HoS acknowledged - and did absolutely nothing except say that we were over the worst of it. Really? How about teaching prep for September, how the hell we're going to deliver f2f and the massive additional workload that will entail. Then I had admissions. My 27th year as a lecturer (regardless of my work title) has been the hardest by a very long way, and the 28th is lining up to be a corker as well.

I'm just grateful that I have a 40% secondment so a lower teaching load than some, and I do flipped learning anyway, so our 'new normal' teaching methods are not that different from my 'normal normal'. But I'm very resentful of the various colleagues who've got through the last six months without picking up any of the additional work that's been needed (emergency, contingency, strategic) apart from arranging their teaching for the next academic year. In some ways this is unfair of me, but they've taken leave, they've been doing research or scholarship over the summer, and I'm fried and will need a couple of days at the start of my holiday before I can start having a proper holiday.

Sorry - sob story over... and sorry to hear so many of my colleagues are in a similar situation x

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 cathsullivan 10 Sep 2020
In reply to all:

Some (in my view) useful resources:

https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/helping-you/telephone-support-counselling

I've been in HE for many years and I think I have never seen a greater period of time where we need solidarity and collective action.  We need to fight casualisation and take action on workloads and well-being more then ever now. But we can only do it if we do it together in an organised fashion.  For me, the obvious answer to this is joining (and actively working as part of) a recognised trade union.  Many people do not have the privilege of that option these days, so I don't think we should waste it.  I know that we can debate the strengths and weaknesses of trade unions (generally or specifically) until the cows come home ... but I think some collective fight is our best chance of creating better environments for everyone involved in, and affected by (which is basically everyone) HE.

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 cathsullivan 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Welsh Kate:

> But I'm very resentful of the various colleagues who've got through the last six months without picking up any of the additional work that's been needed (emergency, contingency, strategic) apart from arranging their teaching for the next academic year. In some ways this is unfair of me, but they've taken leave,

Sorry to hear that you resent me for taking my leave Kate. I am also filled with envy that you have such a rarified thing as a sabbatical.  But, meanwhile, as we fight it out and direct our ire at each other, the real culprits get away with it. xx

Post edited at 10:19
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 ianstevens 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Hardonicus:

> This has one of the more hilarious aspects of this whole debacle. Weekly briefings from the VC suggesting we all need to take some leave (he managed it inexplicably) while piles of emergency admin coupled with extremely tight turnarounds are being rammed down our throats. I lost 20 days this year and I'm pretty fed up.

> We have some online mental health mindfulness bullshit website. Like I want to sit at a computer for any longer than I have to.

No free yoga courses? We got offered some of those like 1) they would help 2) anyone had time and 3) there aren't millions all over the Internet anyway.

Losing 20 days must suck. I presume you aren't paid for the days you didn't take either? I managed to take all of my days, but only because I was one of the ones cut from the dept so escaped the 20-21 planning fiesta in August and was allowed to take them all consecutively. 

Post edited at 10:42
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 Offwidth 10 Sep 2020
In reply to ianstevens:

You say employ more staff but the reality is thousands of job cuts already announced. Plus other budget cuts that make life harder for those who remain. This is one Russell group institutions plans linked below. Multiply this up across the HE sector and there could be ten thousand job losses (mostly the part time staff on the most insecure contracts). The big uncertainties are will the overseas students come and of course the B word.

https://exchange.nottingham.ac.uk/blog/covid-19-and-university-finances-update-2/

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 ianstevens 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

> You say employ more staff but the reality is thousands of job cuts already announced. Plus other budget cuts that make life harder for those who remain. This is one Russell group institutions plans linked below. Multiply this up across the HE sector and there could be ten thousand job losses (mostly the part time staff on the most insecure contracts). The big uncertainties are will the overseas students come and of course the B word.

I am aware of the job cuts. My job was cut in May, citing a drop in recruitment numbers. The last email I saw regarding recruitment is that numbers are up. My (Russell Group) institution has little debt and lots of savings, and now many very overworked staff. 

Post edited at 10:41
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 Welsh Kate 10 Sep 2020
In reply to cathsullivan:

It's a part-time secondment within the university, Cath, not a sabbatical, and yes, the failure to spread out work is a failure of management. I should not be having to try to find cover for my role while I'm on leave, my head of department should.

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 Offwidth 10 Sep 2020
In reply to ianstevens:

Really sorry to hear that. I campaigned nationally against the job losses and closures of STEM courses and other strategically and regionally important courses for decades. It was more often than not the case that the financial situation presented to the academics, support staff and their unions was misrepresented and within a year the University were recruiting to departments where redundancy was absolutely necessary. Where we won nearly every compulsory redundancy battle it turned out there always was another way. Unfortunately, every year things got a little bit harder as marketisation took hold.

This current situation sadly looks like a perfect storm. HE is one of the UKs most successful export markets, in research outputs we rank second to the US. It would be a tragedy if the system was seriously damaged by the market response of individual VCs to covid and brexit. We need a national plan.

Groups like Independent SAGE are trying to help on Covid practicalities.

http://wonkhe.com/blogs/universities-get-some-indie-sage-advice-on-reopening-campuses-in-september/

Post edited at 11:11
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 Timmd 10 Sep 2020
In reply to gravy:

> Poised to nose dive into oblivion and trying our best to take the country down with us.

> Dismayed at the incredible rate of premature ageing amongst my colleagues and avoiding the mirror in case it's me as well.

If it's any consolation, my late Mum 'bloomed' after retiring from teaching, and seemed to look less aged, I think stress and work based signs of aging don't always linger.

Post edited at 13:04
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 Greenbanks 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Massive work overload. Yes, no more commute, but that saving has been deployed in on-line interactions with increasing numbers of postgrads and university-related meetings. Colleagues overwhelmed by trying to sort professional placements at a time of great uncertainty in schools and settings.

Work-life balance was always a challenge for me: now it verges on being unsustainable. And I'm one of the 'lucky' few - established Chair, ongoing research grants & funded PhD students, and a modest requirement (flexibly applied) to undertake direct teaching below M-level. Oh - and I have the option to pack it all in! So, I'm not complaining on my part. The physical & mental health of my colleagues, the short-changing of students and the slow decay of what once was a 'jewel' in the national crown are altogether more important.

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 Rod_Vortex 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Admissions has been a bit mental. It's all process-driven and due to the pandemic the processes have gone out of the window and made things quite difficult. Deadlines have constantly been in a state of flux and all applicants are panicking big time. Saying that, the numbers look a lot healthier currently than some people had expected. Still getting a lot of international students. 

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 Offwidth 10 Sep 2020
 kathrync 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Thankfully all my teaching is in the second semester, so there is time for everything to settle down a bit. I'm relieved I don't have to get stuck in to it yet. To be fair, I was teaching during the week we stopped face to face this spring, so I had to move my course online mid-way through - that was pretty stressful, although the students were very understanding. For the MSc course where I do most of my teaching, course start is delayed until November this year, but end is still scheduled as normal and the first exam diet appears to be scheduled as normal.  No-one has explained yet exactly how that is going to work... 

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 Old Skooled 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

I've been feeling increasingly guilty about my earlier rather flippant "I"m alright Jack" post from this morning (albeit it was written in a rush before a two and half hour Zoom class)

I spent 20 post-PhD years in UK HE, up to 2018, taught in the US for one year, and then joined a Danish university in late November 2019. I've loved my career, and still do; thus, it is horrifying, sobering, and alarming to read many of the accounts that have been posted today. Both the personal and systemic pressures seem to be building to almost unsustainable levels. Perhaps the threat is not quite existential but clearly parts of the systems as we once knew them, are imperilled. 

My experience here is very different. Of course, there have been additional demands given the adjustments we have all had to make, but management (line and senior) have been entirely supportive. Work/life balance is central. I've also had to deal with a serious illness in my family and the consistent message has been that I must put that ahead of anything else, including work. Indeed, decision-making and communication have been the most impressive aspects: always clear, consistent, and stable. This has been modelled by the Danish government, which acts in the same ways (making it easier for institutions to make decisions too, of course). We've all been working harder perhaps but I think we do feel supported, generally. No talk of cuts, no job insecurity. 

But things were different beforehand: no "adjunctisation"/casualisation that I'm aware of. PhDs receive a stipend on which its possible to live a family life etc. As well-funded public institutions we have certain obligations to the state and the Danish public but there are precious few metrics and nothing resembling a REF. Things are not perfect but I will admit there is much to be grateful for. Sorry for going on in this vein, and I am not trying to gloat, but I suppose I'm saying HE can be run in other ways. I hope everyone back in the UK will look after themselves and their colleagues. 

Post edited at 14:52
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In reply to gravy:

> Disintegrating mentally under the work load, disintegrating physically under requirement to be strapped in the same chair looking at the same screen 11 hours a day.

Nailed it.  Sending you my best.

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In reply to RentonCooke:

So sorry to hear that.  I've had it bad but not half as bad as that.  I have tried to keep weekend working to the absolute minimum to spend time with the family, but know of several colleagues who did the same as you and have just ended up going right the way through.  I do not know how they are still standing (and still taking the punches from the powers that be concerning the next new policy, some of them still even managing to smile from time to time).

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In reply to Bobling:

Sounds like your taking it all too seriously. Turn up at 9, leave at 5. Have a full lunch. Take your paycheck. Work to rule.

If management are failing you it's fair for you to fail them.

Take care and stay safe and sane.

Much love,

BB

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In reply to wintertree:

> A couple of the student complaints I saw back in April/May beggared all belief.  They clearly had no idea of the effect the complaints had on people who were barely holding it together to minimise the unavoidable disruption.  

Snap.  The total lack of empathy from some students was astounding.  OTOH the occasional comment from a student to say "I don't know how you are getting all this done, thank you so much" was worth its weight in gold.

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In reply to Welsh Kate:

Enjoy your leave Welsh Kate.  I spent a good amount of my time on Lundy trying to identify strategies to keep me physically and mentally intact when I got back.  It has sort of worked, in that had I not had them I would have been worse off than I am now.  

One of my very learned colleagues gave me this quotation from Lucretius when I unburdened myself to him,  "omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret".   God I hate it when I have to google translations for Latin I would have know 20 years ago when I graduated!  And from  a Physics Professor.  

I still take solace from one of my favourite bits of Pliny, I believe to Caninius Rufus

"Are you at your books, or are you fishing, or hunting, or doing all
three together? For the latter is possible in the neighbourhood of our
Larian lake. The lake supplies fish in plenty, the woods that girdle
its shores are full of game, and their secluded recesses inspire one to
study. But whether you combine the three at once, or occupy yourself
with either one of them, I cannot say "I grudge you your happiness,"
though I feel annoyed to think that I am debarred from pleasures which I
long for as ardently as an invalid longs for wine, and the baths, and
the fountains. If I cannot unloose the close meshes of the net that
enfolds me, shall I never snap them asunder? Never, I am afraid, for
new business keeps piling up on top of the old, and that without even
the old being got rid of. Every day the entangling chain of my
engagements seems to lengthen by acquiring additional links. Farewell."

That actually about sums it up, but it's nice to know people have been feeling this way since antiquity.

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 Welsh Kate 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Thanks for that! I believe that's one of the Pliny letters on my Latin set texts list when I was a first year undergraduate. That takes me back :-D 

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 Andrew Lodge 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Interesting thread, especially seen from the other side as someone whose son is about to start as a first year.

I can't help feeling that they will get minimal if any face to face contact during the whole year and the only reason for getting them on campus is so the uni can charge them for the rooms. Perhaps that is being over cynical, I certainly hope so.

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 Dave B 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

I've gone. 19 years. They put most staff on 80% contracts, invited redundancy, but refused it on the the grounds of too many students - so they would have to replace. Plus no plan to reduce workload to 80% of (over) full workloads. 

Everyone left quite jealous.

I am now a student!

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 Dave B 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Don't fall apart. I did last year, and its no fun. 

Be good to yourself.

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 Arthur Parkin 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Andrew Lodge:

Yes, rather cynical! He doesn't have to go you know. If he does, you'll no doubt then focus on the  ‘value-for-money’ - or lack of - that he is (you are) getting for his (your) investment in the university degree programme. 

For what it is worth, from my stint on the telephone with students to whom my university has made offers, several commented that it was because we are offering some face to face teaching that they chose us.

Whether being on campus rather than learning online actually happens, certainly this term, given the worsening infection rates nationally, remains to be seen. Universities have a duty of care to Staff as well as students.

As someone identified by the NHS as being 'clinically extremely vulnerable' I'm not sure I want to be anywhere near your - or anyone else's - 17-25 year old at the moment.

No doubt like many others on this thread, I've had my contract unilaterally altered since March and have spent the summer preparing accessible and appropriate online materials. So, why not save your accommodation charges and your son can study remotely?  

Post edited at 22:56
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 wintertree 10 Sep 2020
In reply to Arthur Parkin:

Some courses here have offered a choice of some face-to a-face teaching and learning or all electronic teaching and learning; about 50% chose all electronic but are still moving physically in to residence in the city. 

I don’t for one minute think they’re coming here to be socially distant in their dorms as they could attend online teaching just as well where they are now and save £6k to £9k in the process.  They’re also not coming up for the nightclubs as they remain closed. Cruise Ships 2.0?

Post edited at 23:25
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In reply to Welsh Kate:

Well Kate, I hope you enjoy hunting, fishing and reading all at the same time by some Scottish loch.  

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 Offwidth 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Dave B:

Can you message me what institution that is. I have retired from work but not from UCU.

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 Offwidth 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Andrew Lodge:

My niece is going to Copenhagen with a grant, no fees and much cheaper accommodation to be taught a STEM subject, in English, in an institution where the staff and management get on. In the UK a good proportion of the staff are in dispute with the management (the ongoing pay, pension and equality dispute will still impact about half the institutions this year and there are numerous local disputes about redundancies and even some about attempted forced breaches of contract). There are other ways to go than risk the almost inevitable mess in quite a few UK Universities this year.

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 ianstevens 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

Thanks. I'm sure it's not just COVID, as you say there is the marketisation push and effect of the industrial action this year. Rumours were floating around my previous institution that not renewing fixed term contracts* would be used as a way to reduce the percentage of teaching delivery by "casual" employees. I also get the impression COVID has been used as an excuse to push through changes that have been resisted for a while, both there and in other institutions. 

*The place has a track record in renewing these, even though they clearly are not obliged to do so. So much so that the expectation of my colleagues, fixed term and otherwise, was that all FT contracts would be renewed with 2020-21 planning based around that. 

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 Offwidth 11 Sep 2020
In reply to wintertree:

Except the plans of many institutions will have to change again for this term with the latest government advice. Less face to face teaching than planned (except for essential labs).

Post edited at 11:03
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 Offwidth 11 Sep 2020
In reply to ianstevens:

The way some research staff on multiple fixed term contracts has been treated is terrible. The shameful record I know for continuous service (on multiple fixed terms) with end of contract leading to a redundancy was 21 years.

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 Flinticus 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

Reading this thread with interest. Thanks for this quote. My wife, currently struggling with NHS management, really appreciated it. I think we will print it off and frame!

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 Greenbanks 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

Most parents (and their offspring) are totally unaware of the opportunities beyond the UK to secure low-cost undergraduate or postgraduate education. It does seem to be a product of living on these islands - quite inward-looking for the most part. Student mobility has been one of the success stories/benefits brought by EU membership. Sad that it has never really been fully maximised or acknowledged.

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 Offwidth 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Greenbanks:

If nothing else moving to Scotland was always a possible alternative, given the difference in debts. I suspect most kids from poorer families bought into the lie that English fees and grants are not regressive. I've been lucky in the 'timing' of my professional life but anyone from my sort of background going to Uni now will be paying back what must be around £60k debt (including loans, grants and student accommodation). I would not have taken such a route: I would have sought full sponsorship or gone to Scotland or continental Europe). What really annoys me in the politics of this is the move from £3k fees to £9k looks to have saved the taxpayer almost nothing.

Post edited at 12:01
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 Sans-Plan 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> What's so magical about the date of Christ's birth, such that it's all going to suddenly come right? Unfortunately the hard facts suggest otherwise:

To quote George Canning "I can prove anything by statistics except the truth"

Perhaps overlaying amount of tests done since mass testing was available on that graph may show the full picture, good or bad ?

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In reply to Flinticus:

Ah go on then if you ask...my other favourite Pliny letter is this one, to Fabius Justus.  I've used a variation of it from time to time to provoke a response from an out of contact friend - it never fails!

"It is quite a long time since I had a letter from you. "Oh," you say, "there has been nothing to write about." But at least you might write and say just that, or you might send me the line with which our grandfathers used to begin their letters: "All is well if you are well, for I am well." I should be quite satisfied with so much; for, after all, it is the heart of a letter. Do you think I am joking? I am perfectly serious. Pray, let me know of your doings. It makes me feel downright uneasy to be kept in ignorance.   Farewell."
 

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 neilh 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

How about a different headline.

Anybody working for the airlines- how are you doing? Anybody working in hospitality- how are you doing?

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 Rob Parsons 11 Sep 2020
In reply to neilh:

> How about a different headline.

> Anybody working for the airlines- how are you doing? Anybody working in hospitality- how are you doing?


Feel free to create such threads.

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 Roadrunner6 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Greenbanks:

" It does seem to be a product of living on these islands - quite inward-looking for the most part. Student mobility has been one of the success stories/benefits brought by EU membership. "

But that was why we were so willing to vote Brexit. So few of us did access the EU for education and work. Those of us who did loved it for that very reason.

It's an incredibly insular place, I'm not sure if that's just an island thing.

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 Doug 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Roadrunner6:

>  So few of us did access the EU for education and work. Those of us who did loved it for that very reason.

And many of us who did were not allowed to vote in a referendum which has made our lives more difficult & even after 4 years, uncertain.

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 Sans-Plan 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Rob Parsons:

Genuine question, is the education sector going to suffer any long term effects due to the current situation such as redundancies, pay cuts etc. ?

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 Roadrunner6 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Sans-Plan:

> Genuine question, is the education sector going to suffer any long term effects due to the current situation such as redundancies, pay cuts etc. ?

Yes. Definitely. Universities were struggling anyway, in the US this will kill of a lot of 3rd tier universities who were struggling anyway.

My Dad was at Sheffield so we still get the news. That's a top Uni and facing big cuts. It will be worse at the less secure places.

https://www.thestar.co.uk/education/sheffield-university-cut-jobs-it-faces-ps100-million-loss-caused-virus-crisis-2880065

At the school level it is helping private schools because we can stay open due to small class sizes. We've had our best recruitment period in 15 years.

Post edited at 13:52
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 Dave B 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

Emailed... 

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 Andrew Lodge 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Offwidth:

Sounds good, wish I'd known about such opportunities a year or so ago.

Hope it works well for her.

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 Yanis Nayu 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Andrew Lodge:

Yes, same here. I’ve got a horrible feeling my daughter is simply being used as a tenant of a very expensive student room where she’ll sit a bit closer to where the lecture is being recorded, staring at her laptop.  Shit situation all round. 

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 Andrew Lodge 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Yanis Nayu:

I know exactly what you mean. I'm sure the students will make the best of it and if first years don't really have anything to compare it with.

Hopefully they will prove to be the resilient people we hope they are and will come out of it with a good degree at the end.

Good luck to your daughter, has she gone yet?

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 Dr.S at work 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Bobling:

First week with students back, has gone fairly well, we teach a very hands on course but have adopted some blended learning to limit numbers on site. 
juggling room occupancy rates is hard, especially when something interesting is going on.

Impressed by the efforts the ‘proper’ academics have made over the summer, less so by the higher ups.

students super enthused, which is lovely.

Post edited at 22:33
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 wintertree 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Yanis and Andrew:

For the uni I studied at, the residence fees represent about 10% of the annual turn over.  Not money they can suddenly do without...

The latest government guidance is that an infected student living in halls of residence must self isolate in the halls.  My undergrad block from the late 90s is still in service.  Rooms have no toilet, no shower/bath and no cooking facilities and are 3 about meters x 2 meters (costs about £8K per year these days, having risen something like 2.5x inflation since my time).  There’s a couple of toilets and showers for every corridor of 16 rooms.  Catering is provided in a central dining hall a few minutes walk away.

So if someone has to self isolate with covid it’s going to be sponge baths, crapping in a bucket (there is a sink into which one can pass fluids in an emergency...) and meal trays left outside the door - significantly worse than cruise ships which are at least en suite.  

If I was starting university now and I was going into a centrally catered halls without en suite, I would seriously consider remaining at the family home and engaging remotely - not for personal safety as I’d be 18 and virtually immortal but because if/when it all goes pear shaped it’s going to be the absolute worst in terms of hassle, stress and grief.

I don’t think many places have such piss poor provision mind you!

Post edited at 22:40
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 Yanis Nayu 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Andrew Lodge:

Thanks! No, she goes next Thursday. God that feels strange to write. Yes, I’m sure they’ll make the best of it. Good luck to your lad too!

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 Yanis Nayu 11 Sep 2020
In reply to wintertree:

She’s got an en-suite thank God. 

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 Andrew Lodge 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Yanis Nayu:

Mine to and self catering rather than catered, his choice.

Wintertree's scenario sounds very grim.

I'm sure part of them going is to collect the revenue for the rooms, as said it would be a huge hole in the Uni budget.

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 wintertree 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Dr.S at work:

> students super enthused, which is lovely.

For all my negativity over halls of residence and income I think there’s a lot to be gained by the students moving up even for largely remote teaching.

I ran a remote lab for the first year cohort in June and it saw way more enthusiastic engagement than a normal year, I think because the students had been largely disengaged and isolated at home for 2.5 months.  Those 2.5 months have turned in to 7 months for most students, and they could benefit massively from many aspects of the new academic year including moving in to residence.

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 Rob Parsons 11 Sep 2020
In reply to Sans-Plan:

> Genuine question, is the education sector going to suffer any long term effects due to the current situation such as redundancies, pay cuts etc. ?

Since you addressed that question to me, I'll give you my answer:

  1. Nobody really knows what is going to happen.
  2. On the question of 'long term effects due to the current situation such as redundancies, pay cuts etc.:' None of those things are necessarily 'long term', but all will probably happen to some extent, and some are indeed happening right now for certain members of staff.
  3. Do I think that highly-paid members of the managerial staff will personally suffer as a result of any of this? No. Of course not.
  4. On potential 'long term' effects, I actually think that there are real opportunities here. UK universities as a class have long been obsessed with a policy of perma-expansion, and have also bet the farm on a never-ending supply of foreign resources - in this case, students (most recently from China.) Those ideas were always going to hit the buffers at some point, and it might be that Covid forces a reckoning and a complete rethink. I am not at all optimistic about that - but I can hope.
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In reply to wintertree:

> For the uni I studied at, the residence fees represent about 10% of the annual turn over.  Not money they can suddenly do without...

> The latest government guidance is that an infected student living in halls of residence must self isolate in the halls.  My undergrad block from the late 90s is still in service.  Rooms have no toilet, no shower/bath and no cooking facilities and are 3 about meters x 2 meters (costs about £8K per year these days, having risen something like 2.5x inflation since my time).  There’s a couple of toilets and showers for every corridor of 16 rooms.  Catering is provided in a central dining hall a few minutes walk away.

> So if someone has to self isolate with covid it’s going to be sponge baths, crapping in a bucket (there is a sink into which one can pass fluids in an emergency...) and meal trays left outside the door - significantly worse than cruise ships which are at least en suite.  

> I don’t think many places have such piss poor provision mind you!

Southampton? 

 

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