How Higher Education Works – A Play in Miniature

There are two separate entities that you will come across in Higher Education. There is the Department – the one that does all the teaching, admissions, outreach, grant-writing, research, pastoral care, etc. etc. – and then there’s the University – the one that is… well, it just is.

About this time every year – a time when the precious younglings are preparing for their A-Level exams and then will anxiously wait several weeks for the results – the Department and the University will do a little dance around each other. It goes something a little like this:

University: “Hey, Department, you can take another five students this year, right? Good, we’ll put you down for that. Onwards and upwards!”

Department: “Erm… didn’t you tell us to take an extra five last year?”

University: “Great! You managed it then, so you should have no problem taking another five this year, either. Steady growth. Upwards. Onwards. Whatnot.”

Department: “You also told us to do that the year before, and the year before that…”

University: “So, what’s your point?”

Department: “The point is that adding a few each year to our student numbers has doubled it in a relatively short amount of time, while in the same time our academic faculty has expanded by zero and our lab space hasn’t been updated or expanded since James Callaghan was Prime Minister.”

University: “But the University is growing! We must become a force for the future! Driving forward! Progress! Future!”

Department: “We literally don’t have the space.”

University: “Oh, come on, it’s only one more tutorial group. Surely you have someone with a spare hour to deal with them.”

Department: “I… erm… I suppose we could-”

University: “Excellent! Pushing boundaries. Onwards! And you can stick another five spare seats in that lecture theatre, right?”

Department: “Well, it’s pretty crammed as it… well, we could stick another row of spare chairs or an overspill room but it’d be-”

University: “Great! We’ll stick you down for five more students, then. Ever onwards and upwards!”

Department: “Fine, fine… we’ll put out a Clearing advert, then. Are you going to give us the extra £45,000 a year in fees that those five students will generate?”

University: “Lol no.” *sparks up cigar with a fifty pound note*


One thought on “How Higher Education Works – A Play in Miniature

  1. You forgot the part where the Department, and every other Department in every other university and every other discipline, seven years after admitting those extra few students to the doctoral programme, mints an ever-expanding number of Ph.D.s to compete for an ever-contracting number of academic jobs.


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