Shrinking budgets have decimated many FE and HE administration departments, often leaving academics to pick up the slack. Rolling reorganisations create problems of their own. Here are seven key ways to make things run more smoothly.
1. Meet regularly
All of us who work in academia know how easy it is for operational units to wall themselves off from each other. Often academics are frustrated with how administrators do things, but the root cause is there is no process in place for discussing ways that might work better. Formal meetings are helpful, but can end up being about process and blame rather than working together. So try for some informal, “let’s grab a cup of coffee and chat about registration/progression/marking/admissions” contact as well.
2. Make yourself a list of key acronyms and terms
Communication is difficult when we don’t use the same vocabulary. If you have no idea what the SARS system is, you’ll be out of the loop; likewise, when admin staff don’t understand the difference between an honours and a general degree, it can cause trouble. So make a list of terms as they come up, find out what acronyms stand for, and be generous in explaining your specialist language to others as well.
3. Ask for direct access to and training on key systems
This isn't for everyone—some academics are strong believers in pointedly not engaging directly with admin systems, for fear they will then be expected to do without support. But if you think there’s a better way to enter, check or cross-reference data, some kind of direct access will be very helpful. Most universities offer short training courses on all essential systems.
4. Read and understand each others’ job descriptions
Many misunderstandings hinge on expecting people to do things they aren’t paid for, haven’t been trained to do, or could even get in trouble for taking on. Usually job descriptions for university posts are easily available from HR. Sharing your own with admin can be a kinder way of explaining why you don’t have time to spend an afternoon entering data into spreadsheets, too.
5. Get to grips with structures
Sometimes they make little sense, but we all have to work within the administrative structures management has set up. Besides, until you grasp how they’re supposed to work, it’s impossible to make an effective end run around them…
6. Advocate for each other
Admin tasks from photocopying to data entry have been creeping onto academics’ workplans—and often this is wasting their time and expertise when the work could be done better, faster and less expensively by an administrative assistant. Work together to make a strong case to management for appropriate, properly trained people to take on the work they are best at, and we’ll all be happier.
7. Be on your admin team’s side
When things go wrong—job cuts, reorganisations, chaos at the top—it helps a lot if your coworkers say and demonstrate that they respect and value your expertise. A heartfelt thanks for a job well done goes far (and so do cookies or coffee when your admin team is weathering ordeals like clearing).