A CALCULATING WOMAN: PLANNING NEXT YEAR’S SCHEDULE

One of the main tasks I must fulfil as BA Coordinator is planning the schedule for next year. Calculations used to be simple: 1 credit was the equivalent of 10 teaching hours and, so, a full time, tenured teacher was supposed to teach 24 credits, 240 hours. My contract specifies that I work 37,5 hours per week, so if I multiply by 48 weeks a year (minus a 4-week holiday) the total is 1,800 hours. Deduct the 240 hours and I was left with 1,560 hours to prepare classes, do research and contribute to the Department’s management.

Then several things happened a few years ago. The new ECTS system was introduced. This means that for 1 credit students work a total of 25 hours, of which one third (5) is classroom time. Teaching 6 ECTS no longer meant for us, teachers, 60 hours but, oddly enough 50. Suddenly, those of us teaching 24 credits were teaching 200 and not 240 hours. Odd. My university decided then to add an extra ratio for each taught hour that would account for preparation, correction, etc, and, don’t ask me how, we ended up with a strange figure: 560 hours of teaching. For the first time, the size of groups was taken into account, so that teaching a compulsory subject to 70 students would count for many more hours than teaching an elective subject to 15. Fair enough (though I’ve never understood the mathematical formula that was applied).

This year my university has finally approved a formal scale to calculate our teaching hours which takes into account the Wert Decree of two years ago. The decree famously decreed that tenured teachers with Ministry-certified research should teach less, those with no certificates (I mean ‘tramos’) should teach more. My university has dragged its feet about this as, I assume, there must have been much pressure from teachers who didn’t to want teach more than 24 ECTS. I don’t know.

The question is that if you have three ‘tramos’ you are entitled to teaching only 16 ECTS, if your last ‘tramo’ has not expired yet you teach 24, but if it did expire you teach 28 for the next three years, hoping you’ll get it back. If you do no research then it’s 32. Now consider that the 28ers and 32ers are not supposed to teach, anyway, more than 240 classroom hours, the same as the 24ers.

Still with me?

Our Vice-Rector for Faculty is a mathematician. He has determined that in order to know how many hours we should teach we need to multiply our ECTS by 17.5. So, if you teach 16 ECTS, that’s 280 hours; 24 ECTS, then 420; 28 ECTS, that’s 490 and, finally, 32 ECTS amount to 560 hours. That’s the total teaching time, remember, including the famous 240 maximum presential hours, plus supervising BA, MA and PhD dissertations. Now add to this a second mysterious ratio which calculates teaching hours according to the size of the group. Your group is less than 20, then multiply your teaching hours (6ECTS = 50) by 1.5. Between 20 and 29, then by 1.7. Etc, etc.

So far, I have spent two gruelling mornings, calculator in hand, trying to work out a) how many hours each member of our staff is supposed to teach (we’ve been given a figure for the reductions each person is entitled to, but not the actual hours); b) the sum total of the teaching hours per person taking into account the figure for each group/subject. We have a computer application which simply shows the results of someone else’s calculations for the groups but not an application we, poor Coordinators, can use to calculate variations on the official figures.

The results? Well, same as without all the formulas, for we need to teach what we need to teach and without more staff there’s nothing much we can change. I forgot to say that MA teaching time is treated as if were BA teaching time…

Actually, with all those numbers in our hands, we can prove that most faculty members will have to tutor BA and MA dissertations for free. PhD dissertations are always tutored for free, as although the hours are eventually added, this does alter our dedication in a particular year. Take my own case: I must teach 210 hours (I’m a 16er and get a reduction as Coordinator), but my two subjects next year amount to 220 hours. I need to supervise at least two BA dissertations and 1 MA dissertation since both degree programmes simply need my help. That’s 35 extra hours…

All this si quite confusing but at least at UAB we’re still lucky that we have no computer programme clocking in our research and management time (well, for management that might be good). In other Catalan universities some bureaucrat has quantified in hours activities as impossible to calculate as writing an article. Or, if you care to know, preparing a lecture: one day it may be three or four hours, the next one 1 minutes (if you just check what you did last year).

We’re civil servants and should be accountable to the public for the hours we work, I know that. I also know that, somehow, my frantic use of the calculator is preferable to the computer doing the calculations for me –at least, there’s a human touch there. In the end, though, I’m not sure who all these numbers benefit.

Nor whether they do reflect at all our real activity, whether we do more or less than we should. That’s my main concern.

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