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Rising burden of bureaucracy

LECTURERS ARE having to work "harder and smarter" to cope with an escalating burden of bureaucracy in colleges, reports Harvey McGavin.

Although working hours have remained the same - a 45-hour week is now common - administration accounts for an ever greater proportion of lecturers' time, according to new research from the Further Education Development Agency.

The study of 84 colleges in England and Wales found that lecturers deal with around 30 administrative tasks a week. Half of these need to be dealt with the same day and, although just under two thirds of them take 15 minutes or less, one in 10 requires more than an hour's work. Meetings take up around two hours a week for lecturers and substantially more for managers. One manager reported spending 40 hours a week in meetings.

The increase in time spent on administration has "been limited by the efforts of lecturers to work harder and smarter", the report says, but it has hit the time available for lesson preparation.

And "little (is) apparently being done to address the problem," say the report's authors Paul Martinez and Giles Pepler.

"There are almost universal beliefs that there is too much bureaucracy... eating into the time available for teachig and that overall administrative workloads have increased substantially."

"It is no exaggeration, more-over, to say that the quantity and loudness of complaints increase the closer one approaches the whiteboard...The surprise is that, at least at first sight, so little is being done to reduce red tape and bureaucracy."

The authors say senior lecturers tended to blame external organisations such as funding and inspection agencies for adding to their administrative tasks, while lecturers said that awarding bodies and their own managers were the biggest source of paperwork.

Furthermore, technology has not helped to ease the burden. Paper-based communications "continue to dominate" with only 5 per cent of administrative tasks carried out by computer.

While the complaints of the college sector found "a significant echo" in the schools sector, most college bureaucracy is related to teaching and learning and the needs of students while in schools it originates outside the school.

The report suggests that colleges can cut red tape by restructuring the curriculum and administrative systems, increasing clerical support and use of technology, better management of change and delegation of decision-making.

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