Diary from the Study Administration

Skrevet af Jannick Friis ChristensenLasse Hultén, videoproduktion • Julian Nielsen, videoproduktion • Mattias Keller, videoproduktion • Jesper Snedker Adamsen, (versioning) - Foto: Lasse Hultén - 23. december 2015 - 11:420 kommentarer
Employees in the STU are often faced with enormous workloads, imminent deadlines, and frustrated students. This video provides you with a humorous glance behind the scenes at the Study Administration.

CBS OBSERVER’s reporter ventured into a week-long internship in the Study Administration and he discovered that back office staff members work very hard to meet students’ demands, and sometimes they even get a “thank you” in return. This is the first part of the diary from the internship. 

It all started when an employee from the Study Administration fumed to CBS OBSERVER’s web editor that yours truly should try working there to ever be able to understand the daily challenges with systems and regulations that are constantly changed, and the enormous work pressure.

The sarcastic suggestion came after a series of critical articles in CBS OBSERVER focusing on the doings of the Study Administration (STU). However, we decided to accept the challenge and STU’s management approved the experiment.

So, I turned up on a Monday morning in November, ready to take on a 5-day internship in different departments of the STU and excited to see the world from the other side of the counter.

Basically, I have always had respect for the efforts of the STU and all the employees, and my internship really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes.

But still, and I might as well say it right away; the insights I gained during my 5-day internship in the STU do not prompt us to withdraw my previous articles concerning the STU. However, I will say that this initiative has definitely opened my eyes to why it sometimes takes a little longer than expected to get your grades; how hard the employees at STU work to make ends meet, and much more, which will be revealed in this article.

The Study Administration… Could it possibly sound more bureaucratic? The blind alley all roads eventually lead to. Anyways, that is how it sometimes feels from students’ point of view when interacting with the STU.

But what actually goes on in the STU? Who are they? What are their thoughts on students and lecturers, and why do they always wait to publish your grades right before the deadline?

As is custom when new employees start in an organization, I too was given the grand tour of the department located at Dalgas Have.

Specifically, I will spend my 5-day internship in the Administrative Planning Unit (APU), which is a back office unit within the Study Administration. The unit’s primary task is to make sure that no less than 150,000 individual exams run smoothly. Every year, that is.

The man with the broad perspective

Director of APU, René Kramhøft Jakobsen, gives me the grand tour. He is at least a head taller than me and combined with his elaborate descriptions of the recent year’s reorganization of the STU gives me the impression that this is a man who is on top of things.

While he introduces me to a number of technical administrative employees (TAP) he lets me know that they have all just completed a teambuilding course to get to know each other better.

The reorganization means that administrative employees are now divided into small teams that handle programs based on their location on campus. During my time here I will be part of team ‘Porcelænshaven’ (Kiln).

Lounge for the employees

René tells me that the new structure enables better knowledge sharing between employees, which has been a focus of the reorganization. Furthermore, it makes it easier to keep things running smoothly when employees call in sick. The overall goal is improved service for examiners and students.

René takes me to a nicely looking room, which is just big enough to hold the 30 APU employees during briefings and Ren´s hopes that the new APU Lounge will also be the place for more informal interaction between co-workers, as the informal interaction is often where palpable solutions to complex issues arise, he says.

Coffee is integral

I am offered a cup of coffee and surprisingly it is classic filter coffee, no nonsense and certainly not instant ‘fast food’ coffee. The latter is the norm at CBS OBSERVER, so I am pleased to get a ‘real’ cup of coffee for once.

René drinks his coffee black, but I opt to add a little milk to round it off, and we are ready for the day’s tasks.

I will leave to my temporary supervisor to determine whether or not I did a good job, but as you can see in the video I quickly became accustomed to redirecting students to e-campus.

APU provides legal security for students

As it turns out, APU actually has very little contact with students as the Student Hub handles personal inquiries, answers mails, and answers the phone when you call the number 38 15 27 10. APU is the unit that ensures that students get what they have legal claim to, e.g. that students get their grades in time.

The lack of personal interaction with students is actually something that worries several employees (TAPs) in the department, and when they occasionally communicate with students, it is from a no-reply email, which makes the TAPs ‘faceless’, as one TAP puts it.

The fact that TAPs communicate via no-reply emails also has the unfortunate consequence that they cannot get any feedback from students, and thus employees are not made aware whether or not they have made a difference; whether or not their assistance is appreciated by the receiver.

Civil disobedience and thank you for that

But I can report that a form of civil obedience does occur in relation to this issue, as employees sometimes attach their personal work email.

- What makes most sense?, asks one TAP.

It is, of course, a rhetorical question and she barely finishes the question before she answers it herself.

- It makes no sense that a student has to write to the Student Hub, who then forwards the message to me, when all I need is a “yes” or a “no”.

Point taken.

Angry student forgot to register

I help answer some emails from students and come across one of the coarser and more aggressive ones: a student is very dissatisfied – to say the least – with the fact that he is about to be deregistered and will lose his grant due to the fact that he is not registered for his exams.

But can it really be true that this student is about to lose not only the lion’s share of his income, but also the opportunity to continue studying because of an administrative error?

Well, no, certainly not, as it turns out that the student himself is at fault as he forgot to register for the semester.

Friendly reply

But despite the fact that the student alone is at fault, he still gets a friendly reply and is assured that everything is now in order and the employee even apologizes for the inconvenience… Is that fair?!

And as the APU employee writes her reply, she tells me that this scenario just underlines the heavy responsibility she and her colleagues must shoulder. If they make a mistake, it can entail vast consequences for a student’s life and unfortunately, they do not always have time to double-check.

Work pressure and risk of burnouts

Commonly, deadline was yesterday and not today, and just when you are about to finish the job, the finishing line moves farther away and becomes hard to stay in control of the situation.

And to avoid individual employees being overloaded with assignments, some of the teams have implemented so-called scrums of a about 15-minutes’ duration. During these scrums employees take stock of the situation, share knowledge, or ask for help in relation to tasks that have to be solved imminently.

The department vividly tries to avoid stress, just like the rest of the organization at CBS. In particularly stressful periods, management asks employees to rank themselves on a scale from ‘heated up’ to ‘burned out’ based on how employees feel in that moment.

This initiative is a great tool for management to detect stress symptoms and to rearrange efforts to accommodate and avoid work overload and burnouts among employees. The initiative is, of course, supplied with planned individual conversations with employees.

Tap tap tap tap

During my first days in the STU, I have been doing a lot of tapping, mainly registering students’ grades. That is slave labor. Especially when you receive lists with several hundreds of students and many of them have opted not to show up at the exam, which means that you know that you will have to register their grades from re-exams at some point in the foreseeable future.

When I am done registering the grades, another employee must control all my registrations to make sure students get the grade they actually got at the exam; and students are entitled to get their grades no later than 4 weeks after any one specific exam and with this workload, the grades are almost always disclosed at deadline, rarely sooner.

I ask employees to elaborate on why it is so and the answer certainly surprises me: in many cases the APU has to send out notices to examiners as they often fail to send them to the APU in time. Some examiners even need several notices before they react.

So, even though registering an individual grade is not that time-consuming, it can quickly become an impossible task to solve, if the examiners fail to send the lists of grades.