York’s English Department is understaffed. Since 2012 there has been a 32 per cent increase in student numbers in English Department, but staffing levels have not kept pace with the expansion of the student body. In 2013-14 the department was 9 members short, but the University only allowed 3 new members of staff to be hired. This year, department is still 6 members of staff short.
The English Department at York is highly successful and a great department to be part of. The university’s 2013 financial report states that the university had an 8.695 million surplus. The 2014 report announced a 10.474 million surplus. Pro Vice Chancellor John Robinson responded to concerns about staffing levels by explaining that the university is saving money to renovate Heslington West over approximately the next 10 years.
York’s English Department is famed for its outstanding research. The openness that the department has shown in engaging with a range of forms is undoubtedly a result of their strength in research. This success is reliant upon their broad range of staff. Modules from Victorian Literature through to Modern Arabic are only available because a multiplicity of staff coalesces in the department.
Last year’s National Student Survey revealed that in general students were positive about the department- with 97 per cent saying staff made the subject interesting, and 90 per cent saying library resources met their needs. However, 57 per cent said feedback helped clarify things they didn’t understand, and 60 per cent said feedback was prompt. It is hardly a surprising trend given that workloads of marking are stretched over staffing levels inadequate to cope with higher student numbers. Indeed, the debacle over lost exam papers last year could certainly be attributed to a lack of staff.
Understaffing is undermining the education of current students. They are paying £9000 a year for increasingly cramped office hours. Tutors are doing a marvellous job in spite of the pressures they are facing. The purpose of a university education is to develop the ability to think critically about a range of issues, and office hours enhance this skill. The English department’s reputation for excellence is important because it designates the department as a place perfect for the nurture of critical thought. If we wish to maintain that reputation, issues of understaffing must be addressed.