Archive for April, 2009

Covering your bits the University way

April 9, 2009

Still no new Bad Science from Dr Aust – blame family life and office moves. Instead I am having a minor muse on the bureaucratic minutiae of life in the University sector.

In Universities these days, like in most of the public sector, we seem to have an ever-increasing number of bureaucratic rules.

One rule that has appeared in the last few years at Dr Aust’s University is that all our exam papers now have to have a “cover page” on which no actual exam questions appear. This means that short exam papers (“Do two of the following five essay questions”), which were previously a single page, are now two pages. Bad news for trees somewhere.

As well as having the new rules, we also have central offices and their bureaucracies to enforce them. Nowadays I hand in my exam papers to the University Office of the Central Committee for Student Processing. They will make a fuss, and try to refuse to take the paper from me, if I have broken the “blank cover page” rule.

The dialogue when I fell foul of this rule a couple of years ago went something like this:


“I’m sorry, you’ll have to take this paper back. It doesn’t have a cover sheet, which is the rule”

“Well, I didn’t know about the rule, and I don’t have time to re-do the front of the paper. This is the last day you are open before Christmas, and the exam is in four weeks. Does it really matter that much?”

“Oh yes, there has to be a cover sheet. It’s the rule.”

“But why? We never used to have them, and students still sat exams”

“Well, without a cover sheet the students will be able to read the questions BEFORE they start the official exam time, as soon as the papers are put on their desk”.

“But… …they will only be able to read the questions on the front page, which in this case is three multiple choice questions out of ninety on the whole exam. And we can tell the invigilators handing out the papers to put them on the students’ desks face down. That is what we used to do back when the academics ran the exams themselves.”

“Yes, but if SOME of the student turn their papers over those students will be gaining an advantage”

“What, an extra minute at most to try and read three questions? Furtively? If they turn the paper over after they are specifically told not to?”

(stubbornly)   “Well, that’s the rule”

(rolling eyes) “(unprintable)”


Now, I would have said this was bureaucracy gone a little bit mad – though I will admit that the following year I dutifully put a blank cover sheet at the front of my exam. Mainly to save myself the same conversation over again, and help keep my blood pressure under control.

However – on re-consideration, I think I have done the University Office of the Central Committee a disservice. The point of telling you this story now was to note that in this particular bit of bureaucratic box-ticking – the strategic cover sheet index – UK Universities are proudly way ahead of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch.


So score one for the Heroes of Labour of the Office of the Central Committee for Student Processing.

If only The Met – and apparently various branches of government – had administrative procedural rule-book writers with the same sweeping vision.