19 November, 2008

"It's because they're English"

Fun times today. You can file this post under important things to know about British universities or screaming rage at red tape, take your pick.

The University of York just now got around to posting something to SSHRC. Something not a transcript. A week past the deadline.

Apparently, a single database where all grades are entered and stored for easy retrieval (at the registrar's leisure, natch) is way, way too easy for British unis. Too sensible. Too efficient. Real British unis don't go in for that namby-pamby efficiency nonsense!

It's far better to have inconsistent grading standards in different departments, all stored in the departments. So if a student asks for a transcript, instead of just printing a copy from the student database, the registrar has to submit requests to all the separate departments, who have to look the student up, send the info back to the registrar, who then organises it and tries to harmonise all the grading standards, and THEN prints it out. And if you're a research student, they get really confused, because you have no classes to grade, and thus no transcript.

And apparently they just sit on your request for a while scratching their heads, and finally mail of something that's not a transcript but confirms that you do, in fact, exist and attend their institution. Or something of that sort. But they won't just dash that off, no. First they have to spend three to four weeks considering it. Because apparently research students never ask for transcripts or something?

Colour me unimpressed, and very, very upset.

The CMS secretary, however, is a wonderful woman. She is going to write to SSHRC and explain that my request was submitted with plenty of time (it was, according to everything they say on the registrar's website and in the office in person), but plain old British inefficiency stupidity thoroughness delayed it beyond reasonable expectation. It's a good thing we have such a wonderful secretary here because I would otherwise be writing this post after consuming several alcoholic beverages, or from a cabin in the woods were I was hiding from the police after my mad stabbing rampage. Possibly both.


tenthmedieval said...

If it's any comfort, when I was undergoing one of my occasional episodes of funding, I had as the last piece of the puzzle to obtain such a letter from my then-institution. The funding notice arrived with me two weeks before the beginning of term, and I wrote to the Registry immediately. Two weeks later, nothing, so I went in, costing me train-fare I didn't really have, to ask what was afoot. And the woman on the Registry desk went backstage to find out, and reported that I wasn't enrolled.

So I said "what?" and other such things and she revealed that they'd been writing to me on and off for a copy of my degree certficate since the beginning of the previous academic year, for all of which time I'd been receiving tuition part-time. And they'd got no reply because they'd been using my old address. I raged at her about this, because I'd been in and changed my address properly with them the previous year. And she said, "oh, would that be [typo of my new address]? Yes, we tried there after a while too." At which point I gave up temporarily because it would do me no good, or her, to ask how someone else had lost my change of address form for six months then failed to type it in properly; the whole desk and office set-up of the Registry was designed to make such accountability impossible. Instead I went home and found the documents they needed, copied them and sent in the copies.

Roll on two weeks. Yes, we're well into term now and I'm still not officially enrolled or funded on a Ph.D. I've been doing for more than a year. My boss has very kindly paid out for a few more weeks' work than planned to keep me afloat. I have by now, after a fruitless trip in, taken to harassing the Registry by phone, which means that I actually talk to someone who can deal with the file. They insist they haven't got my documents, so I make more copies, use more non-existent train fare and bring them in. And when I arrive, they discover they have got them in the file after all. They say they will write the letter straight away, and I ring them again the next day to ensure that they have; they haven't, but will that afternoon, honest.

But that afternoon I stop caring because the money turns up in my bank account anyway. And this is my comfort for you, that the SSHRC will very likely be better at chasing up your department and getting confirmation from them (which turned out to be the explanation) than your registry will ever be at responding to these requests that they only have to deal with every year...

Alison Purnell said...

That makes me feel somewhat better, thanks! In a horribly depressed at the state of humanity kind of way, but better! :) Glad it worked out for you.