I came to England five years ago, and I’m in my third year here. I don’t want to speak too negatively about the staff and students at my college because on the whole, I do feel respected by them. There was one instance when a staff member called the scouts “greedy pigs” because we took too much of the free lunch allowance, but comments like that are quite rare.
The management make a good effort if it’s your birthday, for instance. We get on well with the other departments – before Christ- mas some of the scouts and catering staff went on a night out with the porters. One of the more senior staff members and I do a good Fawlty Towers sketch together.
It’s hard to say whether we’re listened to.
Management hold a few liaison meetings with us and there’s a suggestions box in the basement where our main office is. The main problem is that we’re pretty much at the bottom of the “power” chain. You often feel like your suggestions won’t be acted on when they’ve got their own ways of how to run the place.
There’s been a bit of a shift in the past few years – a lot of colleges, mine included, have been seized with a kind of “managerial spirit”. There’s a big focus on making money. If you’re a manager you need to ensure results. People don’t necessarily like or need change for change’s sake.
Also, before this managerial era you could rise up through the ranks. Someone here started out as a scout about 30 years ago and has now made it to one of the managerial positions. I don’t think you can do that anymore – it’s a shame, but I guess you need a degree to do nearly everything these days.
I guess it’s just that a lot of colleges are trying to keep up with the zeitgeist. We hosted conference after conference this summer, and I don’t think there’s necessarily a bad thing, just as long as it’s translated into more pay for us. We do get a bonus over the conference season though, and there are plenty of extra shifts going.
There has been a noticeable change in my pay this year, whereas before that they’d often add on just one per cent. I just fear that the college, having matched this Living Wage rate, will think ‘that’s that job done’. You’d have thought they could at least pay us a few pence above that, to show that they’re not just concerned with hitting targets? £7.85 won’t get you very much in Oxford.
My frustration is perhaps more with the town itself than the College. Rent and bills are extortionate – personally, I think that the council should put a cap on it. It makes me furious when estate agents with flashy iPads show me round tiny cupboards that they ex- pect you to buy and live in! A colleague of mine has to work three or four hours at college, then another few hours at a school as a cleaner. It’s unavoidable if you’re raising a kid by yourself and you’ve got a mortgage to pay.
Still, it’s an enjoyable job if you go in with the right attitude. I feel – I hope – that the students respect me. You’re never going to win over everyone – I’ll mainly speak to the same ones again and again, particularly those who started at the same time as me and are now in their final year. The scouts who don’t talk to students often don’t speak much English or they’re naturally a bit shy.
A friend of mine who struggles with the language joked to me this morning, “I must come across as crazy for not talking to the students.”
Another told me that she feels insecure talking to students whose parents might be rich bankers or famous actors. These problems will crop up every now and then, and it’s a great shame, but the students themselves aren’t usually responsible. That said, more students should acknowledge that many scouts have had to go through things in their lives that undergraduates are too young to even imagine.