Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)

Bureaucracy.  It’s almost as horrible a word as that vile phrase, red tape.  Actually, I’m not sure which one is worse.  Perhaps they’re twins.  Inefficient twins.  Inefficient twins who aren’t exactly that bright, make tons of errors themselves, but love to point out the minor and very occasional error you make yourself.

If you have read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) (see “Just Give Me the Bloody Address!” for exhibit A).  As a matter of fact, I don’t know if you would find many fans of theirs; TEC tends to be a fairly strange child of three merged (failing and inefficient) government entities, and it acts as if the DNA wasn’t quite ever right.  One of our suppliers whose product helps us produce our thrice yearly data report to TEC is constantly doing battle with an organisation which can be described as dysfunctional at best.

(I do have to interject here and give credit where credit is due.  There is a senior manager at TEC by the name of Stephen who has been extremely helpful to us this year.  I am sure there are others there who are just as helpful, but, as an organisation itself, it is extremely dysfunctional.)

I could go on and on about the various problems I have had with TEC, but I will highlight a few cases we have faced this year.

Ben Linus Has Transported NaSA to Auckland (And Not Told Us)
We received a report from TEC to say that our provider was located in Auckland.  I wrote them back to tell them we are, and always have been, in Christchurch.  They had the gall to tell me that I must’ve changed it.

Newsflash number 1:  I can’t change that information on their database.  When I sign in, it’s a non-editable area.

Newsflash number 2: The non-editable area clearly says Christchurch.

Newsflash number 3: Given the history of my previous interaction with their computer system (which interfaces with the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority), and with the Ministry of Education consistently and constantly praising me on how “clean” and accurate my data submissions are, I extremely highly doubt I’d list the school in the wrong region on the wrong island even if I could edit the information in the first place.

Mind Meld with TEC like Spock with a Horta to Get an Answer
Late last year, I made a mistake with the aforementioned thrice-a-year return.  (No, the world didn’t end.  It almost did, but it didn’t.  Obviously.) After a year of quakes and rebuilding the school and all the drama and stress everyone had been under, I think I’m allowed to make a mistake.  It was a simple one; I forgot to mark a small group of students who resat their final examinations and passed as “successfully completed” instead of “unsuccessfully completed” in the database.  I fixed the error.  I admit I made a boo-boo.

Somehow, this all didn’t quite make it into the annual completion reports that TEC judges our funding eligibility for the following year on.  We were above the threshold for funding anyway, but TEC informed us our data should be as accurate as possible (fair enough) and the final data extraction would happen in a month or so.  I wrote to them with the simple questions: “Do you have to reset something on the return database for me to make a new return? Can I upload a new return to be processed?”  A fairly simple question.

It took weeks to get an answer from TEC, and it basically read: “We don’t know.  Ask Ministry of Education.”

I wrote to Ministry of Education.  They wrote back that (sorry), it was a TEC matter.  They could confirm that no reset was needed, although TEC should have known that.

Back to TEC: “Can I resubmit this data?”  The answer should be a simple “Yes” or “No”.

A few more weeks go by.  The deadline approaches.  I keep trying to get an answer.

15 minutes before the cut-off time on the date a change needed to be in by, I get a response: “Yes, you can resubmit the data… as long as you do it within the next 15 minutes.”

I was at a medical appointment I had been waiting for 6 weeks for when the email came crawling in.  By the time I got the email, it was 20 minutes too late and I was at home.

Taking 4+ weeks to answer a simple yes or no question?  Not acceptable.

Yeah but No but Yeah but No but Yeah like Vicki Pollard
Last Friday, after I had left work, and email rolled in from TEC.  I read it this morning.  Basically, they’re doing a data cleanse of their data warehouse.  They wanted to know which of our components were science-based; an Excel spreadsheet, pulled from their records, was attached.  TEC marked whether or not they thought the component was science-based, with a second spreadsheet listing subjects that were science-based (in their opinion).

I open the spreadsheet to find only 2 science components listed.  After logging in to the TEC site I mentioned before (with the unchangeable city / region in it), I look up science-based components we should have: 34.

The 2 they have bothered to include on the spreadsheet have titles starting with “Anatomy and Physiology…”, but TEC have marked that they do not believe these are science-based components.  Flip to the second spreadsheet with examples of what science-based components are, and, probably the third entry down is — you guessed it — Anatomy.

Despite pretty much all tertiary educational organisations being smack-dab in final examination season, the due date to check all this information is… Wednesday.  We’re given a whole 3 days to check over what could be screeds of information for some TEOs because, hey, we’ve got nothing better to do like, oh, examine students or get them their final results, or maybe even give them their diplomas.  Why bother making sure the customers’ needs are met in a timely manner when we have endless bureaucratic returns to fill out instead?

I wrote to them today to point out the missing information, the mismatched information, and the disgustingly short-notice deadline.  According to the server, they read the message; whether or not I get a reply before the year has finished might be another story altogether.

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