You can at UClan; well actually you can’t without exceptional staff.
This week, many students discovered the impending academic staff losses that are on the horizon at The University of Central Lancashire. They are not pleased. Many of them are proud to be students at UCLan and some of that pride comes from the mentoring and encouragement that they’ve been afforded by inspirational personal tutors, module leaders and lecturers. Sure they have a job description and a certain amount of contact time is mandated, but in the Psychology department at least, there are many students that see them go above and beyond their mandate to enhance the student experience. I love UCLan as a brand and as an institute for education, having worked and studied here for nearly four years it pains me to see the current situation because it’s obvious that here, it’s the students that really matter to the academics which is something management need to take into account.
UCLan’s hardships are nothing new. Vice-Chancellor Malcolm McVicar, in 2011 told us that the university was at the centre of a “perfect storm” and we should expect a “full cyclone” by September 2014. Could this be the tempest before the cyclone gains landfall? This latest decimation of UCLan’s staff numbers isn’t the first either. In July 2013 around 100 non-academic posts were under threat and this was blamed on Government cuts to higher education and a drop in student numbers. Now a total of 75 academic posts are due to go (as per the UCU statement) which leaves 420 staff members under the Sword of Damocles just before Christmas. In July Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dave Phoenix said: “Given the current economic and political landscape in the UK, future success in higher education will be about delivering a high quality academic environment in areas of strength.” Well, losing academics is not the way to achieve this high quality academic environment just a few months down the line. With such foresight, however, one would think provisions could be laid to weather the storm. But what do UCLan’s students think?
One student remarked to me that given the six figure salaries that some of the higher-ups are on and the amount of assistants they employ, costs could at least start being cut there. Indeed, back in 2010 the top 15 employees at UCLan in terms of earnings took home a combined £1.8m with Panorama showing us that the then Vice-Chancellor earned more than the Prime Minister. Add to that the university advertising for a “newly created post of Pro Vice-Chancellor” to “ensure the currency, effectiveness and quality of all academic provision” and the payouts at the top will conceivably increase. Well the successful applicant for the Pro Vice-Chancellor post will be doing that job with less academics to worry about. It also seems a little frivolous when declaring that £15m needs to be shaved off the budget to paradoxically spend the second highest amount of money per student on facilities (£1,730) in the North West. Spending money on things that seem to be nothing more than the hard visual sell such as refurbishing the library – already a fantastic facility – and the student refectory which according to one past employee has yet to turn a profit is a financial luxury which we apparently do not have. Or do we? The University has a market value of £163,240m in assets at the last count as detailed in the 2011 to 2012 annual accounts, so perhaps at least some of that could be squeezed. Let’s also not forget the new campus in Cyprus and our commitment in Thailand for which we only own 51% and 49% of shares respectively, and the fact that we offer pseudo-courses like homeopathy when simultaneously offering medical degrees.… it beggars belief from a student’s point of view what money is spent on and what the university will do for numbers, whilst at the same time getting rid of perhaps the best selling point of all, the staff!
I would add here that it’s not all UCLan’s fault. We can blame Michael Gove for this. There was of a rise in tuition fees that of course needs to be factored into the equation. The Government also flings money at academies and the Free Schools experiment. Some of these actively discriminate in the recruitment process and also in the class room against staff and students additionally expounding the narrowest of views on many subjects including Science. Yes Mr Gove, these are our taxes and might be better spent keeping our academics in employment at a university that upholds basic standards of equality across the board. Defending such institutions that also fail in the provision of the basic national curriculum (although I’d argue sex and relationships, science and a few other areas need improvement and I have) is both a PR and financial blunder when clearly the money could be better spent elsewhere; if we could trust those who spend it.
The crux of the matter from the point of view of students is this: If we dropped the cosmetics and the investments that the majority of us won’t benefit from, as well as any other frippery, perhaps we could keep a few of the people who, you know, teach, do research and engage with the public. This is what matters; retaining our experienced staff to benefit students in what should be a place of learning. We should then be enabling those that research to tackle big issues; using their skills and hard earned expertise in their discipline to go onto impart their knowledge to ambitious minds both in the student body and public sphere.
Petition: Please sign the petition “UCLan: Let our lecturers keep their jobs!” if you agree that the very real intellectual foundations of our university are our cherished academic staff.
Disclaimer: All information herein is used in good faith and is to the knowledge of the author true and accurate at the time of writing. All information and quotes have been referenced in text where appropriate.